How good photography can help you tell your charity’s story

In order to survive and thrive charities and other non profit organisations need to get across the value of their work.

Whether fundraising, attracting volunteers or securing public sector contracts, being able to evidence the impact you make – be that helping people get into employment, saving the bumblebee or fighting for equality, or a myriad of other good causes – is essential.

A compelling case for support combined with powerful imagery is like catnip to your supporters.

Ideally you’ll have the budget to commission a professional photographer to help you develop a bank of photographs to accompany your case studies in reports, on your website and crucially on social media, where images (and indeed video) help your cause be heard above the chatter of charities vying for attention.

So here are my top do’s and don’ts for commissioning photography which will help you get noticed:

1. Do shoot people in their authentic setting and actually engaging in activities, not posing for the camera. This might sound obvious, but if we’ve all seen those awfully staged photos, with people pointing or grimacing at the camera. Do your homework – if you’re promoting a community allotment, arrange to meet on a day when they are digging and planting seedlings.

A good photographer will put people at their ease so that the photos look natural.

Sheffield Futures painting fun

© Rich Hughes

We were very keen to get across the work of Sheffield Futures charity in a positive way. This particular initiative is providing young people with diversionary activities to combat rising crime in the area and empowering young people to have a voice, stay safe and above all have fun. This brilliant photograph really captures that spirit and  ethos. 


2. Don’t just turn up at an event or activity hoping to ‘grab’ somebody for a photograph. Ideally brief people beforehand about what you need photos for and ensure you get their written permission to be photographed. The activity leader or facilitator will usually identify the best people to approach and may be able to get your permission forms signed in advance. It’ll save the time and heartache of trying to get permissions after the event.


© Kate Dawson

I absolutely loved this photoshoot at Fairplay, Chesterfield for The Good Times ezine, which required careful organisation and permissions. It was such a privilege to photograph participants in the All Dance project funded by Deda Derby rehearsing their routine, giving strong visual evidence that the arts should be accessible to all.

3. Do avoid the overused ‘poverty porn’ images. Okay, we know you want to tug at the heart strings but actually seeing the joy or relief on someone’s face as a result of their contact with a charity, can send a powerful message too. There’s also something really important about showing how you’re empowering people, and enabling them to tell their own story, that will win over supporters.

Boy drinking from cup

© Rich Hughes

A documentary photo taken in Africa to show the human impact of clean water supported through a CSR project. Rich describes the shoot as “a moving, humbling  and emotional’ experience. The powerful gaze of the child reaping the benefits of the project speaks volumes. 

4. Don’t be afraid to involve people from different cultures in photographs. If your charity works with women who wear the hijab don’t assume that will preclude them for photos – in my experience many of them love to be photographed but perhaps only as part of a group, or for use in marketing materials and not for distribution to the media. Have the conversation with them and understand the parameters of their permission to publish – they may agree to be pictured from the side so their face is not visible? Also remember that details such as ethnic food and mehndi hand decoration can help tell a story whilst protecting people’s anonymity.


© Satia SP /

The hint of greenery contrasts with the imposing urban landscape in the background, suggesting a moment of escape from the city (their personal circumstances?) and for quiet contemplation. A human and dignified image that might support a narrative relating to this individual’s personal story.

5. Do use photography which takes a sideways look at the world to help promote a campaign or report, particularly on social media where you have just seconds to engage people with your posts. A photograph with a bit of imagination will capture people’s attention.


© Kate Dawson 

It’s always refreshing to challenge people’s perceptions and stereotypes. I loved interviewing clients at the Hope Springs Recovery Centre in Chesterfield and hearing their stories of recovery and hope. New skills and interests, from sewing to cycling, is one of the ways service users find new meaning and purpose in life. 

6. Don’t forget to brief any celebrities prior to attending a photocall with your charity. Ensure they understand what’s expected of them, give them guidelines about what to wear – do they require a T shirt with your logo or campaign slogan on it? A celebrity sharing a photo of themselves on their own social media channels is worth its weight in gold.  I once oversaw a photoshoot with a premiership football player in a children’s hospital. He turned up with a (no doubt very expensive) T-shirt with an image of a skull on it. Not very appropriate! Needless to say we had to photoshop the offending image out before releasing the pictures to the press.

maxine peake 2

© Sharewear Clothing Scheme

This Nottingham charity provides clothes and bedding for people desperately in need. their hugely successful ‘Nothing to wear’ campaign has been endorsed by a raft of celebrities including the fabulous Maxine Peake, above. A masterclass in how to harnessing social media for good. Visit their website for more information Sharewear Clothing Scheme 

7. Do include pictures of cats! At the risk of being accused of being flippant, its worth noting that there are over two million cat videos on YouTube attracting an average of 12,000 views – higher than any other category on the site!. Of course cute animals might not be relevant for your cause,  but if your charity is concerned with animal protection then superb images of your beneficiaries is a must. And, as the photo below shows, sometimes a grumpy old cat can be as compelling as a kitten if photographed well.


© Rich Hughes at the Kitty Café in Nottingham

Black and white imagery adds a different aesthetic and might better reflect your brand. The fact that the cat is sleeping adds to the charm of this image and conjures up memories of ‘Bagpuss’ – a sure fire way to woo any cat-lover to dig deep to support your cause. 


Kate Dawson is a communications consultant with 25 years’ of experience working in the charity, health and education sectors. Kate can help your charity to promote its activities more widely, develop a compelling case for support to underpin fundraising activities and describe your impact to meet the needs of funding bodies and commissioners.

Kate works with professional photographer Rich Hughes to create engaging content for marketing materials, press, web and social media.

Get in touch for a chat about how we can help you tell your story more effectively via email: or mob: 07866 762401


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