When a donor does open your appeal letter, after their own name and the P.S. at the end of the letter, the photos grab their attention.
But what do your photos do with the attention, once they have it?
Some photos say, “Move on, nothing to see here.”
Others say, “Let me tell you a story.”
What’s the difference between the two kinds of photos?”
What Makes a Story a Story
We know a story when we hear it. Try telling a child, “A girl went into a stranger’s house, sat in a chair, and ate some porridge. Then she lay down in a bed and fell asleep. The house belonged to a family of bears. Fortunately, she woke up and ran away. The End.”
Do you think your child will ask for that story again? I don’t either!
As Andy Goodman tells us, “To make sure you cover all of the basics of story structure, here are the beginnings of seven sentences that can help you with the process.”
- Once upon a time… (This starts the story off and introduces our protagonist)
- And every day… (This will set up how life was before the Inciting Incident)
- Until one day… (This begins the action of the story with the Inciting Incident and the Goal)
- And because of this… (This introduces the barriers or obstacles the protagonist faces)
- And because of this… (There could be several barriers)
- Until finally…(This ends the story with the Resolution)
A Photo that Tells the Tale
It’s easy enough to write a story with words. How do you write a story with a photo? You’ll know your photo is telling the tale if it does six things:
- Features one, at most two, people.
- Shows them doing something–not just head shots.
- Focuses on the same person whose story the nonprofit told in the text of the letter.
- Reinforces the message about the problem.
- Reinforces the message about the urgency.
- Makes an emotional connection between the person in the photo and the donor viewing the photo and reading the letter.
Here’s an example from the appeal letters that nonprofits sent me last December.
Look at this photo. I’m intentionally showing it to you without any language from the appeal letter it came in. All by itself, this photo tells a story.
Even if you never heard of Heifer International before, you would look at this photo and think:
“Girl, smiling–because she’s holding that baby chick in her hands. New Life…for her? And I can make that happen for her with a donation?”
That’s a whole lot of storytelling with just one photo!
In coming weeks, we’ll feature more great visual storytelling on the Communicate! blog. Watch for it!
Photos that Document but Say Nothing
Some nonprofits forget to take photos altogether, until after the moment passes. (Raise your hand if that’s you!)
Some take a ton of photos but don’t share them, or share them but don’t label them or sort them. Only the person who took the photo knows who’s in it or what it means, and when that person leaves, the photo is useless.
But even if your nonprofit takes photos, labels them, and shares them in some kind of story bank, they might not mean anything to your audience.
Here are types of photos that signal “Nothing to see here, move along.”
- People sitting at tables at an event.
- People standing in a group.
- People at a rally.
- Professional head shots.
- Photos with no people in them altogether.
Yes, there are exceptions. And yes, you might have good reasons to use these photos in a newsletter, or an annual report, or even online (where you can tag the people in the photo).
But your appeal letter is not the place for a photo that just documents an event. When you are asking for money, you must show a photo that instantly connects the donor with the typical person they will help by making their donation.
Start collecting that kind of photo today!
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