The dumb donor’s guide to photo-ops with oversized checks

On Monday I wrote about the oversized check photo-op and posted a link to it on LinkedIn.

The post is approaching 10,000 views in under 48 hours. Clearly it struck a chord with folks.

Many of the comments on the article point out that almost all oversized check photo ops:

  • Happen at the request of the donor;
  • The donor is usually a company, organization, foundation, etc. (and its employees);
  • Sometimes fundraisers appear in the photo op but almost always at the request of the donor.

Those comments led me to admit today that I’m just a dumb donor.

Yes. I’m a donor (and a ‘vendor’). Not a fundraiser.

Remember, almost 10 years ago I got ticked-off because my favorite charity was wasting my money. Then as a result of helping them generate highly qualified leads for major and planned gifts, I reengineered my business to help other nonprofits do the same. You can read about that here.

So, no… I am not a fundraiser. I’m a donor (and a marketer focused on getting fundraisers and donors together so they can make amazing things happen).

But am I really dumb?

Is it my fault that I never realized what those photo-ops were really all about?

Although I had seen those kinds of photos tons of times over the years, I never really thought about what was going on in them, I rarely read the articles accompanying them, and I clearly misunderstood the headlines. But is that my fault?

The truth is, most people (donors) skim.

They look at headlines, photos, and captions briefly. Then they move on.

If those components of your communications don’t achieve your desired result, that’s your (or your communication department’s) fault, not your donors’. It’s up to you and your team to ensure that the photo makes sense and makes the most of the photo-op. After all, it’s called a photo-OP for a reason.

Let’s fix this!

Since it became apparent that dumb donors like me might be misunderstanding what’s going on, I figured I’d come up with the following list of best practices for getting the most out of oversized check photo-ops. Please feel free to add your comments to ensure that this list grows to encompass all of your wisdom too.


Here’s my list:

1. Remember, it’s about them, not you. If the donating company wants a photo op, let them have it. They did the work. They raised the money. If they want a photo, give it to them.

2. After the photo, their work ends and yours begins. Don’t just take the photo, do a victory lap, cash the check and then wipe your hands clean. You’re not finished.

3. Recognize that the road splits after the photo is taken. The funder’s organization will want to use the photo so it benefits them in some way and you’ll likely do the same. But your organization and theirs will surely have different strategic goals. Of course, how they use the photo is ultimately their prerogative. But how you use it is another thing altogether.

They will probably want to:

  • Show their employees what they accomplished together;
  • Build camaraderie;
  • Motivate others to join-in next time;
  • Etc.

Alternatively, you and your organization will probably aim to:

  • Communicate what happened to your stakeholders;
  • Encourage and inspire others to consider getting their business or organization to do the same;
  • Show gratitude;
  • Describe the impact the gift will make;
  • Etc.

4. Make it so dumb donors like me ‘get it’.

  • Write a headline that is clear and concise while explaining what happened;
  • Make sure a very clear caption accompanies the photo succinctly explaining the collective effort and the impact it will make;
  • Since most of your readers probably won’t care, refrain from including all the names of the people in the caption if you can avoid it (unless your donors are likely to know those folks);
  • In the article (and perhaps the headline and caption) describe the impact the gift will make;
  • Show gratitude;
  • Tell the story (how did this get started, who helped, how did it end?);
  • Explain how the people who raised the money benefitted, how they felt, how they came together, how it brought them closer to one another and why they chose your charity in the first place;
  • Consider mentioning how their leadership benefitted from the endeavor too (perhaps they gained a chance to give back or be perceived in a positive light);
  • Expand on the impact the gift will have (try to break it down saying, for instance, that the gift will provide 1,412 lunches to needy children in the community);
  • Include the beneficiaries of the donation in some way (either in the photo or in the article by recounting one of their stories and the impact this gift will have for them in particular);
  • Point out that the reader, their company and leadership can also accomplish great things, build camaraderie, and show the world that their company or organization is socially responsible;
  • Suggest that the readers can learn how their company or organization can gain the same benefits if they reach out to you (therefore, include your contact information so they can learn more).

There you go! That’s my list. Can you add to it?

Related Posts:

>>Is it time to banish photos of fundraisers and oversized checks?
>>4 keys to fundraising success you might be overlooking

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Kathryn Benjamin
6 years ago

Greg, I am so impressed with your ability to learn from all experiences and then share that learning with others so we can all benefit! I read the article on Monday and went to such a photo op on Tuesday! Yes, photo ops are almost always at the request of the donors. As a fundraiser, I love having such a photo, which I publish on FB and other media, always with a clear, informative, mission-focused caption, to show other donors what’s possible and encourage them to do the same. Yes, people skim more today than ever, and having a photo will help draw their eye to skim *your* text.

1 year ago

Did you know that photo ops featuring large checks stem from Nazi Germany? You are not a dumb donor. I have donated to a lot of causes i care a lot about, and i would have never expected those who work for said organizations to post for an exploitative photo. I made the donation because I believed in their mission and their work, not because i wanted to publicly praise myself. The post should instead feature a photo elevating the work and talents of those who received the gift.

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