For-profit marketers keep saying video is key to a compelling digital campaign, but for so many nonprofits it seems out of reach It seems too expensive, labor-intensive, and requires equipment and skills that nonprofit marketing teams don’t have. But a new suite of tools are helping nonprofits tell their stories in incredible new ways, through the voices of their constituents. Enter: user-generated video, nonprofit style.
The Sierra Club, a national environmental nonprofit, relied on user-generated videos for its Backyard Day campaign, which encouraged participants to sign up for a virtual 5k or 10k activity, right in their own “backyard” – a park, beach or other outdoor space that they love. We talked with the Sierra Club’s Video Content Producer Nick Jones.
Q: What were some organizational challenges you have around video production?
For Sierra Club, our top challenge with video is trying to fill the needs of all of our initiatives and campaigns. Here’s the thing about video: everybody wants it. That extends to your followers, and even further, to potential followers, but it starts right here at home. I’m lucky to work with dozens of passionate people on countless campaigns, but when each one of those important campaigns has their own video requests and needs, it can be tough to meet the demand.
Q: How are you using a tool to get user-generated content?
We’re using the app Gather Voices for a variety of purposes. The tool allows us to reach members and supporters across the U.S., which means that when we tackle local issues, we’re able to raise up the voices of actual locals — without needing to send a video crew. This adds a lot of credibility to our messaging. Furthermore, the application is built so that we’re able to guide participants in formatting their submissions in a way that’s conducive to editing (reminding them to use part of the question in their answer, for instance, so that each request has context.)
Q: What does video do for your organization that other formats can’t do?
Video is an incredible way to generate awareness and build interest in a cause. Given the way social algorithms are currently configured across various platforms, video often has a better reach for a lower cost, allowing organizations to reach more people for less. I think there’s also a level of relatability that comes with video — people like to connect with something real, and there’s something tangible about video that people latch on to.
Q: What’s next for your video strategy?
As I mentioned earlier, the biggest challenge we face with video is having the supply meet demand. In line with that, the next step for our video strategy involves empowering our other staff with the tools and guidance they need to start making their own contributions to our video output. User-generated video will play a big part in democratizing our production process, and I’m excited to see where the developers take it in the coming year.
It took me three months into my social media dream job to realize why the word “online” was part of my job title. It was 2010, and I had finally found a job that had social media marketing at its heart, at a small AIDS nonprofit that planned to use Facebook, Twitter and dating apps to connect with people living with and at risk for HIV.
Even before my first day, I’d had a run-in with our horrible, outdated and very difficult website, but I knew there was a web developer on retainer and I figured it was his problem. Or maybe it was the Executive Director’s problem. Or perhaps the office administrator. I don’t suppose there was someone on the board who could help? A volunteer? Bueller?
As anyone who works in digital marketing or fundraising knows, your organization’s website is at the crux of how people relate to your organization and its work. When something is wrong, it hurts your ability to attract, engage, and convert the people you need to make your work a success. As it turned out, our website was my problem, and to solve it, we needed to build a working digital strategy.
What is a digital strategy?
For many nonprofits, technology adoption isn’t hard. We’re smart people, and we’re perfectly capable of finding the tools we need to help us perform particular tasks. But what often happens is that an organization will accrue a slew of tools, all of which maybe do what they should perfectly, but still aren’t getting the results that you need them to. Perhaps your content strategy is bringing scores of people to your website but you aren’t capturing them in your email list for fundraising campaigns, or you’re gaining lots of Instagram followers but none of them know about your online forum. A good digital strategy will knit your tools and aspirations together into a cohesive plan to meet your goals.
We’re here to help. NTEN is producing two conferences this fall—in New Mexico and Oregon—and both are designed to help you develop and refresh your digital strategy. The program includes case studies, workshops, panels, presentations, and tactical sessions, to help you formulate the best strategy for your organization, and show you how other nonprofits have done it.
That seems like a big task. Where do I even start?
I am a people person and NTEN relies on members to survive, so I like to start with personas. What are the groups of people that want to engage with your organization, how did they find you, what do they want to know, how do they want to engage, and what do you most want them to do? Plot their journey from an unconnected community member to engaged part of your inner circle, donor or member. What’s their ideal journey? What roadblocks are in the way right now? How can you clear them?
Identify the top handful of actions you really want your constituents to take—for example, donate, advocate, join or inform others—and consider the technologies they need to do that easily. Find data that can tell you how you successfully moved them to that action (or “converted” them, in marketing-speak). How many touch-points do you need? What’s the story to tell them, and where and how is it best told? Which are the channels that net you the most success, and why do you think that is?
Like me, when I finally realized the website monster was mine to tame, you will have a lot of questions. But it’s only through considering the (sometimes difficult) questions that you can build a digital strategy, pulling together your organization’s disparate parts and making them work better, for you and the communities you represent.
It’s awards season, which means this is your chance to celebrate your own wins and the amazing work of other nonprofit technology professionals.
The Care2 Impact Award recognizes a campaign or initiative in the nonprofit sector that has made an outstanding impact on the field of online advocacy, online fundraising, or both. The winning organization will receive a cash donation of $1,000 from Care2. The runners up will each receive the Care2 Innovation Award; Care2 will make a $200 donation to each of these organizations. The awards will be presented in March at the 2017 Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC). Entries close midnight EST on Saturday, February 11. Enter now.
Entries are also open for the DoGooder Video Awards, which celebrates videos that have the power to move people and transform lives. NTEN is proud to partner on this award, and will show the winning videos from last year’s award at the NTC in March. They’re designed to help honor the best work from people or organizations who are using the medium to move the needle for their cause. Entries close Monday, February 13. Find out more.
I am a firm believer in the power of the image, that a single photograph can change the world.
Intrigued? Try this: What was it that put the Syrian refugee crisis on the front page after more than four years of being a second (or third) tier story? Caused world governments to spring into action and dramatically increase the number of Syrian refugees they let into their countries? Compelled the Pope to declare that every Catholic family in Europe should take in a refugee family? Answer: the single photograph of a dead refugee boy washed up on a beach. Unbelievably, that image alone did all of this—and more.
I am not surprised.
So it would follow, given the power of the image, that the question is, what are the photographer’s ethical responsibilities in making images of vulnerable populations, like the many to be found in the Syrian refugee crisis?
First and foremost, it is my belief that I cannot operate ethically if I do not make an attempt to show the full truth of a scene or situation. I need to search out and photograph the worst and the best that a scene holds—if I want the story to be fully truthful. And this is the role of the journalist. To tell the truth. So I often tell my hosts wherever I shoot, “Take me to the worst and the best of life in your community.” I want, and need, to see it all or I am not doing my job.
However, it is a common temptation to go right to the worst of the worst, zeroing in on shocking images in order to get published or force the point. And…there are times this needs to be done (think Rwanda genocide: the world needed to see what was really happening or it simply would not have believed it). And I will admit that, like a moth to the flame, I often look for the worst before I look for the best. Part of this is the “rubber-necking” human nature that we all have, especially people like me who are looking for compelling images. And in the case of the Syrian boy on the beach, it can be vital to waking up a world that too often slumbers in the face of suffering. So kudos to that photographer and those of us who don’t shy away from the hard things we often see unfolding right in front of us. Kudos to the truth-tellers.
But it would be ethically questionable, at best, for any photojournalist to stop at the worst of the worst if they have time to “work” a scene. Doing so feeds the vulture called “Poverty Porn,” (much has been written on this subject; see Emily Roenigk’s fine blog for a primer) that feasts on images of children with flies on their faces and distended bellies, so I won’t take the time to make that point other than to simply say it would be a mistake for a photographer to go for the easy shots like this if they are not representative of a community as a whole. Since I work for nonprofits that are attempting to effect great change, I must not bring home photographs that create a false stereotype. Doing anything less than striving for a true picture of what a community is like as a whole puts me into an ethical conundrum and dangerously close to falling into poverty porn. If I fail on this account, I lose something incredibly valuable: trust.
At this point, trust is broken not only with the people who have spent good money to send me on an assignment, but with the communities where I walk and shoot. And as an ambassador of what I call “all things good,” I simply cannot do this. Ever. Again, being ethical means being truthful, which starts with a commitment to tell the full story. This starts with building trust with those who are sending me—and those whom I ultimately photograph.
Think about it for a moment. If someone came into your neighborhood and said, “Hey, I just want to take a few photographs to show what life is like here in this place,” and later you saw what he or she shot and it was decidedly not what the neighborhood is actually like, would you trust that person? Would you be hopping mad? Of course you would be. And rightly so.
Which brings me to my last point: I go to where I am already sent or invited in by people who have an existing relationship with the nonprofit who hired me. If this isn’t possible because of some fast-moving crisis on the ground, then I make sure I am getting at least a nod of assent by holding up my camera and gesturing “Okay?” Making eye contact and showing deference like this goes a long way in keeping trust.
To by sly or sneaky and try to “steal” a shot of people who are in turmoil or acting privately is to rob them of their dignity. And at the end of the day, restoring and building people’s dignity may be the photographer’s highest calling. On rare occasions, like the image of the boy on the beach, it does take a difficult photograph to be the catalyst to change. But more often than not, it also comes through images of joy in the midst of hardship, hope in the midst of turmoil, or reconciliation in the midst of conflict, especially in situations where the situation looks and feels far different than my home. I often have to remind myself that it is a great privilege to even be there in the first place.
In a few weeks, I’ll be talking more about the power of this type of compelling storytelling and how it can change the world for good in front of a huge audience of changemakers at Blackbaud’s annual conference for nonprofits, bbcon. I can’t wait. Blackbaud is even giving nonprofits a chance to win an on-location photo shoot with me.
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