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As visual content continues to dominate the Web, philanthropic organizations are harnessing the power of imagery to help spread their messages and boost fundraising efforts. Visual storytelling is an ideal medium to communicate nonprofit organizations’ purpose since it not only increases audience engagement but also triggers emotions that can effectively lead to a change in behavior or, at the very least, a change in attitude and perspective.
Much can be learned by examining various nonprofit organizations’ visual campaigns, taking note of the different media and styles used, as well as the ways in which they are promoted. To inspire your own nonprofit marketing ideas, we’ve highlighted 17 organizations that conducted seriously successful visual campaigns:
Many charitable organizations struggle to make their beneficiaries realistic to potential contributors. While it’s not difficult for people to support children in general, they are less likely to relate to the plight of children on the other side of the world.
The UK’s Save the Children doesn’t merely support children in western Europe. The nonprofit works in 120 countries around the world, with particular focus on kids in war-torn Syria. A 2014 PSA video, however, has been viewed more than 56 million times.
The video chronicles the life events of a young girl, from happy birthday parties and playtime to running from attacks and sitting in a hospital. The stark contrast between her early life and later events is summed up with a profound statement: “Just because it isn’t happening here, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.” It’s unlikely a non-video format could have relayed the message as powerfully or successfully.
Fear of the unknown is a powerful emotion. Italy’s National Association of People with Down Syndrome – CoorDown – released a powerful video answering the questions of an expectant mother of a child with down syndrome. What kind of life will her baby have?
A picture is worth a thousand words, and video portrays even more. CoorDown’s “Dear Future Mom” video depicts 15 different children with Down Syndrome, each answering the expectant mother’s question. The heartwarming and effective message has been viewed more than 7.6 million times.
This worldwide organization works to help provide quality alternative care for children who cannot live with their biological families. SOS Children’s Village Norway created a video message designed to strike emotions of empathy within its audience.
This video takes the engaging concept of a hidden camera and applies it to an emotional scenario of a cold and lonely child. The reactions of passersby characterizes their apathy in a negative light, reminding viewers of the role they can play. When content creates a visceral reaction within its audience, the call to action – helping children – becomes obvious.
The Sandy Hook Promise was formed in the aftermath of the tragic 2014 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, with a goal of providing programs that protect children from similar senseless tragedies. While it is difficult to tackle the topic of children’s deaths, the group published a powerful PSA video that promotes its message from a different angle.
In the video titled “Evan,” the audience’s attention is initially captured by the story of a teenage boy and his pen pal. By the time they begin to invest in the story, the teenaged subject meets his mystery friend in a shocking manner: The boy barges into the school gymnasium and starts shooting.
The video then shares its backstory: Evan – along with everyone else – missed the warning signs when the disturbed student began to break. Replaying earlier scenes reveals the shooter was part of the story all along, but he was overlooked simply because no one was looking for him – until it was too late.
Forced body mutilation isn’t a pretty subject, and one that’s difficult to illustrate. But Plan Belgium and artist Mandy Smith brilliantly tackled the topic, using paper creations to visually represent certain body parts to raise awareness of Female Genital Mutilation.
Leaving little to the imagination, the artistic medium shocked viewers while avoiding a break with common standards for a public message.
Content marketers have learned the power of visually communicating their call to action. As a result, Internet users are frequently encouraged to “read more,” “buy now” and “sign up” with icons that accomplish those goals with a single click.
Amazon recently took the trend one step further, marketing physical buttons that can be placed in strategic locations, allowing customers to order an item with a literal click of the button. For example, a Tide button can be placed above a washing machine for the user to click when low on detergent.
The American Civil Liberties Union and designer Nathan Pryor took note of Amazon’s product, and created a way for Americans to instantly satisfy their frustration with their current president. The ACLU now offers a similar “button” that users can physically click – or slap – each time they are angered by the president.
With each click, users donate $5 to the ACLU, helping the organization in its promise to use legal means to protect Americans’ rights. So far in 2017, donations to the ACLU have spiked, and it even raised $24 million in a single weekend – six times the annual average.
Syrian refugees have become a hot topic in recent years, and it’s easy to focus on their issues and forget about the people. Three Swiss organizations -- The Voice of Thousands, Borderfree and Schwizerchruz -- aimed to tell the stories of refugees and the lives they left behind. Those stories are symbolically told through Project Life Jacket.
To create Project Life Jacket, volunteers learned the stories of nine people who each fled from Syria, across the Mediterranean to Greece, where they waited in transit camps. Those stories of refugees’ lives before they left Syria were then illustrated on used life jackets, taken from the beaches of Greece where refugees landed.
The Project Life Jacket website allows anyone to interact with the charity. Each illustrated life jacket is paired with a refugees’ image, as well as a vivid description and an audio interview with the subject. Donations to one of several humanitarian organizations can be initiated from the same page.
To help achieve its goal of ending smoking, the nonprofit organization Truth created an innovative visual campaign, Big Tobacco Be Like, to decimate delusions surrounding social smoking. The organization capitalized on the popular meme #BeLike, and it partnered with Vine and Instagram to create a series of short vignettes that visually contrasted the difference between social smokers’ perceptions and the Big Tobacco reality.
— truth (@truthorange) October 5, 2015
The #BigTobaccoBeLike ads were broadcast on national television in spots targeting the 12- to 24-year-old demographic. The television campaign was supplemented by a digital strategy that attracted about 1 million YouTube views in its first 24 hours.
By targeting its desired demographic and playing on an existing trend, truth saw a 55 percent increase in young people who agreed when polled that even occasional smoking supports Big Tobacco, an attitude found to decrease teen smoking rates.
Nonprofits WaterAid and the Pub joined forces to educate the world on global sanitation issues, and they used a popular emoji to spread their message. Using poop emoji, the #GiveaShit campaign offered a lighthearted way for audiences to learn about a serious problem that affects 2.3 billion people who don’t have access to safe and sanitary toilets.
What was already a cute and playful idea spread across the Web like wildfire when some of social media’s biggest celebrities were awarded custom poop emojis, which they shared with their millions of followers. The campaign even featured a free app that allowed any user to design their own personalized poop emoji to share with friends and donate to the cause.
The #GiveAShit campaign resulted in a plethora of major media coverage that generated more than 230 million impressions and -- more importantly -- 11,000 new WaterAid supporters.
Snapchat has become a haven for nonprofits seeking to promote campaigns within Millennial audiences. The social network is focused on imagery and immediacy, both valuable elements of marketing campaigns.
Denmark’s division of the World Wildlife Fund successfully harnessed the selfie and hashtag phenomena within social media to visually communicate the plight of endangered species. The organization shared a series of animal close-ups and the slogan, “Don’t let this be my #lastselfie.”
The vanishing quality of snaps added to the campaign’s urgency, further illustrating the species’ crises.
One New York nonprofit, Charity: Water, raised $2.4 million at one event by taking donors on a virtual trip to a small town in Ethiopia. The organization builds water projects around the world, successfully harnessing the potential of virtual reality to open donors’ checkbooks.
The organization provided attendees with Samsung Gear VR headsets so they could watch a virtual reality presentation. The movie documented a week in the life of an Ethiopian family accessing clean water for the first time.
And the fundraising success didn’t end the campaign, which also served to raise awareness among audiences. Thousands have now seen the film using their VR headsets, and millions more have watched it online.
Visual storytelling is the perfect medium for nonprofits to communicate their missions. Personal stories and vivid imagery combine to trigger emotions within audiences, which philanthropies have long relied on to encourage giving and sharing.
Keep America Beautiful accomplished both goals with its “I want to be recycled” visual campaign. A series of PSA videos tell the stories of a plastic bottle transformed into a park bench or aluminum cans destined to help build a stadium. The unique take on recycling creatively humanized what is normally a technical and scientific topic.
Nonprofits are frequently using niche social networks to tell visual stories. The U.S. chapter of the United Nations Children’s Fund recently conducted a successful visual campaign on Instagram.
Using the hashtag #5thBDay, the organization encouraged supporters to submit photos of themselves on their fifth birthday, spreading the message that everyone deserves a fifth birthday. The campaign highlighted the ongoing issue of early-childhood mortality.
A popular campaign from ONE helps viewers visualize 130 million girls, the number who are deprived of an education each day. Launched on International Women’s Day in 2017, ONE engaged its audience and harnessed the hashtag to promote its message, spreading awareness of the crisis with the meme #GirlsCount.
The campaign’s website asks visitors to choose a number between one and 130 million, then post an image or video of them communicating that number in some creative way. Once all 130 million have been posted, the images will be combined to create what the ONE team hopes will be the world’s longest user-generated film.
The international education philanthropy Pencils of Promise also took advantage of the latest technology to promote its cause. The nonprofit virtually transported audiences to a small classroom in Ghana to illustrate the ways education is benefiting one rural community.
The 90-second virtual reality film lets viewers experience the stark contrast between the tropical landscape and the impoverished village that lies within. Audiences are then introduced to school children attending class within a new building, thanks to Pencils of Promise.
The film helped the organization raise $1.9 million within a year of its release.
One nonprofit used augmented reality to visually represent the power of giving. During its Giving Tuesday campaign, CrowdRise built a virtual “Giving Tower,” which grew taller each time donations were made to various causes.
Simply by pointing their smartphone cameras toward a flat object, viewers could see the tower appear in augmented reality. As the tower grew, it unlocked virtual reality films for viewers to learn more about various causes around the world. By the end of the campaign, CrowdRise had raised more than $6 million for the featured nonprofits.
So many times the simplest explanation is also the most poignant and profound. The Children’s Defense Fund hoped to illustrate the cost of eliminating a tax credit that benefits parents.
To visually communicate that budget cuts equal increased poverty, the nonprofit used classic symbolism.
A photo of a baby, surrounded by cutting symbols of a dotted line and scissors, appears over an image of a homeless man. The message is clear: Cutting him from the budget now will cost all of us later.
Which of these examples of successful nonprofit marketing campaigns has inspired you the most? Tell us about it in the comments section below.
And if you'd like to get started on your own highly creative visual marketing campaign for your nonprofit, check out this free visual content tool for creating engaging infographics and visual statistics.
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