Storytelling is a powerful way of making your donors get a feel for your work. To give them a real sense of the impact you are creating. To make it even more powerful many nonprofits use visuals – pictures mostly, too.

But here’s where you need to take a moment to put on your operations thinking cap. Are you sure you can use the pictures you’ve picked?

If you are using photos taken by yourself or your own team, you can avoid copyright issues. And that’s great! (

But there are other issues to consider as well before publishing pictures.


Did you ask the people in the picture for permission? And did you tell them at that moment how you would use that picture? Is your use of the picture in line with what you told them – and what they agreed to? Or are you using the picture in another way?

Duty of care

Even if they agree, and if you are doing as agreed, it may be part of your duty of care to not publish or share these pictures.

1 – Are the people in the pictures identifiable?

Even if you don’t use their name, others can recognize or in some other way be able to identify them. (Through the location, a landmark or another person in the picture, for instance.)

This may not be a problem for the mayor or a local business person, or other people who like to be seen and recognized as it may help them do their job.

But it might be different for a person who feels vulnerable about the story, because of a taboo (like being bullied, having a period, being infected with HIV/AIDS, being a victim of rape or other abuse, being LGBTQI, etc.). Or simply because of shame around the topic, like being illiterate.



2 – Consider the future

Think about how a person might feel embarrassment later on.

Perhaps in the heat of the moment and being happy to be part of your programme someone says yes to being in a picture. But when that picture is still around 5 years later and they turned around their lives they may regret it.

One example that sticks in my mind is someone whose picture was taken at a nudist camp – then found that picture was used for the cover of a nudist camp guide – and was working as a teacher…

3 – Safety

Safety of people in the picture is a no-brainer of course. If someone’s life could be at risk because they can be identified in a photo you shouldn’t publish it. Think about human rights defenders, or citizens fighting for their rights to dress a certain way, etc.

It is easy to know – and a bit less easy to stick to. Because sometimes it may seem the risk is over. Maybe these people were at risk before a government change. And maybe it feels they are now going to be able to work more openly and safely.

Don’t forget that a regime change may not be forever. Or that a new government may also fall back on past practices at some point.

Policy & SOPs

It is wise to always think about your duty of care and about how you would feel if something bad were to happen to the people in your picture. Even if they say it’s OK. That way you can take your decisions in integrity and won’t need to think “what if” too much.

Make sure you develop a good policy that addresses these issues. Some of these questions may have different answers next year – so be sure to revisit these discussions with the team.

It is also important to set up practical Standard Operating Procedures that are easy to follow and understand for the whole team.

These SOPs could also contain alternatives for certain types of pictures. Maybe you can publish a picture of a hand, rather than the whole person. Maybe you can publish a drawing instead. It will require a bit of creativity but there always are safe alternatives.

Publish your safeguarding policy

Depending on the community you work with you may want to develop and publish your safeguarding policy so that everyone can read about your principles, standards and way of working in relation to vulnerable groups, like children. This transparency can help you build trust and accountability. And it is something that donors may definitely ask for.

But even with no donor asking for it, it will definitely help you in your work.

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