Nonprofit Storytelling with Video | Three Unbreakable Rules

April 8, 2014

How are you sharing your organization’s stories?

I’m a big believer in constant story collection – from your clients, your donors, your founder, your staff (see my article 6 Tips for Collecting Great Nonprofit Stories for more information) – but just as importantly as the stories you tell, is the method you use to tell them.

Just as you wouldn’t limit your organization’s story to one story, neither should you limit the channels of expressing those stories.

A strong tool in your organization’s marketing arsenal is visual storytelling.  Today’s guest blogger, documentary filmmaker Chris Davenport of Movie Mondays for Nonprofits and Nonprofit Best Practices, shares how – and why – the small nonprofit should use video to transport their donors to the heart of their cause.


Donors are inspired to give when they feel engaged and connected to your cause.

What’s the best way to do this?

cameraThe best way is for them to experience your mission first hand.  Most of the time, it’s too expensive or time consuming to give your donors that experience. So how can you give your donors that necessary experience without the expense and time commitment?

A video transports your donor to the heart of your cause.

Through visual storytelling, you can connect with your donor’s values and touch their heart.  How much money do you think would have been raised for Haiti had the news NOT shown the devastation and how the earthquake had affected lives?

Because of visual storytelling, over $150 Million dollars in donations was raised within the first four days of the earthquake in Haiti! All this money was donated in a time when our economy was in the tank and unemployment was at 10%.  Providing a way to immerse your donors in your cause and have them feel connected is priceless.

Equipped with a powerful video, your board members and volunteers will have an easier time connecting on a deeper level with donors…in a way that’s quick and consistent every time.

There are powerful videos and weak videos. So, how can you make sure your video is powerful and truly engages your donors?

Here are three rules you can’t afford to violate when crafting your own video:

Rule #1

Don’t point your camera inward.  What I mean by that is to focus and place the emphasis on your cause not your organization.

Many times I’ll watch a “fundraising” video that falls short of the fundraising goals. This is because the organization has decided to make a video about their organization and all the services they offer.  I call this type of video a “video brochure”, not a fundraising video.  Save the descriptions of all your services for your website or brochure. Concentrate on the effect you’re having in the community instead of your organization.

Rule #2

Avoid filming your Executive Director and Staff. Does this mean never film them? No, but what you want to avoid is having them say something that could be more powerfully said by one of your clients or an industry expert outside your organization.

It’s always best to have a voice from outside your organization glorifying the effect you’re having in the community.  This builds credibility and makes for a much more authentic and powerful video.

Rule #3

Have a clear purpose for your video.  It seems obvious, but this rule is overlooked so many times. Not having a clear purpose can be the difference between not raising a single dollar and raising more than you had hoped for.
When you’re thinking about your purpose, here are a couple of things to consider:

  1. Who will be watching the video? Knowing who you’re audience will be is crucial and can completely change how you tell the story
  2. What do you want your audience to think, feel, or do once they’ve finished watching the video? Knowing this will help steer your story so that you elicit the desire response. E.g. Do you want them to write a check? …Volunteer? …Join your board?

Whether you’re making your video yourself, with a volunteer, or an outside company, keep these three rules in mind.  If you do, you’ll end up with a video that will help you and your board members fundraise more effectively and with greater ease.


About Christopher Davenport:

Drawing on over 20 years of experience producing documentaries, commercials and films for private investors and corporations, Christopher uses his storytelling skills to help non-profits find and tell their most compelling stories for maximum donations.  He is the owner of 501 Videos, LLC and produces a free weekly video series titled “Movie Mondays for Fundraising Professionals”. The free video series is for anyone in the nonprofit community who’d like to watch how other nonprofit professionals handle and overcome the many challenges to fundraising. For more information on Movie Mondays and to see a sample movie, go here.

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