We live in a digital world. Many people would rather watch than read, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of fundraising. Arguably the most crucial arm of a fundraising gala or outreach project is the video component. It neatly encapsulates the purpose of your fundraiser without forcing your audience to sit through a long speech or read an extensive mission statement. When done poorly, they’re not especially effective. But when used appropriately, videos can be incredibly powerful tools to raise more money.
One of the most important things to remember in using videos as part of fundraising, Donna La Pietra from Kurtis Productions says, is that it is only one specific tool in a fundraising toolbox, and it’s best used as an emotional storytelling device.
“A video is used as that first way for people to relate and understand,” La Pietra says. “I think the ones that are best are the ones that end up inspiring people to want to know more, to want to become involved.”
Ruth Anne Harnasch, founder and president of The Harnisch Foundation, adds,“Think about what story of that one person is that will make an impact. Who is the audience, what do you want them to know and … what action do you want them to take?”
One thing videos should steer clear from is too much information. Kurtis warns against using a string of interviews all shoved together. “It shouldn’t end up being a video version of your annual report,” she says.
A video shown at a gala or on the front page of a nonprofit’s website needs to tell the story of the fundraising enterprise.
“The most important thing is the voice of the people who were helped or benefiting,” says Maria Carrera from sureCAN productions, the company that creates Make It Better’s Philanthropy Awards videos. “If you want people to donate, the emotional impact of where they’re giving their money needs to be heard. We can talk all day about what we do, but it doesn’t mean as much if you don’t see the impact.”
Both Carrera and La Pietra warn that often the CEO or head of the company is not the best person to have in the fundraising video. Yes, they might be well versed in the issue at hand, but are they the most compelling subject?
“You want to find your best spokesperson and that person isn’t always necessarily the leader,” La Pietra says. “Find the best person as a communicator for the organization.”
Carrera agrees — one of the biggest pitfalls of making a fundraising video can be getting caught up in the politics of who gets the most screen time.
“[The audience is] not here to see your CEO talk about what they believe in. They’re here to see what you’ve done and how it works,” Carrera says. “You need your expert who’s going to be able to articulate your business and your core values, but that shouldn’t be the most important part of the video.”
La Pietra says it’s crucial to think about where the video will live — is it just going to be shown at a gala or another event, or will it stay on the nonprofit’s homepage? This can help refine the details of the video, including how long it will be and other visual aspects that the viewer might hone in on.
Especially with the short attention span of social media consumers, La Pietra urges nonprofits and other fundraising organizations to think about who will be consuming a video and where.
“Sometimes something you use at an event doesn’t necessarily gain real traction in the social media sphere. Sometimes they need a shorter piece,” she says. “Something that’s two minutes can seem like five, six, seven minutes. Something that’s seven minutes can seem like two minutes.”
Carrera agrees — if the video is on the homepage of a website, it needs to be the biggest thing on there in order to attract maximum attention.
“Putting your most important mission statement or most important thing about you needs to go at the very front of the video, so when they click play before they tune out in 30 seconds you’ve already grabbed them,” Carrera says.
It’s also important to keep in mind that people are increasingly high-level digital consumers. They have come to expect high-quality media, and nowhere is that more important than when you’re trying to raise money.
“The ability to use computers [and] create graphics is now in the hands of many more people,” La Pietra says. “The idea of trying to create something cinematic or film-like is important in reaching what I consider a pretty sophisticated audience. You can look old pretty fast in a video these days.”
Having an experienced videographer and video production company is crucial in this case, if you’re not using an in-house service. Just like you’d expect to see samples of work from a wedding photographer or any other service, it’s always important to ask about a videographer’s previous work.
“You have to pay for someone who knows what they’re doing,” Carrera says. “It’s well worth the price. You might get people who might do it more cheaply, but video is the world in which you get what you pay for.”
Once you have that videographer, it’s equally important to have a clear vision for what you’d like them to accomplish.
“You really need to understand what the ultimate goal is, who you’re trying to reach,” La Pietra says. “Take whatever number of goals you might have and prioritize them, because you might not be able to achieve all of them in any one video.”
One of the most common pitfalls in creating a fundraising video is trying to put too much information into it, which confuses the audience and can muddle the message and ultimately become “a presentation of your annual report,” says La Pietra.
“Pare down what it is you need to communicate. Let there be some written materials to fill out the rest of what a potential donor might need to know.”
Ultimately, it’s the people who are the most important part, not the statistics.
“The interviews are important, yes, but if you have all interviews and nothing to show what’s being done, the video doesn’t work,” Carrera says.
La Pietra concurs — a fundraising video at its core needs to be excellent storytelling.
“The storytelling is usually the key point here,” she says. “To have something that’s ultimately inspiring — it can have a lighthearted moment or a heart tugging moment, or both, and keep your audience engaged.”
It’s also important to remember that a video is only one part of a fundraising effort. La Pietra warns that you can’t expect it to do all the work. It has to be in conjunction with effective statistics and a clear message.
But in the end, a fundraising video should be aspirational and motivate an audience to act.
“You need to find the emotion in your story and figure out how to tug at people’s heartstrings,” Carrera says. “That’s what’s going to make people donate.”
Here are two examples of excellent videos sent to Make It Better by Donna La Pietra:
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