Rainy Day Project: Photo Organization

It may be gross outside, but it’s a perfect day for a little in-house organization. I’ve told you how important photographs can be in marketing your message, but those photos will be of little use if they’re not organized, backed up, and shared.

Get ’em off the camera!

In more than one case, after taking photos for a client, I’ve gone back to their office to download the photos to their computer and found that there are dozens or hundreds of photos, weeks or months old, just hanging out on the camera. One client would fill up memory cards and start piling them up in a desk drawer. Seriously, folks. Neither your camera nor it’s memory card is a long term photo storage device!  After you finish taking photos be sure to download them to your computer and to your server where they can be backed up regularly.

The name says it all.

It doesn’t do anybody any good if you have one folder with 1,000 random photos. First, make sure that everyone within the organization is using the same software to organize photos. If one person is using iPhoto and another is using the software that came with the camera, you’re going to have a difficult time tracking down photos when you need them. Organize your photos into folders by date, event, or program. If it’s by date you might use 2011_07 for all of July’s photos, or if it’s by event, you might have a “Gala” folder with a “2011” sub-folder, etc. The naming hierarchy is up to you. The important thing is to have a file naming system that is followed by everyone within the organization. At the very least, give all photos a date and title. As time allows, you can also benefit from using tags, detailed descriptions, sets, collections, albums, archives, or facial recognition software (an awesome feature of Apeture).


Online photosharing services allow users to upload photographs, store them, organize them, tag them, share them, and discuss them. Most of these services are free. Flickr, Picassa, Smugmug are some of the more popular ones. With these services, you can easily create slide shows to email to donors and constituents and post photos to your website, blog, Facebook and Twitter. For example, see how the Thomas Jefferson Area United Way uses Picassa to organize and share their photos. Charlottesville Tomorrow prefers to use Flickr. The Rivanna Conservation Society has good example of a slideshow on their own site. Another local nonprofit, Animal Connections, organizes photos from their events and posts them to Facebook. The point is, no matter how they choose to share them, these organizations have system for organizing and saving their photos online.



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Event Followup

Last weekend, I attended a fundraising gala for a local nonprofit. Like most galas, this was the organization’s largest event of the year. It’s an opportunity to bring in new donors, highlight current donors through sponsorship, and celebrate friends and supporters while raising awareness for the work that you do.  Most organizations put all of their energy into the planning and day of event activities. The real work, however, starts as soon as the event is over.

Thank everyone!

Say thank you both publicly and privately. Send hand-written thank you notes to as many guests and supporters as you can. Include a photo from the event. (This can also be accomplished electronically.) Call your VIPs and sponsors to thank them and ask for their honest impressions. Listen to their feedback. Determine how they can become more involved with your organization and followup with a note that includes information that is pertinent to them. Be grateful for the support you received from your community. Nurture every relationship, including your vendors. Be sure to let them know how their services contributed to the success of your event.

Share the results

Tell everyone about your success. Post photos and share behind the scenes tidbits through your social media outlets. Alert the press so that they can do a post event story. Success breeds success. People who hear how outstanding your event was this year are more likely to want to contribute to or participate in your future events.

Debrief ASAP

Meet with your staff and volunteers as soon as possible and go over the event in great detail. What worked? What didn’t? Where is there room for improvement? What do you want to remember for next time? Gather impressions, take notes and write a report. It will be invaluable the next time you start planning an event.

Look at the Numbers

Analyze your budget. Reconsider your assumptions. Where were you over/under budget? What are some costs you can reduce the next time around? Where do you think you should have invested more?

Build Your Constituency

Ideally, prior to your event, you will have identified people who have not been active with your organization in the past. Maybe they’re friends of a donor or guests of a sponsor. Capture their contact information and followup after the event with a card or letter that thanks them and asks them to become more involved with your organization. Try to find out what their interests are. Ask if they would be interested in volunteering, hosting a meet and greet, or coming by your organization for a tour. This way, they can self-select whether or not they want to become more involved. You’ll get far better results than if you were to just add them to your mailing list.

Recognize Your Volunteers

Bake some cookies, hang up a “We did it!” banner, and be sure to acknowledge everyone who helped to make your event possible. Keep notes in your database about volunteers who really outdid themselves. You’ll want to refer back to this when it comes time hand out volunteer of the year awards or to highlight a volunteer’s work in your newsletter.

Read three more tips for following up after an event.

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Share Your Little Black Book

Nonprofits frequently go about their work as if they’re the only organization doing what they do. It’s pretty unlikely that your organization’s work is radically different from that of organizations in the same sector. You’re bound to have something in common, whether it’s goals, constituents, or funders.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Find other nonprofits who are successfully doing what you’re doing and emulate them. Customize programs, policies, campaigns, and events to fit your own organization. Don’t be afraid to collaborate. Share resources. Nonprofits work with slim assets, and the more you share with one another, the more you’ll benefit those you serve.

The ASPCA does a great job of sharing tools and resources with animal protection and rescue groups. Their materials are not limited to member organizations. They make their information available to the public so that it can educate and inspire others working in the field. For example, they provide a “Little Black Book of Adoption Promotions.” Rescue groups across the country are constantly coming up with marketing ideas to promote the adoption of animals. Instead of keeping these ideas to themselves, they collaborate because they share the same goal of finding animals homes, whether they are in the same community or not.

Speaking of the ASPCA, this month is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. This is Copper, an adorable boxer-mix puppy that we are fostering for the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA. He’s about twelve weeks old. He’s calm, curious, and eager to please. He’s already learned his name, how to walk on a leash, and to sit on command. He sleeps through the night and is happy to nap or hang out in his crate. If you or someone you know is interested in adopting Copper, please contact me.

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1000 words, But Are They The Right Ones?

A friend of mine posted to Facebook today asking for advice on engagement photos. She’s already hired the best photographer in town and she’s thinking through wardrobe options. All that’s left to do is find that perfect location that serves not only as a backdrop for their smiling faces, but conveys their sense of style, and complements their feelings of joy and excitement.

Nonprofits don’t give photography half this much consideration. They understand the need to flesh out their newsletters, brochures, and websites with images, but they often lack the real photos that convey emotion and create a personal connection with their work. Instead, they show a giant check being passed off from a major donor to a beaming executive director, a bunch of muckety-mucks in tuxedos standing around a table at a gala, or a group of uninterested kids surrounding a politician. While these photos convey facts, they are unlikely to move your audience. It’s like writing without adjectives. These photos say, “give us money and we will spend it.” Not the most convincing message for a nonprofit.

So what is a “real” photo? Check out the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Virginia. Their annual report shows kids and volunteers participating in their programs. It may not be the fanciest example out there, but their photos are bright and clear, some posed, some candid, all conveying what their organization does.

If you can’t hire a pro, your best alternative is sheer persistence: take a lot of photos all the time. Enlist your staff, your volunteers, even your program participants as photographers. As my friend Tracy says, “even a blind hog can find an acorn now and then.” It’s all a matter of being in the right place at the right time. And don’t just take photos at events and fundraisers—get out in the field. The Local Food Hub does a great job of this. Take photos of volunteers, donors, “a day in the life” of your staff or constituents, of the people and places you serve, and of projects as they’re being built or created (and not just when they’re completed). Your photos may not be professional, but it will be clear that they are originals.

Some nonprofits prefer to use stock photography instead of original images. They may be pretty, but there’s some risk in using slick photos of people and places that aren’t really associated with your organization. Take a look at the image header that Hospice of the Piedmont uses on their website. These smiling, happy people look a little too good. Sure enough, a quick search reveals that they were purchased from a stock photography site.

So what’s the big deal? There isn’t one, really. Hospice’s clientele probably doesn’t want their photos used for marketing purposes, and who can blame them? This is an organization that deals with extremely sensitive and personal issues. The stock photo of grandma with her nurse will surely suffice and convey the message that the organization wants. (I should point out that Hospice of the Piedmont helped my family manage my grandfather’s, as well as my husband’s grandmother’s, end of life and palliative care, for which we are forever grateful.)

The only problem appears to be grandma’s popularity. While she represents a patient receiving end of life care at Hospice of the Piedmont, she also represents a homebound senior who’s surviving on boxes of food from the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. If you must use stock photos, at the very least, make sure that they’re not already in use by nonprofits in your area.

Google Image Search can help with this. The search engine allows you to search by image and not just words. Copy the link to the image into Google and see where on the web that image or similar images are being used. Try to make the photos as relevant to your cause and community as you can and help maintain your credibility.

Flickr is a great alternative to stock photography websites. There’s a very active Charlottesville group. Check them out the next time you need photos. Many of them are released under a Creative Commons license. If you find that perfect photo and it’s not available under a Creative Commons license, go ahead and contact the photographer and ask for permission. One year, when I was working for an area non-profit, we needed an image for a holiday card, but kept coming up short. None of our in-house photos had any relation to the holidays. I did a local Flickr search, found a perfect snowy photo and contacted the photographer. He was thrilled for us to use it, as long as we credited him, which we were happy to do.

A photo gives you the chance to share your message visually, to show your mission in action. Hiring a professional ensures that you’ll get some good shots, but even if you can afford it, chances are that you’ll only use a professional for a special event, headshots, or a marketing campaign. Stock photography, especially of people, rarely works for a nonprofit with a local focus and is a poor substitute for original work. Creating a series of meaningful photographs is more than simply taking snap shots. Just as with words, thought, skill and a critical eye are fundamental in telling your story effectively.

Check out these tips for getting better photos on a budget.

See a list of free image and photo sites.

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Finding Volunteers

April 10-16 is National Volunteer Week. It’s the perfect time to recruit new volunteers to your organization.

Start by putting out a call for volunteers. If your organization wants help, you’re going to have to ask for it. Plan an open house for prospective volunteers and advertise it. Your website, blog, Facebook, and newsletter are the obvious places to start, but where else can you find volunteers in Charlottesville?

Online Listing Services

Submit a volunteer listing on the following websites: CNE, Idealist.org, and VolunteerMatch. You can also advertise for volunteers on Craigslist and CvilleCalendar, or take out a free ad at Cvillenews.com.

Local Media

Once you’re planned an open house or volunteer orientation, alert the media. Send out a press release. Suggest a feel good story about your organization. When a reporter calls, push your need for volunteers. NBC-29 and CBS-19 are really good about highlighting organizations’ need for volunteers.


Need volunteers for your schoolyard garden? Tack up a flyer at Southern States or Snow’s. Looking for vegetarian volunteers? Post a flyer outside of Integral Yoga.  A few well-placed flyers around town can help you target the types of volunteers you’re looking for.

The Young and Young at Heart

Depending on your organization, there may be a place for children to volunteer. If so, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are often looking for ways to give back to their community.

Many high schools require student to complete a certain number of volunteer hours before graduation. Either as part of a club or as an individual, students are often seeking service opportunities. Contact the school’s guidance department.

Senior citizens have a lifetime of skills, knowledge, and experience that can benefit your organization. Both JABA and the Senior Center have active volunteer groups. Contact them and let them know that you’re seeking volunteers. Whether it’s a one time mailing or a weekly jig, they’re bound to have seniors who are interested.


Charlottesville nonprofits are blessed to have Madison House as part of our community. Each week, more than 3,000 UVa students volunteer through this fellow nonprofit. If your organization hasn’t partnered with them, you’re missing out. UVa’s alumni are also active volunteers in our community. Check out Cavs Care or contact the UVa Club of Charlottesville to find out more.

PVCC offers service learning in many of its courses. Talk to a professor who’s coursework connects with your organization’s mission and they may offer their students credit in exchange for volunteer work.

Faith-Based Groups

If you or someone you know is active in a faith-based group, spread the word about your need for volunteers. Many faith-based organizations donate to nonprofit each month. If you’ve received such a donation, why not ask if you can thank them in person or go speak to their group? When you’re there make a pitch for volunteers.

Local Corporations

Many corporations encourage their employees to give back to the community by volunteering. Ask a friend who works at one of our major area employers to help you recruit volunteers, or contact their community relations manager. You can frame it as a team-building activity, and possibly get an in with their employee giving campaigns.

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Are You Effective in the Eyes of a Funder?

What makes an effective nonprofit? The Association of Small Foundations recently released a report highlighting five key areas that should be considered by foundations as they evaluate prospective organizations for funding. Keep these criteria in mind when writing your proposals or meeting with donors:

1. Clear mission and purpose. The most fundamental quality of an effective nonprofit is clarity about its mission—both what it seeks to accomplish and why this purpose is important.

2. Ability to perform key functions. How well do you communicate your vision? Do you engage stakeholders? Are you tracking outcomes? What’s your plan for the future?

3. Strong practices, procedures, and policies. Donors should consider the following:

  • Financial—Is there solid fiscal management? What does your 990 look like? Is there a diverse range of funding?
  • Governance—Is there strong and active leadership? Are board meetings scheduled and attended? Who’s on the board?
  • Organizational and Program Development—Is there a strategic plan in place and is it being used? Is the organization recognized as an institution; it is not identified solely with one or two individuals who work there?

4. Good people. Above all, nonprofits depend on one key resource to fulfill their missions: qualified, skilled, and talented board members, staff, and volunteers.

5. Ability to mobilize others. How well do you engage volunteers, other nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies in addressing the root causes of problems and bringing about long-term change?

This report also offers great tips on performing due diligence. Read more to find out what prospective donors are looking for when they review your financials,  call up your executive director, or stop by for a site visit.

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Spring Cleaning Your Website

Spring has sprung in Charlottesville! If you didn’t get a jump on spring cleaning, there’s no avoiding it now. While you may be tempted to start by boxing up old files or dusting cobwebs out of corners, I suggest you start by cleaning up your most public interface: your website. Some of these suggestions may be obvious, but I know that many of you rely on volunteers or staff who are not web developers and have little, if any, website experience. Often, nonprofits’ websites are created by a professional firm and then managed and updated in house. Make sure that over time, your site hasn’t become cluttered or disorganized.

Put on a Different Hat

In your position, there are probably a few pages that you visit regularly and others that you never see. Ask a friend who is not affiliated with your organization to help. Come up with a few scenarios and consider how your site looks and feels to different constituents, such as:

  • A supporter looking to make a donation
  • A board member looking to contact a staff member
  • Someone needing assistance who is trying to figure out where to start
  • Someone who wants to volunteer
  • A local business that wants to provide support
  • A former volunteer who wants to know what’s going on at the organization

Check Your Links

Just last week, I visited a local nonprofit’s website to browse a directory of resources. None of the links worked because of a typo in all of the urls (there was an extra www.)  Take a couple of minutes and use a tool like Link Checker to make sure that all of your links are functioning.

Clean Up Your Sourcecode

Do you know what what HTML tags to use where, and what content to place within them? Doing this correctly can have a significant impact on how your website looks on the search results page when someone googles you. Confused? Google Grants offers some useful advice.

Supersize Support

Make sure the volunteer/support sections of your site are visible and easy to access. You don’t want anyone clicking around trying to figure out where to make a donation. A simple solution is to add a donate/donations tab to your navigation bar.

Update Your Content

Have someone take the time to read through your website. This is a great job for an intern or new volunteer. Is your content up to date and relevant? All too often I find staff listings, email addresses, and phone numbers that are incorrect or need to be updated.


What are your web traffic statistics? How are visitors finding your site? What are they clicking on? How long are they staying there? If you’re not hooked up to Google Analytics (or a similar monitoring tool), you could missing some very valuable information about how your website is functioning as a marketing tool.

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