The power of video storytelling

publication date: Mar 26, 2013
author/source: Jonathon Grapsas

We all love watching a good video clip. In the last couple of years we’ve been captivated by the likes of charity:water, Kony, and now the zillion versions of the Harlem Shake. Lots of views, tonnes of excitement, all bringing something a little unique.Jonathon Grapsas photo

Video presents both an opportunity and a threat for fundraisers.

Video: untapped

Here are some ways I believe video can help you even more effectively share your story.

When you want to take someone to the coalface: You’re an animal welfare organisation employing inspectors to rid the state of illegal and cruel puppy farms. It’s nearly impossible to recreate ‘that’ moment when those hapless puppies were seized. Short of being there, those rancid conditions and mistreatment can only be shown visually. Here’s an example.

When you want to tell a complex story: You work in medical research and you’re tackling a big problem: finding a cure and prevention for cerebral palsy. The problem is, not only do most people not really know what CP is, they consider it a condition acquired at birth and assume it’s a hopeless case. How do you dispel that myth and provide hope that something can be done? Here’s an example.

When words simply won’t do: Watching a young child’s cochlear implant being “switched on” for the first time can’t be fully described through the written word alone. Sometimes words simply won’t do. See for yourself.

And remember, it should be as long as it needs to be. Here’s proof that in just 66 seconds you can illustrate how one person’s life can be changed. Conversely it might take 66 minutes. If it keeps my attention and moves me to act, so be it.

Video: beware

As always, some words of caution. It’s easy to get caught up in the mystique and beauty of creating video content. It’s much more fun than writing. It gets you away from your desk, and let’s face it: we’re all budding videographers now with video technology in the palms of our hands. But that doesn’t mean using video is always right.

Don’t use video…

To replace what works: You’ve got some great footage of a trauma patient walking for the first time since their accident. Let’s ditch the mail appeal for those who have an email address! And for those who don’t, we’ll send a URL in the body of the letter and direct them to Youtube!


Direct mail response donors won’t respond at the same levels online. Distracting letter recipients with a link draws them away from the thing we know motivates them, the letter. And by sending people to Youtube, you have no way to capture the gifts of the few people who get to this point.

You’ve just cost yourself thousands of dollars. Instead, support the appeal with the video. Send an email in addition to the letter (not instead of it) where you can. Embed the Youtube clip within a landing page so you keep donors on your site. Perhaps even send the video on a DVD to your top 100 donors. 

Continue doing what works. Use video to support, not to replace.

To make you look cool or professional: Authenticity is king. Your supporters don’t care how funky it looks. They care about how their support can make or has made a difference. Footage shot from your iPhone can and should be used. Imagine arriving on the scene of that puppy farm raid, smartphone in hand…

Just because you have some great footage: Let me clarify by saying that if you can share some great footage as a donor care exercise, do it.

But when appealing to supporters, the goalposts shift a little. It may be the wrong audience. You may have a great story, but it conflicts with rather than supports the offline appeal. It may confuse rather than compel me to act. Don’t do it for the sake of doing it. Do it if and because it helps you more effectively tell your story. That ultimately helps you help more beneficiaries.

The final word

Video is great, when used properly.

This post first appeared on the crowdblog 101 fundraising

Jonathon Grapsas is the founder and director at flat earth direct, an agency dedicated to  fundraising and campaigning for good causes. Jonathon spends his time working with charities around the world focused on digital, direct response and campaign tactics.

For more information, email him, follow him on Twitter or check out


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