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How Nonprofits Can Use Video

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By connecting compelling visuals to a story, a good video can inspire, inform, agitate, or promote an organization or cause. Just a few years ago, creating an inspiring video was out of reach for most small nonprofits, but advances in technology and the availability of free online tools have opened up a new way for any organization to tell its story. Over the past year, the Vermont Digital Economy Project has worked with a variety of organizations that have taken the plunge by creating videos to promote their causes or inform their audiences.

One way that videos can help organizations is by promoting advocacy. The Waterbury Public Library used video to support their effort to build a new Municipal Building Complex, which would house a new library. When Hurricane Irene hit Waterbury, it flooded the Municipal Offices. The town put a bond to pay for the building of a replacement new complex up to a public vote, but the issue was contentious. The first bond vote failed, because a segment of the community had failed to see the need for a new library. It was clear that an education campaign was needed, if the town wanted to proceed with building a new complex.

To bring attention to the issue, the Library Commissioners and the Friends of the Waterbury Library collaborated on a video that highlighted community members explaining how they use the library and why a new library is necessary. “It was very important for us to promote and ‘get the word out’ about the benefits a new library would bring to the community,” said Waterbury Public Library Program Coordinator, Elise Werth. “Our videos proved to be great way to grab attention!”

With lots of help from Waterbury citizens, a little help on suggesting distribution channels from the Vermont Digital Economy Project, and a great video, the bond passed this spring and also survived a recall attempt.

Luckily, not every organization is involved in contentious public debates. Using video for advocacy is also an important tool to promote the effort and build support for the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Fund. The fund is supported and promoted by the Vermont Working Landscape Partnership, a non-partisan and broad-based partnership to support local agriculture and forestry, grow and attract farm and forest entrepreneurs, and conserve Vermont’s Working Landscape far into the future.

When the partnership was started, one of the first challenges was explaining the new effort to the public and stakeholders. Michael Levine, of Montpelier based Flywheel Communications, created an informative and beautiful video telling the story of the working landscape and the challenges facing it. Rather than dry facts and figures, the video translated that information into a more accessible format. Here’s the result:  Vermont's Working Landscape: Keeping it Vital.

“The video succinctly told the story with images that connected us to the people and the land in a way that unified the message.  We could use it in presentations, but it could also be used by dozens of folks in local meetings and working groups who cared about the issues.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  This video helped to build and expand the partnership that built and promoted the working lands enterprise legislation.” said Paul Costello, Executive Director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development, who helped put together the Working Landscape Coalition.

Another group that recently used video to advocate for its cause is ARC Rutland Area. The organization works to empower people with developmental disabilities. An inability to effectively communicate through traditional means can make someone seem invisible to our socieity. However, through the use of video, ARC Rutland Area was able to give a voice to its constituents, as well as to promote the national campaign to end the use of the “R” word.  The Vermont Digital Economy Project is currently working with ARC Rutland Area to feature the video on their new website.

Videos don’t have to be about advocacy. For example, ARC Rutland Area also created a video to share the impact the group is having on the community. The video put a human face on the vital services they provide. By presenting the voices of those helped, the organization was able to show rather than tell the importance and impact of their work.

Instead of advocating its cause, Rochester-based Park House Vermont, an organization that provides shared living for seniors, found video to be an effective way to highlight their facilities and programs and ultimately attract new residents. The Vermont Digital Economy Project worked with the retirement community last summer to design a new website. In the process of designing the website, we became aware of a video produced by Westview Digital of Park House residents sharing why they love Park House. The video is now a key feature to the organization's new website.

“People viewing our website can see professional video of our space, see our residents and hear their comments on Park House.  It is far more effective than typed information and very eye catching.  We are very fortunate to have Rob Fish, the Vermont Digital Economy Project and their generous tech volunteers (Ed Rooney, specifically) do this for us.” Said Juli Reider, director of Park House.

Moretown-based Everyone’s Child uses video for informational as well as fundraising purposes. The group is dedicated to improving the lives of children around the globe and created a DVD to tell the organization's story. When the Vermont Digital Economy Project built a new website for the group, video from DVD was integrated.

"It's been a big blessing to be able to tell people that they can access the DVD on the website as I know that seeing the Kenyan landscape and hearing the kids voices makes a big difference when it comes to learning about our organization," said Ruth Young, Executive Director of Everyone's Child.

Each clip in the videos ends with the statement: “We are in a position to impact the future of an entire country. If you would like to help, please visit 'www.everyoneschild.net'.”

Finally, videos can also serve to means to inform and spread information beyond those who can attend and organization’s event or training. Our very own Sharon Combes-Farr did just that with a video she produced. In her first video ever, she shared the presenter’s thoughts on the 5 most important steps a nonprofit should take to prepare their organizations for disaster.  The Vermont Digital Economy Project and our predecessor e-Vermont have also used video to share Computer & Internet Basics and the stories of organizations, towns, and businesses we have helped. 

As you can see through these examples, organizations around Vermont are experimenting with and are finding success using video to advocate, promote services, raise funds, and inform the public. Below are a few tips and resources you can use when creating videos for your cause.

Tips For Using and Creating Video for Your Nonprofit:

Technique and Length:  While there are exceptions, the best videos are rather short (2-3 minutes). When possible, say goodbye to the stationary talking heads. Have movement or place the audio over appealing and relevant visuals.

Promoting Your Video:  Just because you create video does not mean that people will view it.  Videos can be promoted in newsletters, via social media, and on your local Front Porch Forum. Your organizations may also want to reach out to bloggers writing about issues your group addresses, or broadcast the video via a local community access television station.

Uploading Your Video:  Youtube and Vimeo are the two most popular platforms for sharing video.  Each have their own advantages and disadvantages. Facebook also allows users to upload and share video.  Early experiments show videos uploading directly to Facebook have more of a reach than video links shared from YouTube or Vimeo.

Joining YouTube for Nonprofits:  If you choose to use YouTube and are a 501©3, consider applying. Once accepted to the program, you will have the ability to add a donation button and a clickable call to action that encourages viewers to visit a website or make a donation to your video. For more information visit:  https://www.youtube.com/nonprofits

Attending Free Trainings:  Contact your local community access center. The Vermont Access Network is the nonprofit, interactive, community-based alternative to broadcast commercial and public TV. In addition to covering local meetings, they offer residents free equipment, free training, workshops and airtime at Community Media Access Centers (CMACs) scattered across the state. The Burlington based CMAC affiliate, Vermont Community Access Media (VCAM) offers free weekly workshops covering everything from editing your first video, to distributing the video online, to advanced studio production.

Video Editing Software:  TechSoup.org is the go-to place for nonprofits to purchase incredibly discounted software of all types. Video editing software is no exception.  Adobe products are often available and the site always has a wealth of how-to guides (including this great Digital Story Telling Toolkit) as well as webinars. There are also many free and low-cost online video editing options. Most computers also contain at least a basic video editing program.

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