Monday, February 8, 2016

The power of video in nonprofit storytelling: a local example (with a fundraising theme)

How can video help you tell your nonprofit story? How can it expand your board members' outreach toolbox as they interact with key community stakeholders? Is incorporating video even a realistic option for some of our smaller organizations?

I've so immersed myself in nonprofit storytelling writings and examples lately that I think I might be drowning - or at least deeply in "incubation" mode, ready for something to explode in this space. In the meantime, I've been thinking about the video posted above, promoting a local nonprofit and its drive to build (much needed) new facility. It caught my eye, and caught me by surprise, when it appeared in my Facebook feed. It also illustrates some of the storytelling power described in my informal research.

I don't know where this particular resource fits within Head Start of Laramie's larger community outreach program generally, or this capital campaign specifically. What I can say is that it does a good job of introducing the organization and its case for giving the sweet children it serves a better, more young person-friendly place to learn.

I also can say that this can be - should be - a nice little tool for Head Start board members to use in fulfilling their roles as ambassadors within our community.

Imagine being a Head Start board member speaking before our local Rotary Club or your community of faith and having this as the centerpiece of the talk. Imagine being able to pull out a cell phone, calling this up on your YouTube app, and sharing in conversation with a local business owner.  Or having a copy downloaded to your tablet for sharing in similar settings. Or being able to share a link in an email message advocating for early childhood education to a legislator. It would be only a start to the discussion that each scenario demands, but it's a good and fitting start.

Expert story analysts may pick up on more nuanced strengths and gaps than I do. But as a professional communicator (30+ years in public relations) and someone who knows our local nonprofit sector, the elements that stand out to me are:

  • A decent picture of the dismal setting in which the children learn. Head Start staff and parent volunteers do their very best with what they have, but the fact is that the facility (an old, creepy, former junior high school turned civic center) is not only a less than welcoming place for play but the security hazard described by the narrators. That outdoor play area, so beautifully and lovingly created by someone for those children? A lower-level roof in the center of the building that was never intended to be anything but a roof.  The next step in making the case for their new facility is a tour so supporters can see for themselves. But this gives a good, general picture of Head Start's current existence.
  • Ideally, children would be all over a video promoting an organization like this. But children are a naturally vulnerable population that requires special care, and special rules, when showing them in public settings. (I've worked with similar constraints in another part of my professional life.) Still, we see young children in enough of the brief video to remind us why all of this matters.
  • We don't know who the adults shown are - my lone critique. But I'm assuming they are teachers and the director. Hopefully, at least one is a Head Start board member and another a Head Start parent. Maybe there's a Head Start alum, too. There are different voices to be heard in this particular story, filling in some of the inevitable gaps in not being able to focus on direct beneficiaries of the fine service provided.

Now, you may be as wowed as I was by the professional production quality of this brief clip. You also may be thinking, "We operate on a shoestring budget. There's no way we can afford something like this." I have no idea how this particular video came to be or what the agreement was between videographer and the school. I'd intended to offer a counter-example in the post that unfolded in my head, but that promises to become unwieldy if I actually follow through today. I'll leave the second half of my point, and the two contrasting examples, for another post. For now, please know that you have options, whether or not you have the budget for a professionally-produced product.

In the meantime, have conversations with your staff and board about the kinds of stories you have to tell, and who needs to hear them. If you have great examples you are willing to share - in whatever format - please consider doing so in a comment below.

Storytelling is a core topic in the theme I've selected for 2016. This is only an opening, but one that I needed to take to begin releasing what's floating around in my brain right now.

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