Create a Successful Nonprofit Video: Adapt a Genre to Connect with Your Audience

Have you ever created a video promoting one of your programs or campaigns, only to watch it flounder and never catch on with your intended audience? After about a week you start to revisit your video checklist regarding quality (light/sound), promotion (newsletters/social media/web site/etc), and even reposting it on outlets you didn’t consider relevant the first time around.

A week after that you feel confident that you covered your bases, but still confused by the lack of interest and general engagement. What if there were items you overlooked that are even more fundamental than choosing the right microphone or digital recorder. Not focusing on these items may be the reason your video fell flat.

So let’s go to a perfect example of a video that works – this time from the Winnipeg Humane Society. I’ve always liked the video below and while it didn’t receive as many views as many others on YouTube, it clearly demonstrates an incredibly important aspect of any video: embrace your genre.

(As an aside: many people write-off a video like this for the exact reasons you should check it out: small budgets, volunteer talent, and little to no time for production. Nonprofits are frequently strapped for resources and must rely on creativity and be hyper aware of genres that replace money and sparkle.)

Know your genre

Pick a genre that people can quickly identify with, in this case the crazy local salesman pitch. Who hasn’t seen a video like this late at night from your local celebrity car/furniture/mattress salesman? Embrace your chosen genre by accentuating its key components (language, graphics, editing style, etc).

Appropriate talent

Don’t push your CEO into a role that’s not appropriate. Find the right talent for the job, in this case Winnipeg’s own Andy Hill from Kern Hill Furniture Co-op was a perfect fit. A familiar face will bridge that gap and bring authenticity to your video. It will also be easier for a spokesperson to speak about your mission when they are in their element.

Write smart

If your copy doesn’t fit the genre then everything else will go up in smoke. Resist the urge to cut and paste copy from your brochure or website. Instead watch a few videos from the same genre noting key words, phrases, costumes, and actions. Be sure that these are also in your video and take them up a notch so that they are more noticeable.

After viewing countless nonprofit videos over the years I’ve seen my share of polished and respectable clips that went nowhere. They fail when they don’t embrace their genre. It also helps if you have some kittens and a sense of humor.


The Dirtiest Word Among Nonprofits: Overhead

When three of your friends, none of whom know of the other, each recommend a TED talk within a single week, you sorta have to watch it. So that’s how I found myself staring at Dan Pallotta the other day, watching as he said what many nonprofit leaders are thinking – albeit privately, never to be discussed, least of all at a conference.

The video is making waves among charity workers, nonprofit supporters, and at least one of Pallotta’s ex-colleagues who takes over portions of the comments section. Whether you come down on the side of conservative overhead or operating a near for-profit model, this talk is sure to start a discussion in your neck of the woods.

Stop the Depression Cycle: 5 Tips to Help Nonprofits Share Good News

“Hopefully we will put ourselves out of work.”

This is a common phrase in the nonprofit world. The gist of it is that the charity’s programs will be so successful that it accomplishes its mission, making itself irrelevant. Given the broad scope of many nonprofits, it is also a goal that never seems possible. That’s not to say that programs can’t make significant headway.

Take for instance this headline from today’s New York Daily News: No One Reported Shot, Stabbed or Slashed in New York City on Monday, Police Sources Say. Straight and to the point, while not exactly frugal with the word count, this headline screams good news.

So what can we learn from the sharing of this story?

Stay Positive
It can be easy to sound like a broken record; prattling on about the horrible state of things to justify your nonprofit’s existence. Dig up some good news, the more unexpected the better.

You better like looking at reports. Comb the data and see where you are making a difference. Did you improve over last year? How about if you compare the data to a few years ago? Find the numbers that support your impact and stop justifying your nonprofit’s existence solely by highlighting the need.

According to the data, where are you making headway? Which programs are most effective? Talk to your colleagues and find out what they tweaked or instituted that created change.

Shout It
Your nonprofit is succeeding so be sure to tell your media contacts, supporters, and staff. Do you have a newsletter? Intranet? Social media footprint? Internal notice boards? Post it everywhere you have an audience.

Follow Up
Now that you shared the horrible stories of the kitten that was cooked in the microwave, the Pit Bull puppy thrown from a building, or the starved miniature horses (trust me, I’ve been there) tell your supporters how your nonprofit helped each situation (maybe by reattaching a cat’s face or restoring sight so a dog can see it’s owner for the first time in two years). Respond to comments on social media and create a space for supporters to visit for regular updates. No one wants to constantly hear from Debbie Downer.

#GivingTuesday: 5 Tips for Giving to the Right Charity

You will probably receive a request to donate to a charity today. It’s part of a charitable movement called #GivingTuesday, the brainchild of New York’s 92nd Street Y to raise funds that rival the spending levels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The event is also kicking off the giving season and shining a much-needed spotlight on nonprofits that are having a positive impact on our communities.

Since you are a good person (otherwise why would you even click on this post?) you may be tempted to dash off a check and call it a day. While that may help today it is important that your hard earned dollars will help tomorrow as well.

So how do you choose the right charity for you and the funding you can offer?

It can be tough, much like going on a first date. Hopefully these 5 tips that I drafted while working at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley will help ease the process before that awkward good night kiss.

1. Clear Goals
What is the goal of the charity asking for your support? Is it well intentioned but broad or is it focused with a history of meeting set targets? Many charities are well intended however it is important to find out how specific their goals are and their history of effectiveness.

2. Personal Connection
There are many charities doing great work in your community however you only have so much support you can give. One way to focus your options is to find an organization that interests you and that may appeal to your willingness to volunteer. Shared interest can help you feel more connected to their goal and help you advocate for your new cause.

3. No Blind Dates
Before you part with your hard earned dollars, bags of winter clothes or hours of free time it is important to get to know charities. Nonprofits should welcome your questions and provide you with answers so that you can decide if you want to support them. Many nonprofits even have community relations staff members to answer questions from residents. Only donate if you feel comfortable with an organization after you have satisfied your own curiosity.

4. Spend Time Together
Sometimes the best way to find out about a nonprofit is to volunteer (read United Way’s 5 Questions to Ask Yourself before Volunteering). Sharing your time with a charity in need of your skills can allow you to step behind the scenes before making a decision to provide long-term support.

5. Stay Curious
Never stop asking questions. The more informed you are about an issue the more questions you may have. Stay up to date on programmatic changes, new initiatives, key staff turnover and financial judgment.

How do you choose a charity?

Stay True to Your Mission: 5 Nonprofit Lessons from 007 (SPOILER ALERT)

Take a page from the new James Bond film and stay true to your roots.


In the James Bond reboot Skyfall, our favorite British agent is reborn after a near fatal injury. Along the road to regain his stature as the “double O” agent, Bond works ferociously to save his mother figure, uncovers the vintage Aston Martin, receives only a gun and radio transmitter from “Q”, introduces a new audience to the original musical composition, and returns to his childhood home. In the final scene we are re-introduced to the classic office that Sean Connery visited to receive his missions, the infamous hat/coat rack, a new Miss Moneypenny, and a return to the male “M”.

So what can we learn from this reboot?

Your Mission is Your Foundation
Everything has been built on your mission. The boilerplate that you attach to the bottom every press release has a purpose. Take a moment and click on your “About” page; it’s how everyone else finds out who you are and a great reminder of the direction you should be going.

Roots Equal Inspiration
Feeling stale? Take a look at your original mission and the problems that it was created to solve. If you are still seeking support then you have not yet solved these issues within your community. Gain inspiration from the urgent need to continue your work.

Message Clarity
Is your messaging sporadic and scatter-shot? Revisit your mission to provide clarity. Chances are your original mission statement was crafted using tight language. Look to its simplicity and apply it to your outgoing messages.

Are there too many cooks in the kitchen? Is your development department saying something different from your communications staff members? Even Bond goes off the radar every once in awhile. Sit everyone down and go over your mission statement. No emails. No texts. Have an actual discussion.

Get Out of the Office
This cannot be said enough and is the most important lesson to take away from this post. Get out of the office. Visit those affected by your programs. Forget reports and data for a few days and speak directly with those involved. You will be re-energized and regain that motivation you need.

Have you needed to reboot your mission recently? What worked best for your organization?

Let’s Get Social

Socializing can mean many different things, but let’s stick with online media for now.

Nonprofits are known for leaping right in when it comes to social media. It’s the perfect tool for organizations since it is frequently free and open to whatever content you can create. The biggest problem is that due to a general lack of resources, many nonprofits do not share ideas or learn from each other’s work.

So let’s fix that.

When I worked at United Way in Boston I headed our social media and online efforts. Soon after my hiring I discovered that many of the nonprofits were not communicating via social media. Many of them were not even following each other; missing a perfect opportunity to learn from successful campaigns.

I soon rolled out a plan to bring all of the nearly 200 organizations on board to begin sharing information and questions. So my thinking is that if it worked then, why can’t it work through this blog?

Do you work at a nonprofit? Are you creatively managing a social media platform? If you answered yes then shoot me an email at with links to your pages and a brief explanation of what you are doing.

If you’re looking to do something creative and have questions, email me too.

Why the emails? I’ll share your accomplishments and questions here on my blog and hopefully we can all learn from each other.

So email me your accomplishments, ideas, and questions so we can all get a bit more social.

6 Tips for Hosting a Successful Fundraiser

Fundraisers can succeed or fail because of many factors. Having helped shaped many fundraisers over the years I have seen tried and true approaches go down in flames while new approaches have been surprise hits to be brought back the following year. Here are a few tips to help your next fundraiser succeed and bring in the support that you need:

Set Your Goal

As with any allocation of resources, clearly define your goal before entering the planning stages. Are you throwing a traditional fundraiser to seek donations? Are you working to increase your database of supporters or gain a new batch of volunteers? Are you primarily trying to educate your guests or spread the word among select groups of individuals? Whatever your goal or goals, it is important that you always intertwine them with the activities at your event.

Invite Appropriately

Once you have your goal, you should invite your guests accordingly. I have been to too many events that did not seem to align their guest list with their anticipated outcome. If it is appropriate, is your event listed online for ticket sales and further information? Are you trying to bring in a new group of supporters or the same donors year after year? Will your event only be successful if the guests are energetic and open to non-traditional formats? Which is more important, the checkbook or the influence? Events can fall flat if the sit down dinner crowd is invited to a night of sensory overload and many of today’s hands-on supporters do not want to sit through lecture after lecture.

Entertain While You Educate

Are you seriously going to turn down the lights and show another film this year? Is that your centerpiece? Couldn’t you have just posted it on YouTube and sent it out to your supporters? Your job is to make the roomful of guests want to help you reach your goal. Whether you need their funds, energy, or contacts, you must make them care. The better fundraisers breathe life into their mission by bringing supporters to the field. Some events are literally thrown at facilities, bands or DJs play relevant, themed music, decorations and cocktails playfully highlight stories from throughout the year. It is important to have your mission permeate every aspect of the event but never let it seem overwhelming. The best aspects of any event have a sense of self-discovery on behalf of the guests.

Go Off Script

Too many fundraisers try to cram four hours into two. While you need your script, leave room for the unexpected. If you are throwing the same fundraiser every year, don’t you think the same guests will find it boring? One of the best solutions to this problem is to have something in your script that is not in the program. Guests love to be surprised with a unique idea, an extra auction item, or a special guest however you have to ensure that you have room in your program for this. If your guests are looking at the clock and you add another item to the program then you may lose them forever.

Cover All the Bases

It is easy to get caught up in new ideas and throw them all into your event. New ideas are fine but you need to always provide the essentials. Do you have appropriate food? Will you be able to meet the dietary requirements of your guests? Never have your attendees go away on an empty stomach. Is your location easily accessible? Will guests be caught in grid lock trying to get to your event? Can attendees use public transportation or easily arrive by taxi if need be? Guests are also accustomed to a takeaway. I realize that gift bags may not be for everyone however leaving empty handed is a sure way to end your conversation with your supporters at the end of the fundraiser. Provide information for social media use as well. This past weekend I was at an event where the venue, event, and charity did not have Twitter handles. I was also not provided with a hashtag to follow the event online. This is a basic misstep among organizations that are failing to keep conversations going after the event.

Follow Up

Did you hire a photographer? Will the event be covered in the local press? Will there be more opportunities for your guests to help? If you answered yes to any of these questions then you need to gather contact information and keep your guests informed after the event. Send a photo, add them to your newsletter (I really hope that you have one), or keep them on file for your next ask. It’s up to you to stay on top of the conversation that is crucial to your mission.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of how to throw a successful fundraiser, however too many events miss some of these basic points.

I would love to hear your advice for putting on a successful fundraiser. Be sure to share your tips in the comments section below so that we can all hopefully take steps closer to accomplishing our missions.

“Fail Fast, Fail Cheap and Move On”

You and your team finally have it. After brainstorming, countless meetings, running it up the flagpole; your idea is set and ready for public consumption.

It doesn’t matter if it is your organization’s next product, donor appeal, or ad campaign. The fact is you feel ready to launch but what’s the next step? Do you pull together a focus group and risk losing a step to your competitors? Do you damn the torpedoes and go full steam ahead?

For many start-ups, the decision has been dictated, as evidenced in the video below: fail fast, fail cheap, and move on. Unfortunately this decision is not as easy when you work at a nonprofit. As stewards of donated dollars and a frequently small pool of resources that only get you to the plate maybe once a year, you frequently feel the pressure to hit a home run on the first pitch.

There remains a fear in the nonprofit world of taking too many chances. Some of the most successful fundraising campaigns are still traditional, direct mails. Complicating matters, many nonprofits adopt new technologies, especially social media tools, since they are free. With one foot firmly planted among older methods and the other in new technology, when will we shift our weight? When will we begin to take financial risks?

Have you already taken a risk? Let me know in the comments section below.

Once upon a nonprofit…

Storytelling has become a lost art among many modern nonprofits. Statistics now overshadow the drama, comedy and suspense in this sector and unfortunately, the few stories provided to audiences have been relegated to late night appeals that only function as guilt driven fundraisers rather than obtaining support through engagement and understanding.

The Heartstrings’ Connected to the Purse String

Those “pull on your heart strings” ads attempt to form a connection through gut reactions to horrible circumstances, however they rarely leave you informed to share more information than a brief description of a starving child or abused animal.

These “infomercials” are little more than nonprofit junk food designed for one purpose – drive donations. However they never truly accomplish the most elusive goal – creating advocate.

You may donate, you might feel like you contributed, maybe even made a difference and you might even tell a few people. This type of experience will live a box in your mind and rarely fuels further action or provide you with the tools for informed discourse.

Learning and Understanding

Think back to any learning experience in your life. Odds are it was not when you were fed information but rather when you felt a solid connection to a subject. You should have quite a few that stick with you because of the emotional bond to that memory.

Now cull those experiences to the few that impacted your current actions. Maybe it changed the direction of your career or awoke a passion that you never knew existed. Whatever happened, you were never the same person and you learned something about the world around you and how you fit into it.

What was the singular factor that made that experience stick with you for so long and not fade away into a one-time action?

Chances are it involved a story filled with character development, heroes and villains, images that did more than pass in front of you. These experiences welcomed you in to a new world, compelling you to engage with more than just your gut. This moment provided you with a framework where you understood your place in the world a bit more.

Enough with the Mushy Stuff

So now that you have this moment in your mind, you can appreciate what it took to engage you in a purpose. This is what you must now duplicate in your daily interactions with current and future supporters.

Too often, we feel comfortable throwing out statistics. We feel that when presented with the facts everyone will join our cause. That is seldom the case when building long-term support, the kind that will be there years down the road when you need it most…say during a recession.

It cannot be said enough that you care about your organization’s mission more than the average person walking down the street. Their day is filled with work, family, friends, gossip and a million tiny distractions. How will you break into that haze and be noticed?

Find Your Story

Many times it comes down to the story. Who have you helped? How did you help? What did you do that should be a banner headline on the newspaper or scrolling across a media site? Be honest, none of this “Well we just hired great new CEO…”

So here’s your homework: Think of a compelling story. Frame it in your mind. Ask yourself who would care about this story. Does it only work in your town, your city, or will it translate to other states, countries?

If it can bridge culture and language, you have a winner. Now write it down and share it.

A note: It is great if Saturday Night Live parodies your story as long as it’s not because they hate you…

Create Some Content

Content is the lifeblood of nonprofits. It can be photos of your staff out in the field, statistics that highlight trends in your sector or a simple message of why your work is important.


The best part of creating content is that there are so many places to share it online. No matter what you post it should be done without any heavy handed self-promotion and frequently; how often is really up to your ability to create content and your audience’s appetite for information.

The social media tools exist to help create and share content but too many nonprofits stagnate, never updating old posts with recent information or worse yet, having their latest post be days or weeks old.

Sure, there is always the threat of turning off your audience by posting too much, but rarely have I seen a nonprofit share too much information – ask for money too many times sure – but never share too much information.

Leave the Ask to Direct Mail

It is important to remember that you are not expressing creating content as an outlet for asking for help. You are putting forward information that will engage current and future supporters. You are planting a seed and tending it.

If you are after quick money and doing things as they have been done in the past then you do not need to concern yourself with this approach. However, if you want to broaden your audience and turn occasional support into lifelong commitments, you must not be afraid to share your spotlight, praise others in your sector and let people in, behind the curtain.

Growing Long Term Support

In my experience at nonprofits, I find that the most adverse opponents are frequently the most misinformed. It is up to you to provide information that helps your audience arrive at an informed view of your mission and efforts. This is not to say that you must win them all over. It is up to them to decide if they want to support you.

Sure there are some people that will never support your cause regardless of the amount or type of information you provide and your CEO may very well be compensated too much, but choose your battles.

Start Creating

An interesting article appeared on Fortune online last week regarding Facebook updates and how they disrupt business plans. The topic centered on the introduction of Timeline and the eradication of the landing tab.

Once you read the article ask yourself if you were or still are against the shift to Timeline. Why? Is it because you had a terrific landing tab that your creative team or advertising agency created? Is it because your now very public wall is rarely updated?

This shift by Facebook is one example of an opportunity to be relevant. A landing tab has never been created that made an organization relevant. Your actions in carrying out your mission are relevant and you accomplish them every day.

Take another look at your staff, your clients, your supporters and your organization as a whole. What did you do today? Let others know. If you do not have anything to post today then your problem is not social media.

There’s no video today. So go create some content…

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