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Why Nonprofits Should Use Positive Images in Marketing

As a nonprofit, it can be difficult to tell your story well through images. How do you balance the real-life struggles of the people you serve with the positive outcomes you see on a daily basis? Do you show the before or the after, the devastation of poverty or the hope of change? It’s hard to know, but we’re here to help.

Getting the right emotional response starts with…data?


When we make decisions at 5by5, we always try to baseline with research. A variety of research has shown that potential donors prefer to give to positive imagery. There are many reasons why, but chief among them is the fact that donors want to see how their gift makes a difference. Positive imagery, the “after” is one way they can see and feel that change.

Another way to think about this choice is instead of showing the “failure” outcome of the story you’re telling — the bad things that will continue to happen if your audience does not donate — we show the “success” outcome. We often refer to this as the “hero” image, based on the marketing framework StoryBrand.


You aren’t the hero, your donors are.


Within the context of StoryBrand, the organization positions the audience as the “hero” of the story and itself as the “guide” — a shift from the traditional approach to marketing, which tends to cast the brand as the “hero,” swooping in to solve the problem and save the day. With StoryBrand, the organization is simply here to equip the audience to save the day themselves.

While it may seem like this approach wouldn’t apply to nonprofits, it can be just as effective with those organizations as it can with a retail company. The only difference is the potential for two different heroes — the audience or the person the organization serves — but either way, success looks like the health and happiness of the people being served. This brings us back to the hero image.

Choosing an image that portrays the success — what happens when people do support the cause — helps the audience visualize the end result and see the good work your organization is doing. It allows them to have confidence in your brand’s ability to make a difference, and it also allows the people you’re serving to maintain dignity and respect.


Focus on the positive and make a difference.


Whether it’s a stock image or real photos of the people you’re serving, choose a photo that reflects positive outcomes rather than focusing on the problem. It can be a game-changer when it comes to the effectiveness of your marketing.

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