Fundraising photography: how to escape the curse of knowledge

Photos are important in fundraising. They can make (or break) any message. It’s worth spending a little time making sure you get them right. Here’s an example.

Take a good look at this photo. Ask yourself what expression this child is making. What does he think or feel about whatever he’s looking at? If he were actually standing in front of you and looking at you, what would be your reaction to his expression?

Frown

The photo is taken from a fundraising message. The message says that a specific group of children who live in difficult conditions are facing starvation and disease — and urgently need help. The photo is reportedly one of those children.

I have no reason to doubt that this is precisely true. But there’s a problem, and you’ve probably noted it: There’s nothing about this photo that tells the same “story” as the words in the fundraising message.

He’s a cute kid, but he’s looking at his with a bit of a squint and a frown, including a furrowed brow. It looks critical, maybe a bit annoyed. And it doesn’t look like he’s in any kind of trouble.

So on a subconscious level (which is the dominant level we engage with photos and images), we see a kid who doesn’t care a whole lot for us. And that’s about all. If he’s hungry, sick, or suffering in any way, that’s not evident to a non-expert. That’s the “story” the photo tells. And it tells us that much more loudly and convincingly than the well-crafted words that accompany it.

It’s going to take a determined donor to get past the barrier of this “wrong” story and feel compelled to give.

Photos like this get used in fundraising frequently. And I can guess how: The people who did it have the curse of knowledge: They know where the photo was taken. They know this child is indeed one of the children who are suffering. They may even know that the furrowed brow is often characteristic of pain and fear, not only anger or annoyance.

The curse of knowledge kept them from “seeing” the photo.

To avoid falling into this trap, look at every photo you intend to use with fresh eyes. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Independent of what I know, what do I actually see?
  • What does this expression seem to communicate?
  • What story does the photo seem to tell?

You might even ask those questions of some non-expert who has no outside knowledge about the situation.

When you break free from the curse of knowledge and truly align photos with story, you will raise more money.


Comments

Leave a Reply

What this blog is about

The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

Blog policies

Subscribe

Get new posts by email:

About the blogger

Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


Archives

Blogroll

Categories


Search the blog

The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

Recent Comments

About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.