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How to Achieve a Year-End Win Without Client Photos

Question: Our last two year-end campaigns were fueled by client stories that featured a photo or two. Naturally, I planned to feature the same kind of moving, memorable profiles this year


Flickr: Billy Brown


That plan changed radically last month, when our social workers urged us to put our clients’ privacy first and stop using client photos. Our staff agreed to honor their request, and now we need your help.

What are some effective alternatives I can put to work right now? And how do I move forward with using client photos after the year-end campaign?

Answer: You’re facing a tough situation, but I have some recommendations that I think can help you and your colleagues execute the strongest year-end campaign possible.

You’re 100% right about the power of stories. They offer the quickest and strongest emotional hook there is. Using specific details (name, location, photos) to paint a rich picture of a single protagonist or family and you’ll ignite the power of one (our tendency to respond more strongly to a story about a real individual or family than anonymous people or a group).

You’re also right that photos help bring your stories (and your people) to life. They make it quick and easy for prospects and donors to feel like they’re “meeting” your protagonist. The more real your protagonists are, the more supporters will relate to them personally (e.g. this could be my friend, my family, or me.).  

Stories about individuals that benefit from your donors’ gifts show supporters the concrete impact of their donations and build their support of and trust for your organization. In turn, they’re more likely to donate again now and in the future, and to share your organization’s stories and successes with friends and family.

The bottom line, your campaign still needs a story. You’ll just have to refine your approach to storytelling this year.



How to Handle This Year’s Year-End Campaign

Time is short. At this point, you’re probably mid-production on this year’s year-end campaign. Take these three steps to launch a year-end campaign that fuels the greatest giving possible given your unexpected constrictions:

1) DON’T use client photos as is for this year-end campaign.
Trust your social workers’ understanding of what is best for the people you serve.  Despite the unfortunate timing of their request, mission comes first. Respect their expertise.

2) DO feature client stories and testimonials with any or all of these adjustments as guided by your social worker colleagues.

  • Change client names.
  • Revise story details to make protagonists unrecognizable (e.g. change a person’s hometown or how many children they have).
  • Create a composite story based on a few individuals to illustrate a fuller picture of your program or service.

3) DO use any or all of the following to illustrate your beneficiary stories.

  • Photos of staff members or volunteers (e.g. a staff nurse giving a flu shot to a client with his or her back to camera or a volunteer team packing bags of food for holiday distribution).
  • Edited client photos with faces obscured, individuals positioned, or shots cropped so that the individuals won’t be recognized. You should have signed media releases from subjects even if they can’t be recognized, and clear this approach with your social workers.
    • We have experimented with non-identifying photos of the child, and photos of volunteers and parents. To our surprise, some of these photos have proven to be even more powerful than the kids’ expressions of excitement,” says Angela Crist, executive director of Findlay Hope House.
  • Photos of elements central to your client’s story such as the set of keys and drivers license pictured below.
  • Stock photos

Here is a great example of this approach from the Findlay Hope House Facebook Page:

findlay-hope-houseWe are so excited to share that Isaiah, a recent Getting Ahead Grad, passed his driving test and is now a licensed driver! So many future successes depend on having a driver’s license so this was one of his top goals during Getting Ahead.

Isaiah says: “Back when I did my classes a few months ago, I set one of my goals to get my license. As of 10:50 this morning, I’m proud to announce that for the first time in my life (turned 33 in September) I am an official licensed driver!”

Congrats to Isaiah! We are certain this is his first big accomplishment of many!

One caveat: if you use stock photos, change client details, or create composite stories, you need to share that with your prospects or other audiences.

Here is a sample disclaimer from fundraising copywriter Lisa Sargent: “At [org name], we respect everyone who comes to us for help – and many are working toward a fresh start in life. So while their stories are true, client names and images may have been changed to protect their privacy. Thank you for understanding.”

I’m eager to hear how you manage this last-minute photo challenge. As you can see, there are effective methods to work around this challenge while honoring what comes first: your clients’ privacy.


Watch for a follow-up post! Photos are too important of a fundraising tool to give up. I’ll guide you on partnering with your program team and other colleagues to shape a photo policy that works for everyone.

More Year-End Storytelling Guidance

6 Types of Stories that Spur Giving

A Brilliant Change-Up for Your Year-End Campaign

5 tactics to engage and inspire nonprofit donors this end-of-year fundraising season
6 steps to creating a nonprofit year-end and GivingTuesday social media strategy
10 powerful tactics for nonprofits to acquire new supporters before year-end fundraising campaigns
8 money-saving tips for nonprofit organizations