The four principles of visual storytelling.

Jan 25, 2024

There’s a lot to be said about first impressions. We start comprehending messages before words are read or spoken based on what we see. So, in the age of highly visual storytelling and digital communications, the adage a picture is worth a thousand words has never been truer.

How things look plays a huge part in how we experience the world. And the way audiences want to engage has evolved drastically in the digital age.

You’ll need to hook your audience with powerful videos, infographics, and pictures that tell a story.

Mastering the four principles of visual storytelling is critical when you rely on messages, not products, to support your work.

DOWNLOAD eBOOK: Compelling storytelling for nonprofits,

And sharing videos and images that tell your story raises awareness for your cause, builds trust with your audience, and inspires donors to help achieve your goals.

This post will outline the four pillars of visual storytelling: authenticitysensoryrelevancy, and archetype.

These principles will help you tap into the emotion, identity, and core values your audience and organization share.

Using video to tell your story gives you an advantage with social media algorithms.

Authenticity: Keep it real.

Your images need to feel real. Audiences have a more critical eye in the age of memes, selfies, and AI.

They have a good sense of when a photo is staged, overly polished, or just doesn’t feel real. So, visual storytelling needs to capture those slice-of-life moments that help the audience connect with the meaning behind the picture.

You already know nonprofits that are more transparent about their activities are more successful in fundraising. And visual storytelling should be an extension of that!

Candid visuals are the best way to reveal the reality of your work and your story. They will capture your donors’ attention and make your message more memorable as they open a window into your world.

READ MORE: How should fundraisers embrace AI?

Use your data to determine which stories will make the biggest impression on your audience.

Sensory: Hit the feels.

The world is a noisy place, and it’s harder to make your message stand out than ever before.

Think about the way you scroll through your newsfeed on social media. Scroll, stop. Scroll, scroll, stop. We take in so much information quickly, but how often does something really capture your attention?

As fundraisers, we’re constantly fighting to cut through the clutter. There’s no denying information overload.

And there’s a reason social media networks favor video in their algorithms. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a video is worth a million!

The point is to rise above the noise and inspire.

The best way to do this is to make your audience feel something and feel it intensely. This is the role of visual storytelling.

It isn’t always about a perfectly pristine picture. In fact, it’s more often the nitty-gritty and beautifully flawed. The ones you can somehow smell in the air and feel on your skin. Visuals like this invite us in for a sensory experience.

You need to inspire your audience when you’re soliciting support for your organization. And sometimes, we avoid using imagery that makes us sad or uncomfortable. However, disrupting the norm with something that overwhelms the senses can trigger someone to act.

Your audience will be more ready to engage when you invite them into your reality with powerful, emotional, and visual storytelling.​

READ MORE:  How to rise above the noise.

Who's telling your story and their role in it will shape your audience's perspective.

Relevancy: Bring it close to home.

The stories your images and videos tell need to feel relevant for your audience to make that emotional connection. This helps turn your story into more than an anecdote.

Fundraisers use stories to spark action. And the only way to do this is to support a personalized narrative with equally personal visual storytelling.

You’ll need to use your data to better understand your audience and what motivates them.

So, identify the values that your audience shares with your organization. These are the ideals that drive your mission. Your videos and images should support these values by demonstrating your progress in a way that speaks to what’s important to your audience.

READ MORE: Why aren’t you using donor surveys?

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Archetypes: Casting your characters.

Every story has a character. And every character fits a certain archetype.

Of the several personality archetypes, three apply most to nonprofit storytelling: the caregiver, the explorer, and the creator.

Different audiences will perceive the characters we place in our stories in various ways. Remember, stories that make an impression feature memorable characters readers and viewers can identify with.

And the goal is to keep your story and organization top of mind.

For instance, if your organization’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of children in your community, you’ll want to connect that idea with the characters in your story.

When one of your supporters thinks of children in need, their emotional connection to your story reminds them of your organization’s work.

So, consider what archetype you’re telling the story from the perspective of.

READ MORE: Focusing your next appeal on a donor-centric story.

Show, don’t tell!

We all know the importance of a good story, but powerful imagery allows your narrative to transcend the screen or page.

Visual storytelling roots itself in the hearts and minds of your audience.

So, the next time you plan a campaign, utilize powerful pictures, videos, and other imagery to bring your story to life and your audience closer to your cause!

Ready to use more powerful videos and imagery in your outreach? Click here!

Like what you see? Stay in touch!

DOWNLOAD: Show and Tell - Compelling storytelling for nonprofits.