Five Ways for Nonprofits to Use Photos on Facebook

If you’re a small to medium-sized nonprofit, chances are you are struggling to find the time to create compelling content for your Facebook page. Maybe a volunteer is doing it, or a staff member who has other responsibilities.

And with all of the changes to Facebook’s news feed algorithm, you’re already fighting an uphill battle to get your content in front of your audience. The likelihood that even half of the fans of your page will see your post is pretty slim.

What’s an easy way to get more eyeballs on your content? Enter photos.

In a blog post on the pages posted in January, Facebook shows examples of how photos can create more engagement than a text or status update. When linking to a web url (whether it’s an article or blog post from your site), the preview image is now higher quality and larger than a few months ago. That’s because photos are more engaging (93 percent of most engaging content, according to Social Bakers) than any other type of content on Facebook.

Why is this? Think about what your mouse hovers over or what you like most often on your own feed. Is it a photo? Think about successful pages that are often shared: Humans of New York, I F*cking Love Science or even the Ellen DeGeneres selfie taken after the Oscars. Sure that was on Twitter first, but we all saw the photo at least three times the next morning on our news feed.

So how do you choose what photos to share, or what type of content to create around it? Here are few ideas, pulled from some of the best practices I’ve seen around Facebook from nonprofits.

1. Update your cover photo and change it at least every few months.

The act of updating your cover photo will trigger a notification in the news feed, which is an easy way to engage with your audience. Your profile picture will likely always stay your nonprofit’s logo, so the cover photo is the one place on your page where you can get creative.

For the Facebook page of the climbing organization (Mid Atlantic Climbers) I manage, I’ve changed the cover photo after every time we’ve had an event and taken a group shot. This photo has our banner in it (again establishing our logo/brand), shows the work that we do (trail cleanups), establishes a sense of place (fans may see the photo and recognize the place) and shows actual people. All of these things connect our work back to a people, place and idea, which gives more of a connection to the audience.

Here’s an example from the United Way of Central Maryland, which is using the space for more brand messaging:


And the folks at Baltimore Bike Party definitely know the power of a cover photo, because it illustrates how many people come to their monthly ride!

Baltimore Bike Party Facebook cover photo

2. Use a photo with a text overlay to promote an event or share an idea.

Creating a Facebook event for all of your events is a pretty much a requirement for good page management, but how about using a photo and adding a text overlay? This can help create buzz around an event, even if it’s a few months away.

Here’s another best practice from MAC. Note the number of shares on this photo:

MAC event promotion

The National Guard isn’t technically a nonprofit, but they use a ton of amazing photos on their page. Here’s an example of how they convey a simple message on an amazing photo:

National Guard photo

3. Uploading a poster, flyer or pamphlet that is meant to educate your audience on a specific issue. 

Any graphic design work that you do for mailings, flyers, etc. should be shared on your Facebook page. You likely pay someone to or work hard yourself to create a good design, so why not share it with your Facebook audience?  

A poster can be used to educate your audience or promote a cause, such as in the example from the Access Fund illustrating how long trash will last in the wilderness (again, not the number of shares):  

Access Fund poster

The American Red Cross shares a simple image posing a question to its audience, which is meant to spur action. Note the number of shares (again), the short link (providing the place for the audience to act) and the brief amount of text:

American Red Cross

4. Posting photos of your staff, volunteers or people connected to your organization doing your organization’s work.

Nothing is better on Facebook than seeing a great photo of a person tied with a story, which is why Humans of New York again is so successful. For many nonprofits, their staff, volunteers or the people they help are their biggest assets.

Here’s a great photo telling the story of a woman helped by Lutheran World Relief (headquartered in Baltimore):


Here’s a great photo of the folks at Leave No Trace on the road doing their training and meeting a famous person:

Leave No Trace showing people at work

The text with this photo explains all the important elements to tell the story: the staff at work (Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers), who they met (Secretary of the Interior and former REI President/CEO Sally Jewell) and where they were (Salt Lake City). Also note the tagging of the public figure, which  means the post will show up on her page as well, therefore increasing the post’s reach.

5. Create Facebook albums for any event that you host or participate in.

This is something I actually don’t see happen that often, with the exception of organizations that have a lot of social events. But if you’re a nonprofit who hosts a retirement party, a ribbon cutting or an open house, be sure to post photos.

Oftentimes nonprofits will waste time trying to pre-promote this event to the press so a photographer can come out and take photos. But these days journalists at ribbon cuttings are a rare find, so it’s better to take your own  photos, post it as an album, and then share the link with the press. If the content is good and complete, it’ll likely get picked up and shared in some form.

At Mid Atlantic Climbers, we do this for every adopt-a-crag we host. It helps illustrate to prospective volunteers what the work looks like, how many people show up and how much fun people are having:

Adopt-a-Crag photo album

Volunteers can also tag themselves (and I tag all of the people I know in the album), which increases the visibility of the post.

Again the folks at Baltimore Bike Party are great examples of this, as they have a professional photographer who does a photo booth at every event. What better way to promote your brand than an image like this:

Photo album image from Baltimore Bike Party

Do you have any other great examples of brands or nonprofits using photos to engage with their audience on Facebook? I’d love to see them!

The Lost Art of Comments in Local News

I took a trip down memory lane this  morning as I was browsing through old posts on Catonsville Patch to add to my Pressfolio.

I spent two years living and breathing all things Catonsville before I took a more regional strategic role at Patch. What I probably miss most about the job was engaging with readers in the comments. Any of the hundreds of local Patch editors (most of whom have been laid off in the past six months) will tell you how lively and maddening the comments section on a story could be.

We’ve seen those crazy threads before on a national news story about a controversial topic (gay marriage, the debt crisis, or some other polarizing issue), or even stalked an out-of-control comment thread on a Facebook page.

Comments online are a blessing and a curse. But in local community news I think they are more of a blessing, as there is a good chance at least some of the people leaving comments actually know each other.

At Patch editors were encouraged to comment on stories, especially when readers asked questions or to provide updates to a story. We found generally this best practice yielded more comments, although sometimes it would invite personal attacks on editors.

Why should editors and reporters dive into comment threads?

A few case studies:

In Catonsville, the community had a quirky tradition of leaving out chairs to save space for the annual Fourth of July parade up to two weeks ahead of time. As innocent as the tradition was, there were many people who found the practice selfish, while others championed the act.

I cover the topic extensively with an article when the first chairs were out, photo galleries of the chairs and other interesting aspects of this tradition.

Here’s an example of a post I did that was meant to drive discussion, and boy did it ever.  Every time I wrote about the issue readers would leave dozens of comments, so it could be overwhelming at times to dive in.

Here’s the approach I took:

1. If it’s getting too negative, try to steer the conversation in a positive way by sharing relevant information that spurs people to action:


2. If readers are quoting inaccurate statistics or making false claims, offer clarification when relevant:


3. Ask readers a question to get more information for a follow-up post:


Now for many journalists out there, the act of even commenting can feel uncomfortable. There were plenty of editors at Patch not comfortable with this practice, or others who took it too far in the opposite direction and got into spats with folks in the comments thread.

Why even bother diving in? How does improve the reputation of the journalist or the site? Here are a few reasons:

1.Reporters and editors commenting shows that someone is watching. Some of the worst threads I’ve seen are usually absent of any voice of authority diving in. Usually half of the comments after a while will say something like ‘if [insert name of media publication] is even reading this].’ By dispelling rumors in the the thread, adding insight and facts, reporters are doing what they do best: sharing facts and providing contest.

2. Online news platforms allow us to get direct feedback from readers in a way that print never did. But yet when you think about the way newsrooms were back in the days before there was online, there was still the expectation that phone calls with readers were returned and letters to the editors were published. If someone showed up in the office demanding to speak with the publisher, usually they would see someone. I remember those ‘types’ from my newsrooom days. There is always that one curmudgeonly reader who would call and leaving rambling voicemails on reporters’ phone every week. While we may not have returned every phone call, the expectation from a customer service perspective was we usually had to call the person back at least once.

But not all online discussions are as innocent and polite as the topic of chairs left out ahead of the Fourth of July parade. If only it were that easy, right?

With 900 sites across the country, Patch had its shared of crazy comment threads. Like, in the hundreds. Our team (the Community Engagement team) was often tasked in the last year of advising editors how to respond. Here are few approaches we took:

1. If someone is diving into the comments of a story to be contrary or nasty, feel free to take a stand. Especially on stories where you know someone else is probably reading that and thinking, ‘how rude.’ This comment came on a story featuring a high school senior who was looking to start a political career. The first comment made was a reader attacking the politicians of the town.


2. If you need to delete something, be clear that you did and why (linking to TOS if you have it). Leave your contact information and thank readers for commenting. Again, this makes the moderation happen in a transparent way for readers. If you delete comments on a thread without any reason, readers will start spouting all sorts of conspiracy theories as to why.


3. If you are personally attacked, feel free to address it, and be transparent about any conversations you may have had with the source or your intentions with the article. Readers will appreciate your acknowledgement of it in a professional way.


While it may take extra effort to spend time moderating these comments or to compose your responses, you can also keep a list of ‘canned responses’ to adapt for different types of comments you see all the time. When it comes to community news, you can’t hide behind the site when you’ll likely see your readers at the coffee shop!

It’s been a while since I’ve seen an engaging comments section on a local news post that wasn’t Patch (if I’ve missed something, feel free to share!), but I’ve always enjoyed reading (Baltimore native) Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Atlantic.

Here’s an audio interview with him about how to create a good comment section (credit On the Media). His strategy: treating it as a dinner party where he is the host. If you threaten one of his guests, he will ask you to leave.