Fundraisers: Your photos are putting you in the Friend Zone

We are in the throws of Giving Book production, which means we are swimming in photos.

As we rummage through images for the best representations of our nonprofit members, I keep a real life experience in mind.

I’m driving into my neighborhood and see a dog wandering towards the main road. I curse under my breath because I have to stop and get the dog. If I don’t stop, the dog might get hit. I am inconvenienced, I don’t really have the time to help, but I do it because it’s on me to save him.  

Had someone else been out there attempting to wrangle the dog, I would have felt content to continue along because someone was tending to the problem. I would have been off the hook.

Now if that person had asked me for some money to help him get the dog a leash, I would probably give it to him. But only if he was able to get my attention and flag me down to stop the car. And he would not be able to lasso my attention enough to stop the car if the person and the dog looked like a happy Target ad.

Keep that story and these points in mind when considering what photos you use in your fundraising materials:

1. Donor appeals

I worship at the altar of Steven Screen and The Better Fundraising Co. and they will tell you, happy, smiling faces do not move donors to action.

In fact, when you show how great you are (smiling faces of saved people) you are letting them off the hook and giving them permission to move on. Nonprofits struggle with this, believing that if we share how bad things were and show wonderful they are now, donors will want to do that for more people.

That is an organization-centered mentality. Imagine a donor like a preschool teacher. She has 20+ children who need her. Is she going to run to the side of the pleasant child happily coloring? Or is she going to run to help the child who just spilled paint all over the floor and is now peeing his pants?

You know the need because you see it everyday. You have to give the donor a glimpse at the sad, heartbreaking truth of the need. Showing them a solved problem when you are asking for their money is going to lock you in the friend zone. They think you’re great, but just “not in that way”. You know, the open their wallet kind of way.

(P.S. Don’t toss those images of solved problems. That’s the perfect way to thank someone for their gift.)

2. Event photos

Think Sponsorship Marketing: Event photos are very important. They will help you secure your sponsors for next year’s event. Get as many photos as you can – but of attendees, not of tables and auction items and people delivering remarks on stage.

A business will make a sponsorship investment if they see their prospective customers in attendance. Consider putting those photos in the first pages of your sponsorship proposals.

3. Don’t ruin your event photos

Be Media Smart: If your event chair or board chair or executive director is in every grip and grin shot with attendees, you now have only one viable photo for print or media use.

I have been the editor at two magazines where we published pages of grip and grin event photos. Print publications do not want to run photos of the same person more than once. So while I understand that someone from the organization might need to be the photo encourager, have him or her gather and encourage from behind the lens, not in front of it.

4. Brag photos

Getting a big oversized check? Fabulous! Circulate the photo to your board and staff. Put it on social media and say thank you to the check writer.

Don’t show a donor in a newsletter or email if your intention is to inspire a contribution. Would you bring a home-cooked meal to someone with a catering truck in their driveway?

5. Staff photos

This might sound harsh, but when it comes to using photos effectively, there is no instance in which photos of your staff (ED included) is of value from an individual donor fundraising perspective. Photos of staff at events, in the office, doing manual labor associated with your cause, your ED receiving an oversized check, your ED on stage delivering remarks at your lunch or gala – these mean nothing to donors or prospects and even have the potential to hurt you.

How? Donors give to support recipients of your organization, not to support the organization itself. If the visuals speak more to you rather than the need of those you serve, the zest for you becomes diluted and donors can become apathetic.

The idea is to connect the donor to your cause. To leave them feeling as if it’s up to them to save the day. If they see YOU’RE saving the day, they will feel content to move on.

The organizations that I’ve seen with the greatest number of high net worth donors, who are also deeply loyal, are the ones that try to keep themselves behind the curtain entirely. Everything they do, talk about, and show, are about the people they serve and their donors. 

People want to help, if it doesn’t inconvenience them. But people will get inconvenienced if someone needs rescuing.

Force people to stop and get the dog.