Whether you’re a nonprofit, think tank, or other social impact organization, you probably draw on visual storytelling devices—photos, illustrations, data visualizations, memes, emojis, and more—in your external communications. These visual tools enliven your brand narrative. They enable you to communicate about your mission, your values, the communities you serve, and your impact in ways that establish emotional connections and drive deep engagement.
Visual storytelling, however, is far from neutral. The images you share may paint the communities your organization represents in demeaning ways, while the memes and GIFs you use on informal communication platforms may inadvertently participate in digital blackface. Before you know it, despite your best intentions, your mission—of fostering equality and social justice—is turned on its head. Attentive and intentional visual storytelling, however, can uplift communities, champion inclusivity, and challenge your audience’s assumptions.
These resources are excellent springboards for telling engaging and ethical stories by leveraging diverse, authentic, and empowering visual tools and practices. We hope the perspectives shared here help you lift others up while presenting a compelling brand narrative for your organization.
Images are key components of your nonprofit’s brand—they help quickly communicate your mission to diverse stakeholders and elicit sustained engagement. But, for these images to drive impact, it’s important for them to be authentic, inclusive, and empowering. How do you make sure your images meet these criteria? Here’s a handy checklist. From choosing images that paint the communities you’re representing in a positive light to avoiding poverty porn, these tips will help you tell your nonprofit’s story in the most ethical and visually compelling way possible.
This Communications Network resource offers a list of considerations and suggestions to keep in mind when sourcing images for humanitarian impact. From seeking your subjects’ consent to contextualizing the images you produce, this guide encourages taking an important pause to center ethical image-generating practices.
If you want to make a splash by telling your nonprofit’s story visually, but production costs (time, effort, money, and personnel) are forcing you to reconsider, check out the visual design tools mentioned in this article. With easily customizable templates, professional themes, and intuitive design processes, these tools promise to make thoughtful image and video-creation a breeze.
Sometimes, collaboration yields powerful visual resources for your nonprofit’s storytelling needs—and in this case, collaboration might look like drawing from a library of inclusive stock images created by people with disabilities (with the appropriate crediting, of course). Check out this resource for a library of images depicting disabled Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), along with some specifically LGBTQ+-themed pictures, that you can incorporate into your communications and branding.
If your nonprofit doesn’t boast a fully Black staff, avoid using memes and GIFs that feature Black people. This is a form of digital blackface—a practice that stereotypes Black people and uses exaggerated caricatures for entertainment or as vehicles for one’s thoughts and emotions. It’s harmful, demeaning, and frankly, just not cool.
The skin-tone choice you make when using an emoji in public communications is significant. If you’re a predominantly white-staffed or white-led nonprofit, using a non-white emoji doesn’t empower BIPOC (unless used in a specific context such as the Black Lives Matter movement); instead, it denies your race privilege. Check out this article to understand why seemingly small communication choices, such as selecting one skin-tone emoji over another, has deep social implications and sends very specific messages about your organization’s brand.
Using color strategically in visualizations helps you tell your data-related story in a way that commands attention. This article provides a number of useful tips on how to make these color choices in ways that drive maximum impact. Some key takeaways: don’t shy away from using gray; use intuitive colors to represent specific ideas; and finally, avoid the pink-blue combination for gender-related data.
The resources we offer here are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to inclusive visual storytelling best practices. And so, we’re closing by offering you this compilation of articles, thought pieces, and stock photo libraries you can return to, to tell the most engaging visual story possible about your nonprofit or social impact organization.
Check out our other Curated Resources such as 8 Resources for Countering Anti-Asian Racism and Uplifting Asian Communities and 8 Resources for Effective, Ethical Nonprofit Data-Driven Storytelling.
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