Visual Content Marketing for Nonprofits: Your How-To Guide


Is your nonprofit stuck in the stone age, relying on older marketing tricks to try to build an audience? Here’s your chance to move forward.

Visual content marketing can help you reach a lot more people very quickly. And beyond that, it can be far more effective in informing the public about what your nonprofit does and why your mission is worth supporting. But you have to be willing to implement it, and able to get it right.

Fortunately, we have some tips ready to go. Read through to see if you can find some ways to improve the marketing for your nonprofit. You may just find that polishing the visuals you present can make a dramatic difference in the number of people you reach, and how many hearts and minds you can win as a result.

Grab attention with images and videos

We live in the era of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram — and unfortunately, attention spans have never been shorter. This is why your nonprofit should leap at every opportunity to use photos and videos in your storytelling.

Images and videos grab attention because they’re easy to consume. Someone can look at and like an image in just a few seconds. And on some social platforms, videos start playing automatically, which means you have a few crucial seconds for them to latch on before someone scrolls away. Plain text just can’t compete.

Embrace these visual forms of media as much as you can while keeping the quality high. At first you’ll need to remind yourself to commit time to sourcing photos and videos, but once it becomes a habit, you’ll find yourself gathering a lot of valuable content to share online.

Use infographics to make important statistics more impactful

Businesses have learned over the years that consumers find text and numbers boring — but, if you dress that information up, it can become very compelling. Visual stylings make statistics easier to understand and place into context. They give them impact.

For example, let’s suppose you were running a nonprofit devoted to helping people quit smoking: you might feel compelled to share some figures on your website (or through a social network), but readers wouldn’t really understand the scale of those figures. They’d just see numbers. But suppose you provided two graphs side-by-side, one showing the deaths from smoking each year and the other showing population totals of small counties — well, that could definitely get the point across.

It’s an easy note, but a vitally important one. Nonprofits rely heavily on statistics to neatly communicate the significance and urgency of what they do, so make the most of yours.

Lean heavily on complex email visuals

Sure, you can share your content marketing goods on your website or through social networks, but you’re rarely going to have a viewer’s undivided attention. Options abound, and even if someone picks your content out, they could get distracted, leave, and never return.

This is why collecting email addresses should be a huge priority for your nonprofit.

When you have someone’s email address, you have a direct line to them — one that’s free of Facebook baby photos and the frenzied noise of Twitter. Emails (non-spam ones, at least) don’t get buried by algorithms. They arrive, and they stay there until acted upon. And since they’re distributed individually, they can be tailored to specific recipients, something you can’t do with generic social media posts.

But most importantly, an email is a blank canvas you can fill with any visuals you deem relevant. You don’t need to cater to the limited formats of social media platforms, or stick entirely to glossy standout shots. You can mix and match, using powerful emotive images plus more subdued images to tell complex visual stories. Through an email, you can take the reader on an insightful journey through the heart of your nonprofit, all leading them up to some kind of action at the end — whether that’s sharing the story, donating, or even volunteering.

Establish a visual brand through consistent uploading

When it comes to visual content marketing, one of the biggest mistakes your nonprofit can make is to be inconsistent. If you’re only posting content online every few weeks, or if you go even longer than that between content shares, you’ll just be spinning your wheels. Your visual content must have an overall theme to it, and that theme won’t build up in people’s minds if you give them time between posts to forget about what they’ve already seen.

You’ll benefit from consistency on just about any platform. If you’re creating video for YouTube, you’ll gain more views by posting on a schedule. If you’re sharing photos to Facebook, the volume along will make them more likely to be seen. And if you’re adding visuals to blog posts and website content over time, let people know that you update in that way. Give them a reason to keep coming back for more — this will also help with your SEO efforts.

After your visual content marketing campaign has been running for a while, everyone familiar with your brand should have a strong idea of what your signature style is. What emotions do you play upon? What colors do you use? What situations do you depict? You need a visual style just as you need a tonal style. The stronger the style, the more likely it will be to gather significance.

If you can build up a strong enough brand style, you can turn it into an additional revenue stream through selling branded merchandise and donating the profits to your cause. Think about buying an extension-friendly online store and setting up a system such as Merchify to quickly offer branded clothing and other items, then encourage user-generated content (UGC) featuring your products to get your nonprofit even more exposure.

Adjust your message as needed

If you’re a book reader, you’ve likely read at least one book that’s been made into a movie, and anyone who saw that movie will have noticed some differences between the two. Even the most faithful adaptations won’t carry the source material word-for-word over to the movie script. It isn’t viable to do a simple “File” > “Save As” and call it a day. Books must be adapted.

The premises need to be adjusted to fit the required formats, turning words into powerful visuals. This is exactly what your nonprofit should do with the stories you have to tell. You can’t simply copy everything from your leaflets or brochures to a website or social network profile. The copy developed for those mediums is meant for those mediums.

Instead, create fresh, unique content for your online presence. Tell the same story in a different way that suits powerful visuals. Make it something that can grab and keep attention. For instance, if you have a long-form origin story, break it down into isolated moments you can capture in visuals — the formation of the charity, the situation that inspired its creation, the people helped along the way. You’ll make a much bigger impact that way.

Don’t let volunteers shoulder the load

We get it. You’re a nonprofit. Being frugal with your resources is key, because you need as much money as possible to go toward fulfilling your mission. So it’s understandable that you accept time from volunteers who help with mailers, or who gather donations — but you shouldn’t be tasking them with handling your visual content marketing. It’s too important.

We’re several years past the arrival of the social media revolution. So many other nonprofits are now competing for mindspace with your target audience (and there are so many other distractions in the world) that there’s only a point in doing visual content marketing if it’s exceptional and eye-catching. Fail to meet that standard and your visuals will simply drown in the sea of social media activity.

If you want to get volunteers involved in the process, you can have a skilled full-time employee oversee those who want to help with the creation process. Teach them about composition, contrast, art styles, emotive storytelling — anything that will make them more valuable for your nonprofit — but don’t rely on them too heavily, because they could leave at any time.

Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups, a site dedicated to supporting charitable startups. She loves to see nonprofits figure out how to get their messages across. Visit the blog for nonprofit inspiration, and follow along on Twitter @getmicrostarted.


If you have more questions about nonprofit strategy you can always reach out to the DipJar fundraising experts for help. It's what we love to do!