Mastering Nonprofit Video
Part of implementing a strong video strategy is knowing how to make a good video. It’s not about studio quality or budgeting dollars. It’s all about storytelling, just like everything else when it comes to nonprofit fundraising and advocacy.
“You have to have a very clear story and a very clear ask,” said Ward. “You can have all kinds of interesting things in your video, but if it’s not made very clear what you want people to do, you’ll lose people.
“Making it something that’s memorable doesn’t mean it has to be the most original, crazy, whatever kind of concept. It’s very personal and direct to the viewer—how can I take action, not ‘someone’ take action, but me,” she continued. “Make it clear there’s an opportunity for change and action. Let’s not end poverty—let’s say, ‘Here are the steps we can take and you can take with us here in our city today and tomorrow and this coming week.’ Make things tangible.”
The biggest mistake Hoffman sees in nonprofit storytelling is that nonprofits misunderstand who the hero of the story is supposed to be. Most organizations make videos about themselves, how great they are and the great work they’re doing. “When you do that, you’re not leaving room for the viewer to understand their role in the story and get involved,” Hoffman said.
The key is to create videos that make the viewer the hero. You can do that by describing how an outcome the organization achieved was actually due to the viewers’ efforts. The hero in every story should be the donor, the advocate, the volunteer. The strongest videos make this small but powerful pivot, as Hoffman calls it—crediting great outcomes to people supporting the organization.
“The hero is the supporter, not the brand,” Hoffman explained. “That’s often hard for organizations to do. It’s not our first impulse; our first impulse is to look at your programs, look at what we did as an organization.”
Make that pivot and utilize emotion to drive the point home. When people make decisions, it’s often emotion that drives that decision. You tell stories through video that make people feel—think about what you want people to feel and go from there. Start with the emotion and find the story that fits it, instead of vice versa.
Unbound’s Video Success
Every year, NTEN, See3 and YouTube partner on the DoGooder Video Awards, celebrating nonprofit video. Among this year’s winners was Unbound, a nonprofit whose mission is to walk with the poor and marginalized in the world. Unbound, which also sponsors poor children, took home the Funny for Good Award for its video “Between Two Furnaces.”
Unbound’s video was a play off comedian and actor Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns,” a parody talk show. Unbound liked the “lo-fi approach” and humor of “Between Two Ferns,” said Joe Sundermeyer, Web strategy coordinator of Unbound, and decided to piggyback off it. It worked perfectly for Unbound, because the organization is housed in a converted warehouse space, and in the basement, staffers actually walk between two furnaces, making the parody a natural—and proving that inspiration can strike in the oddest of places.
Shot in-house, the video came about because Unbound wanted to approach and share its message in social spaces in a different way. It also wanted to clear up some misconceptions about being a sponsorship organization—essentially, that they’re all the same.
“A lot of sponsorship organizations focus on how this is pretty serious work, and it is serious work, but in our offices we’re lighthearted and show our personality, including a little humor,” said Unbound’s Michele Batliner. “This was a great way to be us out there but also communicate our message to an audience that probably isn’t hearing from us in other ways.”
It helped Unbound differentiate itself using the language of its audience. For its efforts, Unbound took home the DoGooder Award.
While the victory was exciting for Unbound, it didn’t come without work. The idea that a great video will explode simply because it’s great couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s still an engagement and sharing aspect that must be undertaken. And that’s what’s so great about nonprofit video—it’s shareable and can be a living, breathing piece of content if it’s put in front of the right people in the right places. You still have to put in the time and still be active in person-to-person communications. It’s a medium that needs to be nurtured.
That’s why Unbound thinks through its video strategy. The organization utilizes video primarily online, because that’s where its audience consumes it. Video is all over the organization’s website in key places that draw attention, especially where Unbound talks about its work, why donors should sponsor child and how a donor can do that. It also reuses video footage in pre-roll ads on YouTube, on blogs and anywhere else it makes sense to deliver content in an engaging, accessible way.
There’s also plenty of trial and error—a key to video success. You must try things and not be afraid to do something different. Brand consistency and retaining personality and visual style are all important, but it’s really about recognizing the spaces where the audience engages in video and understanding those mediums and supporters.
That can mean looking into something as simple as how long the average video is and how long people engage with each video, said Cara VanNice, communications director for Unbound. Unbound tests a lot of things—length, content, stories, etc.—but ultimately it’s about creating the best content for the organization.
“My best advice is to just try to do it,” Sundermeyer said. “There’s video everywhere now. The quality concerns you had to put out a top-notch video with high production value aren’t prevalent in all spaces. So just try to do it.”
Still, while videos don’t have to be shot in an expensive way anymore, they’re still time-consuming, Hoffman said. You have to shoot videos, edit them and be thoughtful in how you share them. And it takes practice.
But it’s worth the investment.
“Video is an incredibly compelling medium for sharing messages, stories of impact, and it creates an opportunity for dialogue, to bring more people into your communications,” Ward said.
That’s the power of video. And in this day and age of shareable, engaging content, it doesn’t get much more powerful than that.
Joe Boland is a former member of the NonProfit PRO team and currently serves on the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board. He is a frequent contributor to the magazine.