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Digital Storytelling 101: Photos & Graphics

Open SourceGraphic DesignMultimedia & Design

A picture is worth a thousand words - making them a powerful tool in your storytelling toolbox. As a great illustration of this, Katya Andersen shared these photos from Common Ground in her My Charity Connects 2011 talk, showing the transformation of Laura, a meth addict, as she moved into housing:

Laura before coming to Common Ground --> Laura joins Common Ground's housing program --> Laura finds her place at Common Ground

You can see in Laura’s face how dramatically her life as changed, without needing to be told all the details. Photos bring a story to life and make it more visually appealing. And though it’s not essential, software to touch up your photos will let you make edits and give your pictures a more professional look.

Darlene at Mary's CentreThere are other types of graphics editors that are also useful for nonprofits. For example, a layout tool can improve the look of your campaign posters (such as the one on the right), magazines or newsletters, and a drawing tool will allow you to create logos and other graphics. Of course the software doesn’t come with a graphics designer - you’ll need to supply that part yourself!

One of the most popular suites of tools for graphics editing is Adobe Creative Suite, which includes Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator. Although the retail price is out of reach for most nonprofits, it’s available in our donations program as a package or individually.

However, if your organization isn’t eligible for Adobe or you want to know what else is out there, what are your alternatives?

1) Basic photo editors

If you want to do basic, everyday photo editing without learning a complex program, there are many free options designed for personal use that will do the job. These include Google Picasa, Photoshop Express Editor and iPhoto (comes for free with a Mac). If you have Microsoft Office then you can also use the Microsoft Office Picture Manager.

2) Adobe subscription

Adobe has recently made many of their products available through a subscription model. Let’s use the example of Adobe Photoshop to illustrate what this means. Instead of buying a license for Photoshop, which costs $699 USD, you pay for the right to use the product on a monthly basis. This costs you $49 USD per month (or $35 USD per month if you commit for a full year). This could be a good option for a nonprofit if you only need the software for a few months in any given year (e.g. to prepare materials for a big fundraising campaign), as Adobe allows you to opt in and out on a monthly basis.

3) Open source photo editors

There are several good open source alternatives that have been available for many years and are backed by a good development community. Some popular options include GIMP and Paint.NET.

If you're interested in learning more, I recommend trying out the different tools (if possible) and reading what others have to say about them. Here are some resources to get you started:


adobe illustrator

Hi...does Techsoup offer Adobe Illustrator as a stand alone software or just as part of Creative Suite? I couldn't determine fully on the site...thanks, Scott.

Hi Scott, In the past Adobe

Hi Scott,

In the past Adobe has offered donated versions of Illustrator as a stand-alone product, however at the moment they are only offering it as part of Creative Suite Design & Web Premium. (

Sorry for any confusion! 


Community Engagement Manager, TechSoup Canada