Getting started with online videos for your charity or nonprofit

The following article was written by Heather Wardle, CFRE at the request of the editor of Gift Planning in Canada, July 2013.

Nearly all nonprofits recognize the significance of the video revolution and the powerful storytelling potential that it offers. Creating and sharing videos has never been easier or cheaper, yet studies show that online video is underused by charities.

In June, YouTube published the results of the first-ever survey on nonprofits using online video. Of those surveyed,

  • 80% said that video is important to their organization today
  • 91% said they want to make more video
  • 62% said they designate very little or no staff time for video production and distribution

Is your organization using video to tell its story? If not, what’s holding you back?

Many charities are intimidated by video, thinking that they need a lot of money, staff time, expertise and specialized equipment to create video content.

Here are some tips on how you can start today using the tools and resources you likely already have at your fingertips.

  1. Think about your video strategy — who you want to interact with, what you want to say and what your call to actions will be.
  2. Find a video-maker in your midst. You likely have a staff member, volunteer or intern who would love to create videos as part of his or her role. Find someone who already has some video experience or train someone who has the interest. There are plenty of online classes and local workshops.
  3. Start with the equipment you’ve already got. Smart phones, digital cameras, tablets and laptops with web cams can all be used to shoot your video. In addition, most computers come with free editing software, such as iMovie and Windows Movie Maker.
  4. Get your field staff to film and photograph your charity at work. Donors love being able to see their gifts in action.
  5. Create a photo and video archive and a back-up system to store your materials. The cost of a back-up hard drive is less than $200. If you have a system for filing and tagging your visual resources from the start, you’ll save a lot of time later on.
  6. Get your feet wet with small, simple projects. Use your iPhone or digital camera to film little clips of your organization’s work and share them via your charity’s Facebook page, blog and website. Or use your photos, add music and create a video slideshow.
  7. Sign up for YouTube Nonprofits at This is available free to registered charities in Canada and the US, and allows you to create your own branded YouTube page, to have call-to-action overlays on your videos, and live streaming of your events.
  8. Make sure that your videos get viewed by making them sharable, embeddable and searchable. YouTube’s Playbook for Good gives advice on writing descriptions and tags.

Nonprofits yield more than 4 billion views on YouTube – one view for every 2 people on the planet! So far only 22,000 charities and nonprofits have signed up to YouTube’s nonprofit program. If your charity isn’t one of them, I hope this article will inspire you to build your video program today.

Storytellers can and must change the world

Good fundraising and advocacy are all about storytelling. If we want to make the world a better place and to solve the urgent crises facing our planet, we must tell better stories – stories that move people to action. I’m reading Jonah Sachs’ new book Winning the Story Wars. Sachs is the creator of renowned viral videos including The Meatrix, Grocery Store Wars and The Story of Stuff. Winning the Story Wars by Jonah SachsHis book is packed with great insights into the art of storytelling and how our world is shaped by stories.

Charities, just like businesses, are trying to compete to have our stories heard over the background roar of information. While storytelling tools have become easier and cheaper for charities to access, with everything from YouTube, to blogs, to Pinterest, the competition to have our voices heard above the din is also much stiffer.

Jonah Sachs has good advice about how to win in the story wars. “What we need to know to tell great stories are these simple commandments”, says Sachs:

  1. Be interesting
  2. Tell the truth
  3. And if you can’t tell the truth, change what you’re doing so you can. In other words, live the truth.

Sachs also points out that there is opportunity in areas of discomfort, where the old stories or myths no longer make sense or can keep up to our fast-changing world. He calls this the “myth gap”. “Every marketer is looking to tap into the zeitgeist, and there is no more direct way into it that through the void created by fraying myths,” says Sachs. “This is where anxiety is welling up. This is where people are looking for therapeutic relief. This is where new ritual is ripe for the making.”

Sachs says a good example of this is the Occupy Wall Street movement, which stepped into the gap caused by the crisis around the myth of the American dream – that if you are willing to work hard you will succeed. The breakthrough message of “the 99%” both reaffirms the values of the American dream and at the same time provides clear character and conflict to the story. It is the message or story that has stuck and spread.

Reading Jonah Sachs has also prompted me to re-read Joseph Campbell’s seminal works on myth. Good stories should encourage people to go on a journey of self-discovery. As Joseph Campbell told Bill Moyers, all myths are about “the maturation of the individual from dependency to adulthood through maturity and then to the exit”. This is what he called “the hero’s journey”.

Charities must take their donors on a hero’s journey. The charity acts as a mentor figure empowering and guiding the donor who takes the transformational journey. This is a journey that must appeal to the best in human nature and calls on us to be great.

True engagement does not come from negative emotions. Sachs points out that most advertising is based on negative emotions such as greed, lust, and fear and either creates, or preys on, existing feelings of inadequacy. He notes that, “Ads aimed at consumers of products or services generally create anxiety and then offer the magic solution.”

Sachs concludes his book with a grand vision and a call to action to storytellers to change the world. “We have the means to design the future we want; what’s most needed are the stories that will engage millions of people to want to get there.”

The case for support: your charity’s key document

Your organization’s case for support is arguably the most important document your organization will ever write. It gives the raison d’être of your charity and it is the cornerstone of all your fundraising campaigns.

From your general case for support, you can begin to construct individual “case statements” for specific projects and for major donors and grant applications.

The case for support must be a well-written, compelling statement appealing to both people’s reason and emotion and which serves to answer questions and inspire donors to give to your organization.

The case for support should answer the following questions:

  • Who is the organization and what does it do?
  • What is the problem it seeks to solve?
  • What is distinctive about the organization? (the “unique reason to give”)
  • What impact are you making? Are you being successful?
  • What are your priorities at this time and your urgent needs?
  • How will your programs/campaigns enable your mission to be accomplished?
  • How can the donor become involved?
  • What’s in it for the donor — why should someone give to this effort?
  • How do you raise funds?
  • How will the funds raised be used?
  • How will the funds specifically benefit those you serve?

Whether you are a brand new charity or an established one, your case for support materials should be organized in a way that is:

  • Easily accessible for those who need them such as fundraisers, your marketing department, board members etc.
  • Well-organized so that you can see what materials are there and access them efficiently
  • Backed up so that you don’t lose these essential resources.

Don’t ignore this last point. You can back up your case materials for free online in the cloud either through DropBox or Google Drive, so that they are safe and also so that you can access them wherever you are.

It makes sense to have all the material you need to raise funds and awareness in one place. From this bank of information, you can assemble anything you need — from press releases, to grant proposals, to website content, to major donor proposals etc.

Here’s what your case for support info bank should include:

  • Your mission, vision, and guiding principles
  • Your organization’s history and your organization’s record of success and impact
  • A clear statement of the problem/situation
  • The solution to the problem
  • How you are going to address the problem (your goals and objectives)
  • A sense of urgency or time limit
  • Timeline
  • Staff and governance including bios and photos of staff, board members, and overseas staff if any
  • Who is responsible and what their qualifications are
  • Budget(s)
  • Stories and photos to support the need (by putting a face to the problem)
  • Testimonials about your organization and about your programs
  • Why your organization is equipped to address the problem
  • Compelling photographs
  • Video PSAs or other video you might have
  • Maps showing where you work
  • Stats

Charity impact: How to get beyond overhead rates and tell your charity’s story

FACT: Donors want to know that their gifts are making a difference.
FACT: Overhead rates or ratios are a common way donors seek to measure impact.
FACT: Charities aren’t too happy about this.

All of us have been asked by donors what our charity’s overhead rate is.

Donors latch onto overhead rates as a way of determining if the charity is “wasting money” because they’ve been conditioned to do so and it’s an easy number to find. This proxy measure of a charity’s value is not ideal, but if other measures of a charity’s impact aren’t readily available, it may be the ONLY thing donors can latch on to.

Executive directors of charities can rail against their donors’ obsession with overhead rates all they want, but the fact is that this fixation isn’t going away any time soon. It shows that donors increasingly want transparency and a clear picture of how their gifts are changing the world.

So how can your charity tell its story and show its impact more effectively?

Three US organizations — The BBB Wise Giving Alliance, GuideStar, and Independent Sector — have created a free Charting Impact tool to help nonprofits explain their impact.

Charting Impact’s five simple questions will help you identify the information you need in order to tell the full story of your organization.

The goal of these 5 questions is to help charities find the clearest and most succinct way to articulate what they do and how they do it.

1. What is your organization aiming to accomplish?
2. What are your strategies for making this happen?
3. What are your organization’s capabilities for doing this?
4. How will your organization know if you are making progress?
5. What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?

These questions are deceptively simple. Often we are too close to our causes to see them clearly. Jargon and automatic patterns of speaking about our work can creep in and obscure our story. We may forget our creation story and the bright vision of the future that the charity’s founders dreamed of when they poured all their energy into starting the charity. Sometimes we can benefit from a fresh look from an outside advisor.

For more information on how you can communicate more effectively to raise more funds, see More Money for More Good by Bob Ottenhoff and Greg Ulrich. It can be downloaded for free.