Keep Your Eyes Open: Visual Storytelling for Nonprofits

Guest post Christy Wiles on behalf of PhotoPhilanthropy.

Photo by James Morgan on behalf of the World Wildlife Fund.
Photo by James Morgan on behalf of the World Wildlife Fund.

Close your eyes and think of a single photograph that has captured your imagination.

Now, open your eyes. What did you see?

Perhaps it was Yosemite at moonrise; that indelible Ansel Adams image is said to have led to the formation of our National Parks system.

Photos can change the world. They do change the world. Images have the power to shift public policy, spark human rights campaigns, and alter the course of wars. In this era of visual saturation, with images circulating the globe at unprecedented scale and speed, it is more important than ever for mission-driven organizations to create high-impact visual media that fuels awareness and inspires action.

With a successful photo-essay or multimedia piece, organizations can attract volunteers, appeal to donors and grantmakers, influence policymakers and perhaps most importantly, drive a movement. Visual material that communicates the core message of an organization and encourages its audience to emotionally engage with the subject can have a monumental impact on organizational success, not only in getting the word out, but in securing funding.

An example of an organization that has capitalized on the power of visual storytelling to communicate its mission is the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). WWF worked with photographer James Morgan to produce images that not only tell a story, but also draw viewers in and drive them to learn more about the organization. WWF has used Morgan’s images as part of its marketing collateral, online gallery, and campaigns.

As a result of Morgan’s excellent capacity for visual narrative, the organization has garnered attention from major international news sources including the Guardian, BBC News and the New York Times. You can see the story of this successful collaboration here. And watch Morgan’s stunning video that he shot in the Coral Triangle here.

PhotoPhilanthropy, based in San Francisco, is working to educate nonprofits about the importance of visual storytelling. On the PhotoPhilanthropy website, there is an online hub where organizations can post calls for photographers, and where photographers interested in working with a nonprofit can find opportunities.

In addition to the online resources, PhotoPhilanthropy is offering a series of seminars on visual storytelling for nonprofits. The Spring seminar, “Word Up / Picture Out,” is free and will take place on April 11, 2012 at the University of California, Berkeley, at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. If you are interested in attending or learning more about this event, visit the registration page on EventBrite.

To learn about PhotoPhilanthropy, visit

Christy Wiles is the Communications and Exhibitions Manager at PhotoPhilanthropy. She holds an MA Degree in History and Theory of Contemporary Art and a BA in Spanish Literature.