And Action! 8 Ways to Make Video Work for Marketing and Fundraising
It’s no secret that as technology grows, the world’s attention span shrinks. A 2015 study by Microsoft reported that the average person’s attention span is now about eight seconds. That’s down from 12 seconds in the year 2000, at the start of the digital revolution. So how can a nonprofit catch the eye of a potential donor when attention shifts so rapidly?
Lucky for you, the human brain is on your side. You just have to know how to work with it. A study by the Center for Brain and Cognition revealed that it takes just 150 milliseconds for a person to process an image, and another 100 milliseconds to attach meaning to it. That’s faster than the blink of an eye—and half the time it takes to process a written word. The power of an image paired with the instinct to look toward movement means video is the best way to capture and hold a person’s attention. It’s no wonder YouTube reported that more than half of the internet’s content is video.
In addition to visual stimulation, videos work because of the way they evoke emotion. Images paired with audio aspects, like music and the human voice, convey emotion in a way written words can’t. Emotion keeps people engaged. A study by Mist Media found that the average internet user spends 88 percent more time on a website that has a video. And, according to Forbes, 65 percent of users will visit the marketer’s website after viewing a video.
For these reasons, countless nonprofits have turned to video as a means of communicating their messages and gaining donors. It’s effective—and it’s a powerful way to make your organization stand out in today’s media landscape. Here’s how to make it work for you.
1. Don’t Stress (Too Much) About Production Quality
For nonprofits working on an especially tight budget, producing a video may seem out of reach. Not so, said Siiri Morley, Boston executive director for Strong Women Strong Girls, a nonprofit that implements college women-led mentoring programs for third- to fifth-grade girls in city public schools. “Our organization has no video budget,” Morley explained. “We, instead, have our videos created by volunteers, technology. In small nonprofits you have to be scrappy and creative and make the most of whatever you can.”
Brenna Holmes, vice president of digital for CCAH, a direct marketing agency headquartered in Arlington, Va., also had some advice that should come as a relief. “This is not the same footage that we’re going to put on a TV commercial,” she said. “Even if it’s not perfect, even if it’s a little raw, it works really well for digital engagement.” For some footage, such as first-person testimonials, Holmes actually recommended avoiding excess polish. “The more raw the footage feels, the more effective it can be,” she said.
If high production quality is not within your organization’s means, don’t feel disadvantaged—you can still focus on creating a video with a clear, powerful message. Holmes stressed that planning and scripting is often overlooked, but is essential before you begin recording. An effective video can start with the phone in your pocket, but you can’t skip the storyboarding.
2. Feature People, Not Just Numbers
Donors are people, and people don’t relate to statistics alone. Just sharing big numbers makes viewers feel helpless and fails to evoke empathy. Focusing on the story of one beneficiary or representative of the larger community your organization serves will be far more compelling.
This phenomenon, known as the “identifiable victim effect,” is demonstrated in a fundraising research study by Paul Slovic. One ad for international nonprofit Save the Children featured a single hungry child in Mali and included her name and story. Another ad shared statistics on the scope of child hunger in multiple African countries, like Malawi and Ethiopia. The latter received 50 percent less in donations than the former. Slovic explained that this is because human acts of charity are rooted in compassion, not rationalization—so try to include the human element whenever possible.
3. Use Faces
People like faces, and there’s a reason for that. A section of the brain is actually specialized for facial recognition and stimulated by viewing a face, even if it’s for less than a second. This part of the brain is the reason babies light up when you give them goofy looks, and why people see portraits of Jesus on slices of toast. Featuring human faces in your video will engage viewers on a subconscious level—even more so when these faces display emotion.
Holmes explained that showing relatable individuals is the first step to creating a connection with the viewer. “We really need to hit on these emotional triggers for giving, whether it is hope, guilt or urgency,” she said. “All of those have their place when it comes to fundraising.” CCAH has had success in this approach, notably in its work with City of Hope, a nonprofit that supports cancer patients and their families. The organizations partnered to create a series of videos featuring former patients telling their stories. “It really makes an impact to have a survivor sitting right there in front of you,” Holmes explained.
4. Make It Relatable
“A first-person testimonial is the most engaging way to tell a story,” said Holmes. “We want to make sure that the stories we choose are relatable.” This will inspire viewers to picture loved ones, or even themselves, in similar situations. “Having people tell their stories in their own words really helps donors understand why they should get involved.”
Holmes recommended prepping video participants before they appear on camera. “Make sure that the person has been given the right training, because these are not actors,” she said. “We want to make sure that we’re giving them information to make them feel at ease in front of the camera.”
5. Keep It Short, But Not Too Short
Length is key. Videos should be short enough that viewers don’t lose interest, but not so short that they feel rushed. They should send clear and complete messages. Morley noted that videos between 60 seconds and 90 seconds are ideal. “They are easy to digest and share,” she said.
Holmes noted that multiple versions of the same video can be created in different lengths to tailor them to a particular platform. “We cut and edit so we can use them in different places,” she said. “So, longer videos will be available on YouTube or shared via email and things like that. But we cut them down shorter for social media.”
6. Include a Call to Action
You’ve told a powerful story and evoked plenty of emotion—now what? Potential donors need to be reminded of the role they can play in supporting your organization. The video should end on a note that leads viewers to the next step and makes them feel like they can be heroes.
“I see a lot of videos for nonprofits where there’s no call to action, which every once in a while is okay, but if you’re investing time and money to create content, there should be a goal behind that content,” Holmes explained. “For us, nine times out of 10 that’s fundraising. But even if it’s getting people more engaged, recruiting volunteers or email list sign-up recruitment, the video’s content should have some sort of call to action that makes you want to do more for the organization.”
One effective call to action? Directing viewers to your website. “We’ve seen that site traffic actually spikes to the website the same day a video is launched,” said Holmes. “We’ve definitely seen a lift overall in fundraising this year, and we can directly attribute that increase in traffic to the videos.”
7. Don’t Stop Moving Once Your Video is Complete
You may have edited (and re-watched) your video, but your work isn’t done quite yet. The next step is to get it out there. “A lot of people assume that a video will pick up steam on its own and go viral overnight,” Morley warned. “That almost never happens.” It’s up to your organization to get your video on every platform you can and make it easy for viewers to share.
One way to do that is through social media, so make sure your videos translate to the platform. “We always make sure that a video has good captions if we’re going to be using it on Facebook,” said Holmes. “So many people watch video on Facebook without their audio on because they’re just watching it on their phones while they’re scrolling.” Twitter is a good spot for video links. Instagram allows video posts of three seconds to 60 seconds in length, so you can fit a short video on your account or post a small clip from a longer one to garner interest and direct viewers to your website for the full version.
Of course, social media is vital, but don’t stop there. A report by Forrester revealed that including a video in an email results in a 200 percent to 300 percent increase in click-through rate. Holmes mentioned that City of Hope has a text message system it uses to send out links to new videos, so supporters subscribed to their SMS updates can watch on their smartphones with just one click. Strong Women Strong Girls features videos on its blog, as well. “Any channel that you’re already using is a logical place to share [videos],” said Holmes.
8. Get Started
With increasingly easy access to technology, a low budget is no longer an excuse to shy away from video. Nonprofits of every size can utilize it as a fundraising tool. “As President Roosevelt famously said, ‘Do what you can, with what you have, where you are,’” said Morley. “Small nonprofits have to do that every single day.”
“Video is something everyone can and should be doing,” added Holmes. “It’s only going to increase—[among] all age groups. It’s not just the Millennials or Generation Z who are watching videos on Facebook. It’s everybody that nonprofits want to contact. If they’re not doing video, they’re starting to fall behind.”
Maya Bur is a former editorial assistant for NonProfit PRO and a current freelance writer and frequent contributor.