Where to Get Photos for Your Nonprofit’s Blog

Photos for Nonprofit Blog

You’ve probably heard a thousand times that you need to include photos on your blog posts or in your email newsletters.  Maybe you’ve made some simple Google searches and didn’t like what you found, maybe you’re worried about the legality of borrowing someone else’s image, or maybe all the searching just took too much time.  So where can you get all of these free beautiful images in one place?  I’ve got you covered.

Is It Worth It?

Before diving into where to get quality images, we should make sure that spending the time and energy it takes to find those images is worth all the trouble.  Below are some of the many benefits of adding photos to your blog or newsletter.

  • Draw the Reader’s Eye: A study by Skyword found that total views for articles that include a relevant image went up by 94% when compared to articles published without any images.
  • Improve Readability: Images break up large blocks of text, making your content more exciting and easier to read.
  • Emphasize Your Message: A picture is worth a thousand words.  Find an image that underlines the main message of your blog post.  This allows you to add more impact to that message.
  • Memorable: Pictures are often more memorable than words, and one picture is certainly easier to remember than all the words of a blog post or newsletter.  Including images in your nonprofit’s blog posts will make both the post and your nonprofit more memorable.
  • Sharable: If you post your blog updates on Facebook without an image, they will certainly be lost in your fans’ busy news feeds.  Images can grab attention on social media and help your content get more clicks.

Photos come with all these benefits, but they also come with worries about copyright laws and licensing issues.  As tempting as it is, you can’t simply grab any photo you want from Google Image Search.  So where can you find freely licensed photos that will help your nonprofit put its best face forward?

Try Flickr’s Creative Commons.

Flickr’s Creative Commons

Yahoo’s photo sharing community, Flickr, offers a Creative Commons where you can search for free images to include in your nonprofit’s blog.  There are both benefits and drawbacks to using the Creative Commons for all of your blog photo needs, but first we need a quick crash course on the different licenses these free photos might be under.

A Note On Licensing

Flickr’s Creative Commons has four different licenses: Attribution, Noncommercial, No Derivative Works, and Share Alike.  Photographers can choose one license or combine several licenses when they upload their photo to the Creative Commons.

  • Attribution: A photo with the Attribution License can be copied, edited, displayed, or distributed freely as long as credit is given to the photographer.  This means that your nonprofit can crop, modify, and use Attribution licensed images freely on your blog, but only if you include an acknowledgement to the photographer.
  • Noncommercial: This license only allows you to copy, display, edit, or distribute the image if it is for noncommercial purposes.
  • No Derivative Works (NoDerivs): This license prohibits edits or adaptations.  Under the NoDrivs license, you are only allowed to display or distribute the image if it is an exact copy.
  • Share Alike: A Share Alike licensed photo ensures that copies or adaptations of the photo operate under the same license as the original photo.  This means that if the original photo was Attribution-Noncommerical-ShareAlike, then your edited version of it can only be displayed or distributed noncommercially and with credit given to the photographer.

Your nonprofit will probably want to stick to either Attribution or Attribution-NoDerivs Licensed photos to be safe since they have the least restrictions.

If you want to learn more about photo licensing, check out the descriptions given by Creative Commons.  Remember that although these licenses make it easier to find images you can use freely, you should also always read the photographer’s own notes on usage for each image you want to use.

Benefits of Using the Creative Commons:

  • Large Selection: Flickr’s Creative Commons includes nearly 250 million photos under the various licenses.  Around 36 million photos are available under the Attribution license for your nonprofit to display freely as long as you credit the photo to its owner, along with some 13 million in the Attribution-NoDerivs section.
  • Unique Photos: These photographs are taken by everyday people as well as photographers, often simply for a love of photography and a wish to share.  This means that the photos you find tend to be one-of-a-kind, rather than stock images taken explicitly for commercial use.
  • Sort Search Results: You can sort your search results by relevancy, how recent they were taken, or how “interesting” they are (an algorithm that sorts the photos taking factors such as number of views, comments, times marked favorite, and groups the photo is included in into account).
  • Quick, Easy Download: You don’t have to have a Flickr account to access photos, they can be downloaded at the click of a button.  Most images can be downloaded in a variety of different sizes so you can find the size and quality that you are looking for.
  • They’re Free: Do I really need to say more?

Drawbacks of Using the Creative Commons:

  • Little Oversight: Flickr’s users are in charge of tagging and titling their own images.  This means you can get photos that don’t match your search criteria very well.
  • More Search Time: Because there are so many images and the quality of descriptions varies, extensive searching is often necessary.  To find the right photograph, you might have to execute multiple searches of different phrases or descriptions.  You might even have to look through many pages of thumbnails for each search you execute.
  • Some Frustration: The search process on Flickr is not just time intensive, it can also be a little frustrating.  When using the Creative Commons, you’ll sometimes have to be creative yourself.  For instance, if you’re looking for a photo to accompany a story on a volunteer event aimed at collecting food donations, you may need to search for artful or striking photos of canned foods.


If Flickr’s Creative Commons isn’t producing the type of images you are looking for or if you just want to see what else is out there, here are some alternatives for you to explore.

  • Google’s Advanced Image Search: If you’re partial to the Google search format and the Google search experience, you can turn on filters that will only give you freely licensed photos in your search results.  To turn this filter on, go to the last field box on Google’s Advanced Image Search, labeled “usage rights,” select “free to use or share.”
  • Stock.xchng: While Stock.xchng only offers 400,000 photos (compared to Flickr’s 245 million), the photos are of a higher quality.  Not only is the site owned by Getty Images, an industry leader in high-end stock photography, but the photos you’ll find on SXC are hand-curated for quality.  The biggest drawback is that you have to become a SXC member in order to download any of their free photos.  While membership is free, many of us don’t need one more password and account to keep track of.
  • Everystockphoto: Everystockphoto is a great search engine for quality photos.  You can also make your search license-specific, making it easier to find photos that are free to use.  Everystockphoto indexes differently licensed photos from a variety of locations, including Flickr’s Creative Commons, Stock.xchng, morgueFile, and many others.  This indexing makes Everystockphoto a great one-stop place to get your photos; however, you will still get image results pulled from locations (like Stock.xchng) that require you to register an account on their specific website before you can access that photograph.
  • iStockphoto: iStockphoto offers high-quality stock photos; however, you have to pay for those impressive and impactful images.  You can expect to pay anywhere from $3 to $40 as price changes to reflect the quality and size of the image.

An additional drawback for all of these stock photo sites is that many others often turn to stock photos when looking for images, meaning that the best photos will pop up all over the web.  With its millions of photos to choose from, it is less likely that you will choose the same image from Flickr’s Creative Commons as everyone else.

Attribution Reminders

Remember that you are using someone else’s image for your blog, even if you’ve downloaded it for free.  To be safe, you should always read any licensing agreements set by the image’s owner.  Often you can display the borrowed image with a line of attribution, crediting the photographer for his or her work.  There are a couple different versions of attribution licenses.  Some can only be used non-commercially, others only let you use the image if you have made no changes or edits.  And I’m by no means a lawyer, so review the specific legal documents yourself to ensure what you’re doing isn’t breaking the law.  Be sure you know which license the image you’ve picked operates under, and stick to that usage agreement.

Where have you found the best images for your blog posts?  Do you think iStock’s photos are worth the price tag?  I’d love to hear about your photo searching experience in the comments section below.

Related Reads

6 Tips to Enhance Your Facebook Page With Photos

7 Questions to Ask When Starting a Nonprofit Blog

Image courtesy of Sadie Hernandez, Flickr