April 21, 2011

8 great examples of nonprofit storytelling

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“A Glimmer of Hope – LTBH Feature – Austin 2009”

How to convey a powerful message with videos & photos

Target audience: Nonprofits, social enterprises, NGOs, foundations, cause organizations, Web publishers, small businesses.

JD LasicaAs regular readers know, I’ve been a longtime proponent of visual storytelling to advance the missions of nonprofits, cause organizations and businesses. (Heck, I co-founded Ourmedia.org before there was a YouTube.) People take action on behalf of a cause only when they feel an emotional connection, and yet nonprofits in particular are famously bad at telling their own stories.

What we tell people in our Socialbrite bootcamps and in our consulting work is this: Every nonprofit is now a media organization (the same goes for social enterprises and businesses). Never before have the tools of visual storytelling been so inexpensive, easy to use and accessible to the masses.

So why aren’t you taking advantage of visual storytelling yet? (Or are you? Tell us in the comments!)

There are dozens of ways to convey your story, and we’ve laid out lots of ways to get started — see the links at the bottom of this article.

Today we’d like to highlight a few best-of-breed examples of visual storytelling so that you can think about how to take a similar approach for your organization. At least one of the examples cited below should trigger an insight — an idea that resonates or an approach that you might consider using with your team or with a production partner.

Find people who encapsulate what your core objective is all about — and convey their stories with power, genuineness, passion and humility

Remember, it’s not about the tools or the technology. It’s about finding people who encapsulate what your core objective is all about — and conveying their stories with power, genuineness, passion and humility. Some can be elaborate productions, with narration, titling and musical score all working together. Others can be as simple as holding up a video-capable smartphone to capture a moment.

One you have a visual story, or several, that you can draw upon, you’ll be able to begin using it in your public outreach: on your website or blog, on your Facebook page, in your annual report, in your email newsletters. And don’t forget to enter contests like the DoGooder Awards, TechSoup Storytelling Challenge or CurrentTV’s just-ended The Current Cause, where $15,000 in prizes will be awarded.

Here are seven great examples of nonprofit storytelling:

1/ Classic video advocacy

“Breathe,” by Repower America

advocacyLast month’s 5th annual DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards, presented by YouTube and See3 Communications — See3 is at the forefront of nonprofit video storytelling — drew 1,350 submissions from 750 nonprofits, with 16 finalists and four winners.

Among the winners were:
• Best thrifty video: It’s In Your Hands, by Watershed Management Group
• Best large organization video: A Public Service Announcement Not Approved by AJWS, by the American Jewish World Service

Some entries I liked better included:
Breathe, by Repower America (1:33, embedded above)
• The funny, celebrity-studded Seriously, Serious PSA (featuring B.J. Novak & Friends) by malarianomore (1:01)

Sign up to receive See3’s Daily DoGooder: a daily cause video delivered to your in-box.

And here were the 2010 winners. Observe how other organizations are telling their stories — which style did you like: earnest, funny, polished, grassroots?

2/ Digital stories using photos & narration

“Mountaintop Library Expands Horizons,” by Room to Read

digital storiesI’ve been involved in the digital storytelling movement since 2004. A vastly underutilized medium, digital storytelling uses photos, video, film or found materials, combined with voice-over narration, to convey powerful, evocative stories with a rich emotional dimension.

Our in-depth tutorials Digital storytelling from soup to nuts and Digital storytelling: A tutorial in 10 easy steps offers some great examples. But for a simpler way to do this, look no further than the winner of February’s TechSoup Storytelling Challenge.

The first place winner, Mountaintop Library Expands Horizons, by Room to Read (embedded above), took advantage of visually stunning photos taken in Nepal and weaved together a simple 60-second story about the San Francisco nonprofit’s global literacy mission. Nicely done — with no video at all. This is something your organization can do on its own, no?

3/ Videos with a call to action

call to actionSince YouTube rolled out a free “call-to-action overlay” feature for nonprofits in March 2009, a lot of nonprofits (but too few) have made use of the technique. Nonprofits can place an “ask” in the opaque pop-up overlay. As YouTube explains:

“Adding a Call-to-Action overlay to your video is easy. First, run a campaign to promote your video on YouTube. Then, go to the Video Details page under My Videos and fill out the fields in the section marked ‘Call-to-Action overlay.’ All you have to do is include a short headline, ad text, a destination url, and upload an optional image, and the overlay will appear whenever someone watches your video. Clicks on the overlay will be tracked in YouTube Insight.”

YouTube also offers tips on how to run an effective campaign.

Two examples:

World Water Day Video from charity: water, with a 15-second ad overlay at the beginning, earned charity: water $10,000 in a single day, largely thanks to YouTube placing it on its home page. The overlay url takes users to its Donate page.

StillerStrong, stealing great ideas from other charities to build schools in Haiti, with an ad overlay throughout. I think we’ll increasingly see requests for text2give mobile donations, as shown above.

4/ Mobile devices: Video on the go

mobileSometimes, simple is better. Video producers and photographers often say, the best device is the one you have with you — and that gadget is increasingly a smartphone — an iPhone, Android device or Nokia phone — or a Flip cam or other portable device.

Here are two examples:

Flip Video and Save the Bay

Save Our Sounds, by J.D. Lasica, interview conducted in London with a Flip HD Ultra.

5/ Animation

“Do You Own Stuff Made by Slaves?” by Call + Response

animationSome subjects are best told using evocative imagery or animation rather than documentary or traditional video techniques.

Six examples:

The Girl Effect, by girleffect, is almost without peer.

Do You Own Stuff Made by Slaves, by Call + Response (2:01) doesn’t have celebrities, but it contains a compelling, little-heard message and inventive animation.

The EACH Campaign, by LegatumMedia, is visually arresting, though may lack a sufficient emotional impact.

Prospera: A new way of doing business in Mexico: a social enterprise story.

300 Years of Fossil Fuels in 300 Seconds, by the Post Carbon Institute, won the Best large organization video in the Do Gooder Nonprofit Video Awards.

Closed Zone, by Ground Report: life in Gaza.

6/ Creative mashups

“Introducing Socialbrite,” a mashup using Animoto.

mashupsOne of my favorite flavors of nonprofit storytelling is the kind that takes advantage of the visually interesting styles you can get by using sites like RockYou, Slide, Animoto and Stupeflix. (We covered them in Mash up a visual story for your nonprofit.) The creative possibilities are boundless.

Two examples:

Introducing Socialbrite, by me (embedded above): a 60-second visual mashup using only images, type and a music clip.

Will Steger Foundation Mashup Video, climate change made accessible.

7/ Personalized videos

personalized videosThis is a risky technique — the line between engaging and gimmicky is a thin one — but I’m still a fan of videos that let viewers insert themselves into the storyline. For young people in particular, personalization is part of the new media ecosystem.

beyond oil, by Moving Beyond Oil, lets you “make this video about you” by adding your name and email address and forwarding it to President Obama.

Glenn Beck Attacks Progressive Voter, by cnnbc (aka MoveOn.org), is a funny takedown of the wacked-out Fox News show host — using clips of his own rants — who was recently fired by the network. One lesson: Someones humor works in a field where we take our work very seriously.

8/ High-end professional productions

“Trailer of Burbax, Ethiopia,” by A Glimmer of Hope

“Mama Hope,” from Storytellers for Good.

high-endI saved the high-end professional productions for last because most nonprofits look at these, throw up their hands and say, I can’t do that. Well, two answers. First, maybe you can, by partnering with an organization like Storytellers for Good, a small outfit in San Francisco that’s doing some amazing work with nonprofits (see video at top). Second, don’t get distracted by productions whose budgets outstrip your budget — people don’t expect every visual story to be a masterpiece.

If you hook up with the right storytelling organization — ActiveVoice in San Francisco and Free Range Studios in New York are also good places to start — or if you have a decent budget, then find a local video production outfit and go for it.

Here are seven high-end professionally produced videos that caught my eye:

LTBH Feature – Austin 2009, by A Glimmer of Hope, at the top of this story. A Glimmer of Hope also offers some wonderful examples of storytelling with images.
Trailer of Burbax, Ethiopia, by A Glimmer of Hope — the music chokes me up every time I watch it.
Mama Hope, by Storytellers for Good (above)
• Charity: water’s September birthdays — or almost any charity: water video
Jai Pausch Public Service Announcement by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network at pancan.org
Rooftop Gardens, on CurrentTV — while I love CurrentTV, they could benefit from a big splash of variety.
• And, of course, let’s not forget the Official music video for OK Go’s “White Knuckles,” benefiting the ASPCA — 9.7 million YouTubers can’t be wrong.

I’m sure you have your own favorites — please share. Which kind of storytelling do you like, and why? What did I miss? Let us know in the comments!


How nonprofits should be using visual storytelling (Socialbrite)

Visual storytelling checklist (Socialbrite)

Mash up a visual story for your nonprofit (Socialbrite)

Digital storytelling: A tutorial in 10 easy steps (Socialbrite)

Roundup of resources on how to create media (Socialbrite)

Create video stories for your nonprofit in 6 steps (Socialbrite)

How to maximize your nonprofit’s impact with YouTube (Socialbrite)

Vimeo channels for nonprofits

How to run an effective campaign (YouTube)

Secrets to Nonprofit Video Success (CitizenTube)

Kivi Miller’s Delicious bookmarks on nonprofit storytellingJD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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21 thoughts on “8 great examples of nonprofit storytelling

  1. What a terrific post! Thanks so much for putting this together and including some of the DoGooder Nonprofit Video Award winners.

    It is clear that video is more important than ever and even small organizations — often thinking they don't have the capacity to do video — have to begin to do it anyway. This is what people are doing online and compelling stories are key to making strong connections.

    For people interested in these kinds of stories, we now have "The Daily DoGooder", a way to get one great nonprofit story in your in-box each day. You can subscribe at http://blog.see3.net/

    • Thanks, Michael, I signed up for the Daily DoGooder last week.

      Keep up the good work!

  2. What a comprehensive post! A wealth of examples and considerations here. I especially love how you've provided a step-ladder for nonprofits to think about the different types of media and stories they can put to use — from simple snapshots to professionally-produced documentaries. There's no excuse for any organization not to get their story out there in a visual way.

    • Kivi, very cool resource, thanks for sharing. I just moved over to diigo too so doubly cool.

  3. This was one of those blog posts that you think you're just going to just glance through, and the next thing you know a good 30 minutes has passed by. Thanks for such a thorough look into this world of digital storytelling.

    Storytelling is so important for any brand or organization, but it's especially so for non-profits that live on the support and involvement of others to stay afloat. People have to be pulled into a non-profit's story and literally and figuratively see themselves in it, believing that their involvement can somehow make a difference. As you point out, multi-media films can do that just about better than anything else.

    JD, at the risk of adding another example to your list, you might take a look at a film for Streetohome, a non-profit in Vancouver that's dedicated to ending homelessness. It's on the home page of their website. http://streetohome.org/


    • Thanks, Bill, I was hoping some folks would spend some time with these examples.

      I'll likely be jumping into a national project soon to tackle homelessness, so hoping you and others will continue to point to good examples, like the one you mentioned, that spotlight the issue.

  4. I love the different "poses" you take regarding compelling video. As a grant writer, I can still appreciate how all of these approaches to storytelling translates into persuasive cases for grant funders to read. Thanks for an insightful article. By the way, I just came across your blog via Kivi's "Mixed Links." I'll be checking you out on a more regular basis. :)

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