How to Tell Your Nonprofit’s Story With Video

June 7, 2010

Have you ever thought about how you tell your organization’s story?

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.

By the time my daughter, Samantha, was six years old I had already had her hearing tested twice by auditory specialists.

While she had been an early reader, I often found her daydreaming and various teachers had found her unresponsive in class.  Yet her hearing tested fine.

When I brought my concerns about Sam’s hearing to my daughter’s second grade teacher, Sister Barbara, Sister responded “Mrs. B, Samantha hears exactly what she wants to hear.”

After I stopped laughing I realized the truth in her words.  Samantha was a strong visual learner.  Knowing that made me approach my relationship with my daughter differently.  I often wrote her notes rather than telling her something.  Believe me when I tell you that it cut down on a lot of frustration on both sides.

Later on, with my second child, I recognized early on that Abigail was an auditory learner.  Never a reader, Abbey could sit listening intently for hours to books on tape.

I believe a strong tool in your organization’s marketing arsenal is visual storytelling.  That’s why I asked documentary filmmaker Chris Davenport to pen a guest post on 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?

The 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! 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.

If you’d like to see how an Executive Director, an Event Planner, and a Chief Development Officer used video to engage more donors, inspire board members, build a fundraising army, and raise more money, check out Chris’ work.


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.


Would you like to be featured on Pamela’s Grantwriting Blog? Email me for blog submission guidelines.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Dolly Carlisle June 15, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Great advice. I’m also a long-time documentary maker now providing consulting and video production to nonprofits in Tennessee. I couldn’t have given better advice if I had written it myself.

John Carraway June 25, 2010 at 10:37 am

I think video can really help get a message across. The only thing I would add is that video also tends to age really quickly. A video that is only five years old can begin to look a little hokey to the viewers. Make sure you have a strategy in place to optimize the use of the video while it’s still relevant.

anike June 25, 2010 at 12:13 pm

I am glad I read this – very helpful tips as we plan to make a video for fundraising.

Heidi Thorne September 4, 2010 at 7:04 am

I’m trying to help our animal welfare group integrate more video into our efforts. It doesn’t even have to be the most slickly produced one either. In fact, showing your group in action at events or efforts is powerful! And with the tools we have today such as Flip cameras and iPhones, it’s so much easier than it’s ever been.

Thanks for another awesome post!

Susan March 1, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Thank you for the very simple and straightforward advice.

Collin February 16, 2012 at 10:19 am

After reading this, I was inspired to write my own blog post about the subject. Our organization uses Animoto, which allows a complete amateur videographer to crank out one to two videos a week. They also have a free upgrade for non-profits. The blog post can be found at http://www.myriadragnar.com/free-video-tool-for-your-non-profit/

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