Photo essays can be an extremely powerful medium to tell your nonprofit’s story. People respond strongly to visuals, and a photo essay done well can elicit that strong reaction. This reaction can lead to donations, new volunteers and a greater awareness of your cause as visitors connect and spread the word.

By definition, a photo essay is a set of photographs (usually around 5 to 10) that tells a story. The photos relate to one another and are meant to evoke emotion and relay a message.

There is one main prerequisite for a good photo essay. Your nonprofit needs to have the resources to produce high-quality photos. This could mean a talented volunteer or staff member, or it could mean spending the funds to hire a professional photographer. Just remember, blurry photos with dim lighting typically won’t get the job done.

Wondering how a photo essay can help your nonprofit in concrete terms? We’ve outlined a few of the major benefits.

Connects Visitors to Your Mission

By putting a face to the message, photography instills a connection to your cause and the people that your nonprofit serves. The photo essay might tell the personal story of someone who’s benefited from your services, or it might demonstrate a real need for the work your nonprofit does. Whatever you decide to photograph, visitors will connect to a strong message behind those well-composed photos.

World Wildlife Fund put together a photo essay on the global water crisis. WWF uses detailed photos of intensely dry Earth and thirsty children to drive home their message. Flipping through the photo essay, the gravity of the water crisis hits you. With varying viewpoints and landscapes, and subjects young and old, WWF positions the water crisis as truly global in six carefully chosen photos.

world wildlife fund photo essay

Makes Content Easy to Digest

Not everyone will read content. But looking at photos requires a lot less commitment. Most readers scan rather than read every word. A photo essay tells a story without words, so there’s not a skimming option. Many people will give more time and attention to visuals, like photographs and video.

Think about it. When you land on a website, do you pause and spend a little more time with the pictures, while briefly skimming the content? Raise your hand if you’re a skimmer! As much as you’d like visitors to read your content in full, most people are skimmers just like you.

Drives Visitors to Take Action

A photo essay can act as a call to action for your nonprofit. Strong images can make a bigger impression than even the most perfectly worded mission statement. A photo essay following a little girl as she wakes at the crack of dawn and travels miles on foot simply to attend a clearly underfunded school would achieve a more powerful reaction than whatever emotions you’ve just felt reading this sentence. If done right, that reaction could translate into a higher conversion rate on your website, which in turn would increase your ability to help more girls get to better schools.

After a devastating earthquake in Nepal, the Red Cross used heart-wrenching photos of victims and structural damage. When site visitors are overcome with the inevitable emotional response to these photos, they may look for a way to help. The Red Cross placed multiple ways to help disaster victims right next to the slideshow. Presenting a need in the photos and offering a solution right beside them will increase conversions of those moved by the photos.

red cross photo essay

Strengthens Your Other Marketing with Visuals

The photos will be compelling as a set, but you can use them individually as well.  Use the ones that don’t quite fit into the photo essay elsewhere on the website, in your promotional material, on your social media channels (hello, Instagram!), or wherever else you see an opportunity to spruce things up a bit with a high quality photo.

Photo essays are a powerful way to relay your nonprofit’s story. Utilizing that power can make visitors to your website feel more connected to your community and those that you strive to help.

Have you tried using a photo essay on your nonprofit’s website? What were the benefits or drawbacks you saw? Let us know in the comments.