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Untether Your Organization’s Potential and Soar!

Video: The Most Powerful Force for Your Nonprofit

Submitted Thursday, December 5th 2013 12:45 pm by Timothy S. Jacobson
in   video    public service announcement    PSAs    marketing    fundraising    YouTube    videographer    nonprofit    ROI  


By Timothy S. Jacobson

~The Nonprofit Provocateur~

“Humans are incredibly visual, and powerful, moving images help us find meaning… [and] video helps capture and contextualize the world around us.”

— Dan Patterson

charity: water video screenshot

I would argue that video is the most powerful force on earth. Your nonprofit is greatly disadvantaged it you are not utilizing this tool for marketing and fundraising.

Why is video so powerful? Because when it is done well, video can make people feel like a superhero ready to conquer the world or can make them feel intimately connected to a cause, a person, a group or a place. Video, more than anything other than their direct and personal involvement in the cause (something you’re trying to bring about), can capture people’s attention and their imagination. Video can convey large amounts of information, including many subtleties, in a short amount of time. It’s a medium that can both inspire and inform. On top of that, in today's society video is a communications tool that can reach thousands, or even millions, of people quickly.

What is the evidence for the power of video? First, let's look at some raw numbers for the reach of video in various contexts.

Americans, on average, spend 5.2 hours per day watching television. This works out to 36 hours per week or 9 solid years over a lifetime. (BLS American Time Use Survey, A.C. Nielsen Co.) The older people get, the more hours they tend to spend in front of the TV, a fact that may surprise many people who tend to worry more about the amount of time kids spend in front of the tube. If people spend this much time mesmerized by video images, there must be a powerful attractant within that medium.

According to YouTube, there are more than one billion unique users visiting that site each month. Over six billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube—that's almost an hour for every person on Earth, and this figure has increased 50 percent in a single year. According to A.C. Nielsen Co., YouTube reaches more US adults ages 18-34 than any cable network. Millions of YouTube channel subscriptions happen each day, and the number of people subscribing has more than doubled in a single year. The great thing is—your nonprofit can set up and operate a YouTube channel for free!

Also, think about movies or videos that have moved you. Did Avatar grab you emotionally with regard to the issues of natural resource exploitation and treatment of indigenous peoples? Did 42—the movie about Jackie Robinson becoming the first black man to break professional baseball’s color line—make you both angry and sad about the pervasiveness and severity of racism in this country in the mid-1900s? Did the movie also help you to feel a sense of triumph and justice at the end? How did Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth affect your thinking about global climate change? Did Food, Inc. influence your thoughts about our corporate-controlled food markets?

The influence of TV on the actions of Americans is enormous, which is demonstrated by the fact that advertisers spent $63.8 billion on TV in 2012, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates. (

Countless millions of dollars have been spent researching how consumer behavior can be affected through 30-second commercials. We know it works.

I have witnessed the incredible effectiveness and efficiency of video for nonprofit fundraising. One conservation group I worked with produced a video of landowner stories that was used as a key component of a few, one-hour fundraising events that raised more than $150,000. The cost to produce the video was only three or four thousand dollars. This suggests an impressive return-on-investment (ROI), although the video certainly doesn’t get all of the credit. I did observe how it enhanced the propensity of attendees to give, and I heard from a number of them who were impressed with the messages from the video.

In today's era when nearly everyone has a high-definition video camera built into their phone and easy access to editing software on their computers (and even on their smart phones!), why should video be limited as a tool for marketing soft drinks, deodorants, cars and pharmaceutical drugs?

Your nonprofit organization cannot afford to miss the opportunity to capture compelling stories on video of those you serve. Way too many organizations are penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to this. They avoid spending, say $2,500 or $5,000, on creating a compelling video, but at the same time they lose out on the opportunity to motivate donors and foundations to provide tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the mission as a result of lacking a compelling story to share. I can’t emphasize it enough: Do not be the nonprofit organization that makes this mistake!

The key to creating compelling video that can change people’s view of social issues and motivate behavior is not fancy editing techniques or expensive equipment. Instead, it is the result of thoughtful application of basic storytelling and marketing principles that have already been figured out for you. Oftentimes, it can be nearly as simple as finding a person connected with your cause who has a compelling story, and then capturing the best parts of their story on video.

In a future installment, I’ll explain in much more detail how you can create compelling video that can propel your marketing and fundraising efforts in an explosive way.

P.S. ‘Like’ and/or 'Share' this article below if you agree that nonprofit organizations should expand their use of video, and use the comment field to add your own thoughts or examples of your favorite nonprofit videos. I'd like to hear from you!


Timothy S. Jacobson

Tim Jacobson is president of Visjonær Consulting & Communications. He's been a board member and executive of a number of nonprofit and for-profit organizations over the past two decades. He's the author of Explosive Marketing for Nonprofits: Trajectory for Success to be published in 2014, Amazon best-selling thriller The Kurchatov Penetration, and he served as executive producer of a documentary film, Mysteries of the Driftless, broadcast on PBS and screened in multiple film festivals. He has been involved in the creation of dozens of documentary shorts and public service announcements for nonprofits. He has led successful efforts to raise millions of dollars for nonprofit organizations in the form of grants and individual donations. He's been featured numerous times in magazines, newspapers and on TV for his organizational consulting, nonprofit and business leadership, his film and writing projects, and his exploration of international peace issues.

This article is copyright (c) 2013, Timothy S. Jacobson. All rights reserved.


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