Are Nonprofits Getting the Most Bang for Their Marketing Bucks?

By Rosemary O'Neill, Kinetic Media president

“Countless aid groups have made promotional films and videos, usually watched by no one other than aid workers and their mothers.”

So say Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in their compelling new book, “A Path Appears.” The book makes the point that, to raise funds successfully, nonprofits need to invest in effective marketing and communications that yield results, the authors write. They say too many videos are made that are so earnest and boring, they have zero impact.

For years, nonprofits have spent most of their marketing dollars on direct mail pieces that head straight for the trash. Today’s email blasts face the same fate. And while everyone knows the value of social media today, messages can run into space limitations or get lost in news feeds.

Unfortunately, type on a page can’t really convey the joy of an African child reading her first book or the gratitude of a mother who finally has clean water for her children. Those images touch people. Their stories make people write checks.

Videos are versatile and have lasting power. They can be shown at fundraising meetings, and can be posted on web sites and in blogs and emailed to donors. Footage can be sliced and diced in a variety of ways to make different videos that will achieve specific results.

Most importantly, videos don’t have to cost a lot. When you hire the right professionals, they can work with you to focus on what’s most important so you don’t waste time and money.

Here are some guidelines for nonprofits who want to use video to tell their stories:

• Keep it short and simple. Try to focus on one story of one person or one family your organization is helping. Make it your best story.
• Don’t try to do it yourself. Yes, we all have phones with cameras, but that doesn’t mean we all know how to make a good video. Use a professional production company that will help you find your best story, write the script, shoot the video and edit the footage.
• Make sure your video is part of an overall plan. Will you be using it as a meeting opener? Will you email it to potential donors and/or volunteers? How will you gauge its success? Consider all these issues in advance.
• Think about casting. Choose the best person to convey your story. If the story feels staged or rehearsed, you’ll lose authenticity. Resist the urge to have the head of your organization recite your success stories. We all want to see the people we’re helping and the impact our money has on the lives of those people.

To paraphrase Kristof and WuDunn, nonprofits have great stories to tell, but they’re not always telling them well. Your organization may well be changing the world – but your efforts will be that much more powerful when you spread the word.