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Telling Stories With Video: Are You Ready for Your Close-Up?

May 14, 2008

(Tricia McKenna is vice president of Louder Than Words, a Boston-based PR agency serving foundations, nonprofits, and related businesses. In December, she wrote about feel-good end-of-year media stories.)

Cdrom_2 At last week's Council on Foundations conference, the Annie E. Casey Foundation was one of the winners of a Wilmer Shields Rich Award for Excellence in Communications for its "Guide to Making and Using Videos." Created for the foundation's "Making Connections" program, the report is relevant to anyone thinking about using video to advance a community change initiative.

Most exciting, from my perspective? The guide, which covers everything from budget planning and messaging to equipment considerations, helps organizations doing good in the world tell their own stories. There are many benefits to producing your own video(s). Here are a few:

You own the message. As a PR practitioner, I'm a true believer in the value of third-party endorsements. But as video becomes a more ubiquitous medium, mission-focused organizations can reap tremendous benefit from supplementing third-party video coverage with their own work. "Oprah's Big Give" and "Extreme Home Makeover" have both been criticized by the philanthropic community as exploitative, and news programs tend to thrive on controversy. The beauty of producing one's own video is that it gives you the power to tell your story the way you want it told.

In a Web 2.0 world, video speaks louder than text. Video can be a compelling way to energize online communities and extend the reach of cause-related messages. There needs to be a plan in place to distribute the video and incorporate it into the overall communications strategy and organizational goals, but with those pieces in place, video is a great way to stand out online. What's more, there are now several Web sites devoted to these types of videos. (See below for a few examples.)

It's an occasion to perfect that elevator pitch. Creating a video forces you to answer substantive questions about your cause/issue and how you position it. Depending on your audience, you will need to determine how your video can support your goals -- whether they relate to fundraising, advocacy, brand awareness, or building support for a cause -- and clearly communicate your value proposition in just a few minutes.

Here a few of my current favorites:

  • Play Pumps International featured on virutalvolunteer.tv -- "More than one billion people worldwide do not have access to clean water. Water-related diseases are the leading cause of death in the world, taking the lives of 6,000 people a day, and are responsible for 80 percent of all sickness in the world. Forty billion hours are lost annually to hauling water, a chore primarily undertaken by women and girls. All this can change A life-changing and life-saving invention -- the PlayPump® water system -- can provide easy access to clean drinking water, bring joy to children, and lead to improvements...."
  • Free Geek at do-gooder.tv -- "FREE GEEK is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit community organization that recycles used technology to provide computers, education, Internet access and job skills training to those in need in exchange for community service...."
  • Women for Women International on YouTube -- "Women for Women provides women survivors of war, civil strife, and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency, thereby promoting viable civil societies...."

If you'd like to learn more, the Casey Foundation has posted a terrific video toolkit on its Web site complete with clips and interactive features.

What about you? Have you come across any nonprofit videos on the Web that have inspired you? Has your organization used video in its outreach? If so, what has it learned? Feel free to use the comments section to share your experiences.

-- Tricia McKenna

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