As an integrated marketing agency, our job often boils down to helping clients convey their purpose. That usually starts with two simple questions:
Why do you exist?
Why should anyone care?
Getting this messaging exactly right is particularly important for nonprofits, because compelling and convincing answers to those questions could mean the difference between meeting their annual revenue goal or falling short. And that could mean the difference between fulfilling an essential community need or not.
According to recent numbers from Tech Jury, over 500 million people watch videos on Facebook alone each day. We spend an average of 6 hours and 48 minutes per week watching videos online. To understand why video is such an effective format for nonprofits, we picked the brains of a few people who know just how powerful it can be: a local nonprofit communications leader, one of our favorite local filmmakers, and Well Done’s director of digital strategy.
Stories Told Through Film Have A More Powerful Appeal
“Stories will always matter,” said our friend Matt Mays of Mays Entertainment. “Stories told through film and in the context of fundraising can be massively influential. They can contextualize messaging in short form. They can impact your live events in ways that speakers sometimes can’t.”
While Mays believes in the power of film and video, he warns that capturing and holding an audience’s attention comes with its own unique challenges.
“Video is so ubiquitous that it’s become harder and harder to push memorable content through,” he said. “Videos disappear as fast as you can scroll past them. That’s it. Done. If you’re lucky enough to have a captive audience at an event, you might be able to make more of an impact. There’s so much great work out there right now, from spots to docs to social campaigns, it can be tough to separate yourself from the crowd.”
Algorithms and Attention Spans Demand a Quick Hook
“You have around six to seven seconds to convince someone to care about your video—even less on some platforms, which means we have to condense our storytelling into very brief experiences,” Mandy Facer, our director of digital strategy, said. “Because of this, I generally recommend we try to make only one point per video in ads. Once we’re on the brand’s website, we can have longer videos. But it’s still best to try to land between 30 seconds and two minutes.”
Whether she’s asking for donations or trying to get eyeballs on a breaking news story, WFYI’s Director of Marketing and Strategic Communications Kirsten Eamon-Shine is careful to make sure the message meets users where they are. “We’re multi-platform fundraisers, just like we’re multi-platform information providers,” she said. “Video is just naturally a part of what we do, so we try to right-size everything for the platform we’re distributing it to.”
The attention span of the audience who receives a pledge drive appeal during, say, a Henry Louis Gates special on PBS is a lot longer than someone Eamon-Shine’s team is feeding a fundraising message on Instagram Reels. The challenge is making the message consistent across both platforms. “There’s something so dynamic about video content,” she said. “Whether it’s the beautiful programming we get from PBS or someone in our community talking about why they give. They’re both evocative and powerful in different ways. I think the big thing about using video is it’s a beautiful chance to connect with the emotional pull of the mission.”
The Pandemic Changed How Nonprofits Use Video
“For the first three days of lockdown I thought, ‘Well, here we go. It’s all over,’” Mays said. “I wasn’t thinking about how much my clients, especially nonprofits, would rely on video communication not to simply stay in touch but to continue to tell stories. I certainly never thought there would be a day where I would be editing interviews recorded from a Zoom call, but it became normal really quickly. We eventually moved to doing entire events and presentations with video. A lot of clients were astonished that we could continue to raise funds—sometimes as much or more than was raised in live events—through livestreams. With the significant cost savings that come with not doing a live event, it was very profitable.”
Both Eamon-Shine and Mays have served as chairs of Tonic Ball, an annual benefit concert for local hunger relief, food rescue, and culinary job training nonprofit Second Helpings. The event was forced to pivot to a virtual format for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic. “If we had just pressed pause, that would’ve had a negative impact on an organization that was fulfilling essential needs,” Eamon-Shine said. “Going virtual with video allowed us to acquire some new fans, which was really interesting. Even this year, when we went back to live, we had several folks say they wished we could still have the virtual version.”
Mays produced the virtual shows. Eamon-Shine said they would’ve been impossible to pull off without someone with his talent and vision.
“The biggest challenge, outside of the technical side, is that Tonic is successful only because it is an amazing live event,” Mays said. “There’s no way to recreate the energy that comes from those crowds and those bands. What we tried to do was create something to remind people that we were still here and that we’ll be back.”
While he’s proud of Tonic Ball’s ability to pivot during the pandemic, it’s not an experience Mays is anxious to recreate any time soon.
“To be honest, I hope we are past virtual fundraising events,” he said. “They were a means to get through a very tough time, but the simple fact is that human connection is still the most important thing. Film can only be a catalyst to bring stories to life and conversation to the forefront. The rest is up to us.”
Video Remains a Valuable Tool for Nonprofits
Mays might not be nostalgic for virtual events, but Facer points out that video is here to stay. “Digital-first video is the present and future of advertising for many industries,” she said, “and I include nonprofits on that list.”
Mays agrees, and he has a simple piece of advice for any interested organization that’s just starting to jump into video. “Don’t cut corners,” he said. “Treat the productions like small features such that they evoke emotion and empathy toward the subject. Go for it.”
If you’re ready to take your nonprofit video production to the next level, we have experience producing videos for events, fundraising campaigns, public relations, and more. Check out some recent projects with Tindley Accelerated Schools, Lumina Foundation, and ACLU of Indiana as examples. We’re always interested in creating bold work with clients who make the world a better place—which is one of the many reasons we love capturing the dynamic missions and impact of our nonprofit partners on film.