Best Photos & Captions for Persuasion Power

Q: Dear Nancy,

I’d love your advice on how to write effective photo captions. I’m starting work on our annual report, and want to make the photos and captions sing! But I can’t find much help online.

In this age of ever-shorter attention spans, grabbing the reader’s attention with a good caption (and good photo, of course) is all the more important. What captions work best?

Many thanks,
Trish Aldrich, Development Director,
Ipswich River Watershed Association

A: Dear Trish,

It’s so true that compelling photos add persuasion power to your annual report, advocacy petitions and fundraising appeals.

In fact, “a picture may be worth MORE than a thousand words in some cases. A new study shows that text is more credible when accompanied by photos,” says neuroscientist Roger Dooley

But not just any photo or caption will do.

The right photo: Dooley recommends using a photo that is relevant, but relevance is more flexible than you might think. For example, if you don’t have a photo of your camper, Jim, playing mad scientist with neon green slime (a story you tell in your fundraising appeal), a photo of any smiling boy camper will work well.

Your photo should include one to three people at most, and be a close up, focusing on faces. Subjects who made eye contact with the camera are best.

Avoid stock photos if you possible. Most of them shout “generic.”

Strengthened by the right text: Careful photo selection is a must, but you can ramp up your persuasion power by framing it with the right text. And captions are the best text placement you have.

I’ve found that a brief caption that clearly ties your photo to the story you’re telling in your blog post or appeal letter, and includes a call to action, is the best way to go. But make the connection (from photo to text, in caption and in the body of your letter, post or annual report) crystal clear.

Take a look at the example at left, featured in a recent year-end fundraising appeal I created for a regional organization working with homeless and near-homeless families. This brief connect-the-dots caption made it easy for readers of the letter to connect the photo to they story they read in the text, and motivated them to give at the moment of.

Trish, I hope this helps. Please let me know.

What kinds of photos and captions connect best with your org’s network? Please share your recommendations here.

P.S. Be sure to download this free e-guide, The Book That Changed My Life. 129 top reading picks from nonprofit leaders around the world.

Nancy Schwartz on December 3, 2012 in storytelling | 0 comments
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