News and Information about the nonprofit sector in Massachusetts. Check back frequently to keep informed.
May 17, 2022
Use Photos to Tell Your Story to People You Need to Reach
By Peter Lowy

Nonprofit organizations, under pressure to tell their story and stand out from others looking to reach similar audiences, need all the help they can get. Photos can play an important role, but they must be used the right way.

Nearly all nonprofits at one time or another receive or present awards or honors and want to capture the event in photos. Sending a copy of the photo to the honorees is a great way to express appreciation, and those people will likely hang the picture in their office.

Frequently, nonprofits will send the same photo to the press, and that’s where a problem lies. While it makes all the sense in the world to give that photo to the honorees, it’s less useful to the press. The reason is that the two audiences are quite different.

The people who read a publication—whether it’s online or in print—for the most part will not know the people in your photo. And because they’ve seen this type of line-'em-up-and-shoot-'em photo countless times, it doesn’t convey anything special to them. Most importantly, it doesn’t convey the message of your nonprofit.

A photo gives you a chance to tell your story visually. The old adage that a photo is worth a thousand words rings true, because most people are more visually oriented than text oriented.

An engaging photo lets you tell your story in a compelling, memorable way. The more memorable your photo, the more your organization will stand apart from others. This is what should motivate your sending photos to the press and even posting on your website.

A compelling photo that is published will let you achieve one of your most important goals: to gain share of mind in your key audiences.

Show Your Mission in Action

Compelling photos demonstrate your mission in action. Your photo should spur people to say "What is that?" or "I want to learn more about what's going on." A grip-and-grin photo won’t do that.

Here are photos we have featured on Massnonprofit News and why we posted them.

Gabrielle Guarracino, a senior at Rockland High School, had just won the statewide Poetry Out Loud contest. This picture demonstrates the mission of the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Huntington Theatre Company, the contest sponsors, which, in part, is to engage with young people and get them excited about the arts. A photo of her shaking hands with the contest organizers, for example, would not have conveyed that message.

The Trustees of Reservations wants to encourage people to join the organization and make use of the properties it manages around Massachusetts. A photo of waves crashing or the setting sun filtering through a stand of trees could illustrate the beauty of the properties the Trustees manages, but this photo of four boys in the surf at Crane Beach is much more compelling. It shows kids having fun and illustrates the people connection, which is a key part of the Trustees’ mission.

When 18 certified nursing aides and home health aides graduated from Vinfen’s Extended Care Career Ladder Initiative, they held a graduation ceremony. Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey, shown at right, was on hand to offer congratulations. His enthusiasm matched the joy on the faces of Maria Medina, a graduate, and George Gougian, a Vinfen administrator. It’s a picture that demonstrates the program’s mission to help people advance themselves.

Beaverbrook STEP in Watertown helps people with disabilities receive the supports they need to lead full and independent lives. This is not an easy concept to convey in a photo, but this picture goes a long way to do just that.

You can see other photos we’ve posted by clicking here.

Note that good photos, for the most part, don’t show large groups of people. This becomes especially important on the web, because photos often don’t display in a large size. A photo that is, say, four inches wide by three inches tall is not very large. It will be very difficult to read faces of people in a large group, because each face will be small.

That being said, photos with lots of people can help tell your story, but to be visually compelling, the people should be doing something unusual. Their action or positions, and not so much their faces, should tell the story.

Don’t Neglect Headshots

Publications, including Massnonprofit News, are always interested in headshot photos in connection with appointments and promotions of key staff. A few pointers:
  • Have the photo available when you make your announcement. Send both at the same time.
  • The photo does not have to be a professional studio shot, but it should show head and shoulders, not the full body.
  • It should be in focus. (Although this sounds self-evident, we get many out-of-focus photos.)
  • The face should be well lit without shadows.
A final word. Keep a camera handy to take pictures. You never know, there may be an unplanned, but great, opportunity to show your mission in action.

Peter Lowy is the publisher of Massnonprofit News. You may reach him at 617-734-9980 or email him at
SUBSCRIBE FREE – Keep current with the Wednesday Report emailed to you free each week. Click here.
Got news, advice, resources? Send it to