Why Your Nonprofit Should Care About Visual Storytelling

Posted by | · · · · · | Multimedia · Nonprofits · Photography · Storytelling · Video & Film

What do you do as a humanitarian storyteller if your organization doesn’t currently see the value of visual storytelling?

It’s time to convince them. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations registered in the United States alone. This number includes public charities, private foundations, and other types of nonprofit organizations, including chambers of commerce, fraternal organizations and civic leagues.

And your organization isn’t just in competition with other nonprofits for people’s attention. The average person receives around 3,000 marketing messages every day not only ads, but also every time you pass by a label in a grocery store, all the ads in your mailbox, the label on everything you wear, the condiments in your fridge, the cars on the highway, etc. Everyone wants a piece of your pocketbook. This is stiff competition for any nonprofit looking to convince people to join their cause.

Nonprofits have a strategic advantage in a crowded world: meaningful stories. Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, which makes it easier for us to remember them. The human brain loves storytelling, so harness that power to inspire potential donors of both time and money to your organization. Stories release oxytocin (the love hormone) which increases feelings of empathy, trust, generosity, and compassion. That is exactly the state of mind you want your donors in when they are thinking about giving to your organization.

Telling visual stories also increases your chances of making impact. The picture superiority effect says that visuals can convey up to six times more information than words alone. And the dual coding theory holds that people recall images better because they create both verbal and image reactions in the brain.

Social media storytelling is also much more effective with images than without. According to a study by Skyward, the brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than it does text. Sixty-three percent of social media is made up of visual content. And nearly half of all Internet users have re-posted a picture or video they saw online. Content with relevant images gets 94 percent more views than content without. Tweets with images receive 150 percent more retweets. Images are the number one most important factor in optimal social media content.

The most successful visual stories allow individual donors to connect with individual beneficiaries and draw parallels in their lives. They also offer the donor the opportunity to be the hero and make a difference in the world. This is really important because 71% of all donations in the United States are given by individual people. And storytelling is the tool you can use to directly connect with them.

If all those facts aren’t enough for your organization, then maybe this bit of information about storytelling and fundraising will: In a whitepaper called The State of Storytelling in the Nonprofit Sector, Network for Good and Vanessa Chase found that 55% of nonprofits said stories have improved their fundraising results to some degree.

The rest of the survey respondents said it’s either too early to know how stories have impacted their fundraising or they’re not sure how to measure the impact of stories. Measuring the impact of storytelling can take time and can also be challenging, especially for organizations with limited capacity. Start small and track your results. Compare engagement on storytelling posts with past non-storytelling posts. Hopefully the data you collect over time will assist you in getting buy in from your senior leadership even if you are using storytelling in small ways.

We believe that nonprofits should harness visual storytelling as an effective and strategic means to promote their mission. We hope that this post will help our fellow humanitarian communicators prove their point.

Do you know of any additional research about storytelling and the nonprofit sector? Please tell us! Send us an email at hello@ngostorytelling.com.



March 7, 2017 at 9:18 am

A vISUAL society. Most will quickly formulate an opinion based on perception and the scene being observed. Videos (in this case visual storytelling) reduces cross-cultural bias more effectively. Great post Crystaline. Thanks for sharing.


Crystaline Randazzo says:

March 7, 2017 at 11:55 am

Thanks Jimmy! Glad you enjoyed this article.


Formativeco says:

May 22, 2017 at 2:05 pm

[…] Originally published in NGO Storytelling. […]


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