7 Sure-Fire Ways to Use Video to Inspire Donors

by Carol Buckheit on August 27, 2012

You don’t need to be James Cameron to create a quality video that will move your donors to contribute to your cause. But, if you can tell a story with video and incorporate these seven elements, you are well on your way to inspiring donors to join you in creating change.

1. Tell a story with an emotional impact.

Whether you inspire laughter, anger, tears of joy, or “wow”, help your viewers feel something. If you aren’t affected by this devastating video story from the ALS Society of Canada, then pack it in.

ALS Canada

2.  Focus in on telling a richly detailed story of one (or a few) affected people.

Here’s a superb video from Water.org that blends lots of detail, music, and spare language to tell the stark story of women in Ethiopia seeking drinkable water.


3.  A good story will include 3 key elements: a Protagonist (hero), Obstacles to be overcome, and a Resolution.

(Hint: Your organization is never the protagonist. The resolution is where your organization comes in, demonstrating how they helped (or will help) solve the problem.)

Feeding America nails it here:

Feeding America

4. Choose your best storytellers, not your “talking heads.”

News flash: Your best storyteller is hardly ever your executive director. Choose someone affected by your issue and tell their perspective. Surrogates (parents, providers, colleagues, caregivers) can also be incredibly effective.

Even animals can be storytellers, as in “I Want” by the Animal Humane Society:

5. Keep it brief—under two minutes.

I know, I know. The Kony 2012 video was 30 minutes long and has over 92 million YouTube views. I don’t care. A five-minute video is an eternity on YouTube, and I’m still saying that less is more.

This memorable video story from Habitat for Humanity Canada packs a punch in only 26 seconds.

Habitat for Humanity Canada

6. You MUST include a call to action.

Yes, it’s nice to get hundreds (or even thousands) of video views, but what’s the point unless you get people to do something? If no one takes action, it’s a missed opportunity.

So, if you haven’t signed up yet for the (free!) Google for Nonprofit program then do it now.

Among many benefits, you will be able to create a clickable call to action overlay to your videos that can drive viewers directly to a web page for taking action—to donate, sign a petition, or email a legislator, for example.

Amnesty International is masterful at creating emotionally hard-hitting videos and wrapping them around take-action campaigns. This one was part of a petition-signing campaign to save the life of Troy Davis. It was unsuccessful, but it did help bring significant media attention to the injustice Davis was facing. Note the clickable “take action” link.

Amnesty International Troy Davis

Here’s a brief, low-tech homemade video from Heal the Bay. With a call to action at the end, this video could have been powerful AND created change. Without it, it’s a missed opportunity.

Heal the Bay

7. You don’t need expensive, dazzling camera work– just a well-edited piece.

Sometimes the most effective videos are the ones shot and edited by amateurs, because they seem less packaged and more genuine. (But, don’t get me wrong: If you are about to host a highfalutin gala for your big-time donors, by all means hire a videographer to create a high quality video for you).

One of my favorite examples of video storytelling was created by Wesleyan University students in response to the political debate about cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood. “I Have Sex” is a bit long, but is edited well enough to tell the perspective of young people in a way that will blow your socks off.

Wesleyan U "I Have Sex"

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Are donors your organization’s primary audience? Do you wish to convey the impact of your work in a dynamic, personal way?

I see many nonprofits jump into the blogosphere with zeal, yet post text-heavy, technical, lengthy (read: boring) blog posts that leave donors with glazed eyes and no emotional connection.  Worse, some groups think an effective blog is a litany of the organization’s activities for the week.

News flash: Donors want to know how their dollars are making change–how people’s lives have been made better through their giving. Put it this way: They don’t care that 200 people called your crisis hotline; they want to know the story of a real person get who your hotline helped to get on their feet again.

Need examples? These nonprofit  blogs incorporate human interest stories with eye-catching multimedia to highlight the stories of  people (or animals) who have been touched by their work.

The Doctors Without Borders blog is hosted on Tumblr and –true to the Tumblr platform– they are wonderfully stingy on text. Instead, they pile on the photos and videos to tell stories of their medical outreach in developing countries. Here’s a screen shot of yesterday’s post:

Doctors Without Borders Blog post 8.7.12

I love the Phoenix Zoo’s blog for the superb way they tell stories through different types of posts: video blogs, Q  & A interviews and large, offbeat photos.  A recent post told the story of how they outfitted a Komodo dragon with a custom splint to fix a gait abnormality (who knew?), and they added a video, too:

The bottom line: show donors what exciting work they can be a part of.  To do that, you need stories AND images.

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