Mastering Nonprofit Video
By now, every nonprofit organization out there has heard about content marketing. In 2015, content is king, and there is no more engaging form of content marketing than video marketing.
Long gone are the days when a nonprofit needed huge budgets and ad dollars to shoot and air a high-quality DRTV campaign. With the snap of a smartphone, a little software and the use of the Internet, a video can be shot, edited, uploaded and shared in a matter of minutes. And we all know video is where your donors and supporters are spending their increasingly longer online time.
“Video is absolutely vital to the communications mix of any organization of any size,” said Michael Hoffman, CEO of See3 Communications, a strategy, video and Web service provider to nonprofits and social causes. “We know what people do online and where they spend their time—video is increasingly the way.
“Things like Facebook engagement and social engagement stats are through the roof with video. Video is the fastest-growing service on mobile. Video is everywhere. Organizations need to be there,” he added. “And your supporters are being trained to expect video. You have to be there where your audience expects you to be.”
It’s not only donors and supporters who expect you to create and utilize video, either. Nonprofits themselves expect that video will play an even bigger role as time moves on.
According to Into Focus: Benchmarks for Nonprofit Video and a Guide for Creators, a report by See3, YouTube and communications strategy consultancy Edelman:
- 80 percent of respondents said video is important to their nonprofits
- 91 percent believe video will become more important in the next three years
- 92 percent value the investment they made in video
However, the report also found that nonprofit video budgets aren’t going up—in fact, some are even declining. It’s a strange reality, one that doesn’t make much sense given the major role video now plays.
Hoffman said that while that’s shortsighted, video also doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor. Most people carry around video cameras in their pockets these days thanks to smartphones, and sometimes those can create the best videos out there.
“Ultimately, what’s most interesting to me about video in the nonprofit sector is you don’t have to be a videographer— you don’t need lots of fancy equipment or [to] have a huge script and cast,” said Amy Sample Ward, CEO of Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN). “It’s not a film, but making an incredible, touching, personal video about your nonprofit really just requires the story and audio so people can hear that story. It’s a way for your story to come through even if it’s filmed on a phone camera. It’s about making the story come through.”
Video is also a great way to illustrate the types of people or situations where programs are making an impact, added Ward.
In addition, video works. It’s great for articulating what an organization does, while also a smart way to emphasize a call-to-action. For instance, according to Ward, online fundraising and crowdfunding platform CauseVox found that one of the leading commonalities between crowdfunding campaigns that met or exceeded their fundraising goals was having a video at the top of the fundraising page.
Nonprofit Video Strategy
It’s clear through their online consumption that video is important to donors, and the numbers say nonprofits consider video just as vital. So how can a nonprofit successfully add video to its communications strategy?
The key is to develop a thorough video road map. One of the biggest problems See3 encounters is an organization announcing that it’s making a video, only to see it become a giant project with a tremendous amount riding on it. Expectations are raised on what that video will do, and anything that doesn’t meet those expectations is hard for the nonprofit to swallow. Instead, said Hoffman, nonprofits “need to experiment and lower the bar.”
For example, Hoffman suggested having staffers use their smartphones to make personal thank-you videos to donors. It can be a one-day ordeal—for every donation today, each donor gets a thank-you video. “Thank [the donors], tag them on Facebook, send them the link in an email—it’s a powerful, easy thing where the expectation of the viewer is not for something super-high quality,” Hoffman added.
It’s a perfect opportunity to practice shooting video in an inexpensive way and test the engagement of those donors. But before you start testing, your nonprofit should think through the entire cycle of the video. A video isn’t just about one moment of solicitation—or at least it shouldn’t be. It needs to be implemented in a way in which your supporters receive and interact with the information you share.
First, people need to become aware of the issue, then aware of your approach to solving the issue. Next comes solicitation, then stewardship, acknowledgment and retaining engagement. Video is a great tool to tackle all those rungs in the ladder, and it’s especially useful for donor retention—thus, you must think about how to use video in every phase of the donor cycle.
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.