Fundraising when you don’t have any decent photos [MacGyver Fundraising]

MacGyver Fundraising: A series about getting it done in the real world

MacGyver was an US action TV show in the 80s (with a more recent reboot) featuring a brilliant professional problem-solver who could get himself out of any jam with whatever random materials were at hand. He always solved the most difficult situations. Fundraisers are a lot like MacGyver.

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Photographs are powerful. They draw the eye and capture the attention. They can tell a deeper, more nuanced and emotional story than even the best copy.

In fact, they tell a story whether you want them to or not, even a story you have no intention of telling.

A photo, any photo, is basically that loudmouth life-of-the-party guy who gobbles up all the attention and energy at every party. Photos are like that no matter what they are a picture of — no matter what story they tell, on point or off.

Maybe you’ve noticed that sometimes a party is a lot more fun when the loudmouth isn’t there. Sure, he can be fun and entertaining, but he makes the whole thing about himself.

It’s the same with photos: You don’t have to use photos in your fundraising!

Because the wrong photo is worse than no photo at all.

There are times when you have to tell the story with words, because you don’t have a photo that tells that story. That means you have to write with great care, but you’re doing that anyway.

The ideal is to have a great story told in words and photos. That isn’t always possible.

  1. Start with the assumption that you plan to use a photo.
  2. State out loud what the story you’re telling is.
  3. Look for photos that tell that same story.
  4. If you find photos you think do that, ask yourself again: Do these photos really tell that story?
  5. If you think you have a photo that does the job, double-check with someone who doesn’t know as much about your work as you do. Ask them to tell you what story the photo is telling. (You may be shocked how different their version is from yours.)
  6. If you are really sure the photo is in line with the words, use it.
  7. If it isn’t, leave it out. That is the right choice.

Your donors will not ding you for omitting a photo.

They may accidentally ding you if you confuse them with the wrong photo.

MacGyver Fundraising


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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.