The chromophores of a series of known and unknown probes of membrane potential are subjected to molecular orbital calculations. These calculations are used to characterize the charge distribution and excitation-induced shift of electron density in the chromophores. This is used to predict or rationalize the magnitude of an electrochromic response to membrane potential. The predictions are consistent with more rigorous calculations on several selected systems as well as with the available experimental data. Emerging from the survey is a variation on previously considered forms of electrochromism involving a simple migration of the charge in an ionic chromophore. The intrinsic amphipathic structures of some of these systems may make them especially well suited for the construction of well oriented, highly responsive probes. A particularly promising charge-shift chromophore is the 4-(p-aminostyryl) pyridinium cation.