Jeff Brooks  ●  2/26/2017

Ignite Your Fundraising with an Iconic Image

If you’ve been to an Eastern Orthodox church, you’ve seen the icons that fill that space — those richly colored images of Jesus and the saints.

These icons aren’t for decoration. They forge a connection between the viewer and the event or person depicted, and help viewers focus their prayer of worship.

Images are powerful. The best way to use them in fundraising is to find your mission’s fundraising icon — an image that communicates with more immediacy than words can. When you have one, it will boost results everywhere you use it.


A great fundraising icon is:

fundraising icon animal welfare

  • Visually arresting.
  • Probably a person (or an animal), not an object. A hungry child or sad puppy.
  • Focused on the face and making eye contact with the viewer. I’ve seen exceptions to this — one effective icon I’ve used is a pair of hands holding an open Bible.
  • Usually limited to one person. But two (a mother with a child) or three (mom, dad, and child — to show a family) can work.
  • A picture of an unmet need. Icons fall short when they show beautiful situations that depict the organization’s aspirations, not its cause. These feel-good icons seldom motivate donors.
  • Alternatively, a picture of a need being met. Think of the icon of a bearded, elderly, homeless man sitting at a table and eating. Many urban rescue missions have used this image effectively.


Choosing your fundraising icon:Mom and kid with Cancer.jpg

Chances are, you already have your fundraising icon. It’s already been shot, and it’s just waiting in your photo file. Here are three steps to finding it:

  • Put aside your preferences. The fact is, if you like an image, it won’t work. You are not your donors. The images you like probably won’t appeal to them. This pattern is so consistent that when I hear nonprofit employees say they dislike an image, I know we’re on the right track to finding our icon.
  • Keep an open mind. You might be surprised what emerges. The icon characteristics I’ve described above are typical, but your icon might be different.
  • Use direct-response testing. The only way to know you have a winner is direct mail and online testing — where the icon is the only variable and response is the yardstick. Don’t bother with surveys or focus groups. Participants will tell you what they think they would respond to, but that’s not what they will actually respond to.


Once you find your icon, use it. All the time. Your donors will form an attachment to it, and they’ll know you and your mission in a visual, emotional way.


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