For mission-driven nonprofits, telling stories–obstacles to overcome, successes won–can be one of the best ways to show people you are delivering on the mission.  Human stories compels viewers and listeners in a way that other communications just don’t.   But if you’ve ever had to interview someone–whether for a podcast, video or audio program–you know that drawing out the best story can be difficult.

So I’m pleased to announce my new course on Lynda.com–taught with my good friend and colleague Rich Harrington– called the Art of the Video Interview (we also cover audio-only interviews).   We’ve put our years of experience into this practical course, and cover everything from location scouting and interview preparation, to how to build rapport with interviewees, what equipment to use for audio-only interviews, getting the best interview out of difficult subjects–people who are subject matter experts, young children, couples. And finally, we address all the things that will help you prepare for a better edit–including how to minimize narration and using transcripts effectively for workflow.  We had a lot of fun putting together this course, so I hope you enjoy it!

 

Sky at Sunset With whistleblower or traitor (take your pick) #edwardsnowdon in the news this week, everyone’s talking about our government collecting Big Data.  But guess what? Google, Verizon, Facebook, CVS Pharmacy, Giant, Safeway and all the rest have been doing the same thing all along. The difference is this: these companies are monetizing our habits, but we aren’t.  Hey come on, people, why do you think Facebook and Google and Linked In are free?! At least the local pharmacy and grocery store offer me discounts in exchange for my personal buying habits. Jaron Lanier’s thoughtful and interesting article in the New York Times this week Fixing the Digital Economy got me thinking. He talks about how we could build a new, robust middle class if we stop giving away all our personal data for free, and letting only big players and their investors reap the rewards. (Ironically, Facebook’s investors aren’t rich enough yet.)

But what if Big Data could move the needle even more, and not just benefit the middle class? What if it could change the world for the seemingly permanent underclass?

Nonprofits need to start harnessing Big Data to serve mission-driven outcomes.  Only that can topple this robber-baron economy we have created. In a knowledge-based economy, it’s important to know what people are thinking and doing. And if you’re selling change, that becomes even more critical.   In fact, collecting and understanding data is really just another way of looking at and telling your Mission Story. (Sidebar: fabulous blog post about mapping data and storytelling by @eSpatial–I now reveal my wonkiest side!)

Of course correlation and causation are two different animals–just because most axe-murderers drink milk doesn’t mean milk turns you into an axe-murderer! So you need quantitative data–real people collecting real stories of what is happening in the field–to know the difference. And you don’t just want to collect data on your own programs; you need to know who else has tried certain approaches to the very same issues your nonprofit is working on–whether it’s homelessness or environmental degradation or education for girls in Africa.  Organizations are turning to tools like Flux or Social Solutions or a mapping tool to build their own data–even while they are out in the field changing the world. But collective data-sharing would be even more effective, and less costly wouldn’t it? It’s the direction in which the philanthropic and nonprofit sector is moving and I think really must move to be effective.  Places like Global Impact Investing Network and others are already doing it. More should follow. And every nonprofit umbrella association can be doing the same.

I’m just back from Vegas for NAB—the National Association of Broadcasters Convention. What an awe-inspiring assembly. By the numbers: more than 92,400 attendees, with more than 24,000 from around the world; 1,600 exhibitors in 900,000 net square feet of exhibit space; plus 1,700 press.  The people were broadcast execs, Directors of Photography, audio engineers, producers, directors, and more. Exhibits ranged from DJI Phantom mini-helicopters to suspend Go-Pro cameras to the latest Black Magic pocket camera , plus the latest in Digital Asset Management systems, sound systems, lighting rigs, you name it. Over at Post Production World, where I was teaching, packed classes included Digital Publishing, an all-day Time-Lapse and Panoramic DSLR workshops at Red Rock Canyon and Nelson Nevada Ghost Town.

What does it all mean?

The art of storytelling is alive and well. For a while, we thought the internet killed stories. It certainly made it harder for print newspapers and nightly news shows to compete with a new 24/7 news cycle. But now, the digital revolution has democratized the art of creating content. And NAB is proof that there’s a storyteller’s tool for every price point. And while the conversations were about new gear or bandwidth or asset management or distribution platforms,  at their heart, the discussions were about how to get great stories to audiences who are consuming them at an exponential rate.

Sure, we can sometimes let the newest gadgets distract us from the Real Tools of storytelling:  great ideas, great scripts, great interviews, a dab of decent project management (some of the things I taught) to be sure we’re telling the best stories in the most compelling way.  But the accessibility of low price-point cameras and editing tools had clearly made its mark. I saw a new generation grabbing the reins and putting their content out there (mini shout-out to Kanen Flowers here) with or without the traditional distribution channels that used to comprise the “broadcast” industry.

My only complaint about NAB? No lines at the ladies rooms!  (Seriously—they’re like empty caves at all hours).  As a past president of Women in Film and Video/DC, I’d say that there’s still room for more women at the table, especially in broadcast management and the technical fields. Just sayin’.

So if NAB was evidence of a Renaissance in the Art of the Story–and I think it was–then thank goodness what happened in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas. Adapting what our fondly missed film critic Roger Ebert always said, I’ll see you at (or behind) the movies.

Can you believe it was just 2005 when YouTube was invented? Since then, millions of companies, nonprofits and government agencies have seen the impact of telling their stories through video.  And with so many tools–from iPhone cameras to Videopad Video Editor–you can do it yourself.  So why bother hiring a professional video production team?  Consider these:

1. Time.  Good story-telling and mastering the technical tools to make it possible can be much more time-intensive than most people realize. Typically I spend a minimum of 100 hours on a 5-6 minute video project, but often more. The work starts with developing the concept and script, but also includes selecting the right people to be part of the story and the best technologies to deliver the content. You’ll have more time to do your real job if you are overseeing others doing this work, but not actually doing all the tasks yourself (like logging footage for editing–a real time suck!). You’ll also be in a better position to make the Decisions That Matter–like What are the key values of your organization (your brand story), Who is the target audience you want to reach, What do you hope to achieve with the video and How will you measure your success?

2. Quality. A professional video production team has decades of experience that can maximize impact for budget. Areas of expertise include: creative direction, writing, storyboarding, camera equipment and lens options, sound recording and equipment selection, interviewing techniques, lighting design, set design, casting, makeup, music licensing, voiceover artist selection and direction, editing (absolutely Huge part of good storytelling!), motion or still graphics design, audio mixing, etc.  Every one of the decisions of the team will impact the final production, so choosing the right team leader (the Director/Producer) and the right person on your team to manage that person (your Communications Director, or a point person on your team who can help funnel decision-making) is a big and important decision for your team to make.

3. Dependability. Hiring a professional team should give you a dependable workflow and schedule for your project, even if it means shooting in your office and working around other people’s schedules. By hiring people who must show up for shoots and edits on a certain timetable, rather than depending on colleagues who have other work to deliver, you can ensure you hit your upload deadline on time.

4. Flexibility. A quality professional team should ask a lot of questions at the outset so they understand what the final deliverable format(s) are optimal. If you want flexibility–to put something up on the web as H.264 video, but also compress it for mobile web and Also be able to use it on a big screen at your next annual meeting–you’ll need the team to know that and “bake it in” to the acquisition specs and workflow for the project.

The big downside to hiring an outside production team is, of course, cost. A professionally produced 5-6 minute video costs $2,500 per finished minute on the low end, and goes up from there depending on number of shoot days/locations, complexity of editing and graphics, professional talent, etc. But often people don’t consider the hidden “opportunity cost” of do-it-yourself work.  Such costs can include: not properly formatting video, so it won’t play on your site or on mobile web; not properly licensing music so that you are at risk of being sued or having your video pulled down; having the production take many more hours to create, because the folks creating it have to learn the craft as they do it; losing sight of the goals of the production, because everyone on your team is too busy to consider the big picture. Not to mention losing sight of your actual job!

The upside to do-it-youself is–well–you get to have the fun of creating a great and compelling story and bringing it to a wider audience.

If your development director isn’t delivering on fundraising as you’d hoped, you’re not alone. According to a new national study by CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, many nonprofits are not raising the money they need to succeed. For those on top, one of the key factors was “a culture of philanthropy” by an almost two to one margin.

What does a culture of philanthropy mean? According to the study:

  • People across the organization act as ambassadors and engage in relationship building.
  • Everyone promotes philanthropy and can articulate a case for giving.
  • Fund development is viewed and valued as a mission-aligned program of the organization.
  • Organizational systems are established to support donors.
  • The executive director is committed and personally involved in fundraising.

At the heart of many of these success indicators is storytelling. And in today’s world that means harnessing digital media and social networks. Here are some ways to incorporate those tools in your fund raising work.

  1. Mission ambassadors and relationship building -Make sure board members, alumni, and other key supporters and donors use their social networks to promote your story. That means traditional social networks (i.e. speaking to friends about your organization), but also digital networks. Provide these boosters with regular support—like emailing the right hashtag to use when tweeting about an upcoming event, or sending them links to a new video on your web or Youtube page that showcases your mission in action.
  2. Everyone promotes philanthropy and can articulate a case for giving-Provide “elevator pitch” training volunteers, including board members, but also to staff who are not directly involved in fund raising.  Help these natural supporters explain the case for giving by explaining their own passion for the organization and their connection to your mission.
  3. Fund development is mission-aligned-Be sure budget presentations show your outputs (results) in terms of mission accomplishments, not just programs. Video and photos can be a great way to demonstrate this impact (and keeps people from falling asleep in budget meetings)
  4. Organizational systems support donors.- Cultivation systems and databases are critical. But one of the most overlooked “systems” is creating an internal online-accessible library of images, fund raising scripts, and videos that volunteers can use to make the case for support. Once you’ve create this space, be sure to encourage staff to update it regularly, so that new content is always available for the latest stories about your mission success.
  5. Executive Director commitment to fund raising. – Part of fund raising is not just meeting with prospective donors and making the ask, but raising the profile of the organization and its mission. ED’s can often raise their personal profile and reach a wider community efficiently by taking advantage of social media tools: regular blog writing, microblogging on Twitter, or even photos uploaded from events to Instagram.

There’s no magic potion for development success, but digital tools give us more of a boost than we realize.

Amy DeLouise frequently works with nonprofit boards, leaders, and marketing staff to improve their branding impact–in other words, how they tell their mission story.

Here are two stats about Milliennials that strike me as worth mentioning. #1: the under-30 crowd increasingly does not associate itself with any formal religion. (Pew Research 10/12 ).  #2 This same under-30 crowd has the lowest gun ownership, compared with all other age cohorts. (General Social Survey). Gallup-None-NPRGraphic2

ImageNow, a social scientist might say these trends are unrelated.  Ahh, but that’s where the storyteller/ branding aficionado in me begs to differ!   Rather than clinging to their guns and religion, it seems Millennials don’t particularly like associating themselves with the brands and organized institutions of the past.   They like to be independent thinkers. In fact, Millennials identify themselves politically as Independents, rather than D’s or R’s (another study).  

And while they don’t need any formal institution like a political party telling them what to believe or say, Millennials definitely keep up with their peers through social media. No, not Facebook you old boomer people.  I mean  Instagram, Tumblr, Reddit and Twitter.

But here’s another interesting stat: 71% of Millennials have raised money for/on behalf of a nonprofit. And for those who haven’t, the main reason is that NOBODY ASKED. Shouting, sorry. Image

What that says to me is Nobody Asked in a Medium They Pay Attention to, anyway. Also, they like learning about nonprofit opportunities from their peers. And they like to know that what they do or give will Actually Make a Difference (see my other posts on showing nonprofit impact w/video stories!)Image

So….if you want to reach Millennials, remember that they…

  1. probably won’t shoot you
  2. nor will they pray for you (at least, not in a formal place of worship)
  3. do like to think for themselves
  4. don’t necessarily like being Official Members of Organized Groups
  5. and if you want their time and money, please have one of their peers ask them nicely for it
  6. Oh, and show them your results please!

labyrinth copyright B.DeLouise120 Million viewers worldwide. It’s an enviable demographic, let alone for a PBS show. Downton Abbey has proven to be the most-watched Masterpiece series in history, with fans from China to Norway to Brazil.  What makes it work? According to creator Julian Fellowes, who won the screenplay Oscar for Gosford Park, it’s the universality of its themes. While factually British, “most of the stories are about emotional situations that everyone can understand” he told the New York Times in a recent story.  

When I’m asked what videos work best for social web (and also for live events)—I say the same thing: bring the audience into emotional situations they can relate to, even aspire to. Whether you are promoting a charity or a membership association, a corporate enterprise or a commercial product, your video needs to connect to your viewers/donors/buyers on a personal level. Videos that get the most shares, embeds, likes and forwards are usually those with a first-person storyline, authentic voices, in relatable situations. They don’t include “an introduction from the CEO,” nor are they heavily branded with logos and taglines.

So here are a few Do’s and Don’ts for your 2013 video projects, based on the wildly successful Downton formula:

  1. DO use the number of characters people can follow for the length of viewing. Downton has about 15 characters, but it is a weekly, 90-minute drama; so if your video is only 90-seconds long, don’t include 5 interview subjects! Try no more than 3 people per 120 seconds, for a max of 6 in a 10-minute show (which is too long anyway).
  2. DON’T use your CEO, Board Chair or other head honchos on camera unless they are funny, or willing to be seen in an unconventional or even unflattering light (a la CBS’s “Undercover Boss” or the IBM spoof of The Office “Mainframe: The Art of the Sale”).
  3. DO find compelling “plot lines” that show your organization’s effectiveness in real situations or highlight the reason your product or charity exists.
  4. DO be willing to let your viewers contribute their own ideas and provide opportunities for them to follow your “characters” in other online and offline venues.
  5. DO put as much production value (i.e. budget) into your video as you can possibly afford—people notice, especially in HD.
  6. DON’T be afraid to be traditional—just do it well!

Concentric circles of leadershipThe Sullivan vs. Dragas battle at UVA is a classic case of nonprofit versus corporate leadership styles. UVA president Teresa Sullivan’s approach–getting to know the university’s key constituencies–is best suited to nonprofits, in which shouting “Follow Me!” rarely gets you more than a sore throat. But Helen Dragas, Chair of UVA’s Board of Visitors, is known for her no-nonsense business style. She expected the newly minted (18 months IS recent in NST–Nonprofit Standard Time) university president  to “stop listening and lead.” (If you haven’t been following, the Chronicle of Higher Ed helpfully summarizes the battle here.) Particularly in a university setting, where you have power centers including tenured faculty who frankly don’t have to follow anyone thank you very much, as well as a constant stream of new students and important donors, Sullivan’s style of taking the time to “listen and learn” before launching major change initiatives will likely win the day.

This battle comes at an interesting time. As nonprofits have been moving steadily to adopt a “more corporate” model of governance, corporations have been embracing social sector models of getting things done. (And hey, after the Wall Street meltdown, my money is on the nonprofit sector so to speak.) In her recent letter to shareholders, Calvert Investments CEO Barbara Krumsiek (disclaimer–Barbara and I know one another through a nonprofit board) noted the increase of sustainability proposals at shareholder meetings, and the implementation by more than 400 business sector CEOs of the United Nation’s Women’s Empowerment Principles, which were adapted from Calvert’s own Women’s Principles in 2010. In their new white paper subtitled “Is Your Board Prepared?”, Ernst & Young point out that social and environmental issues accounted for 40% of shareholder proposals on corporate proxy ballots last year–up one-third from 2010.

That trend away from business models to social sector models is addressed by Jim Collins in his recent monograph “Good to Great in the Social Sectors,” a follow-up to his famed book on high-functioning businesses. In the new book he questions the implementation of business practices in the social sector, saying”we must reject the idea…thgat the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become ‘more like a business.'”  In fact, the metrics for success in a mission-based operation are very different than those in the for-profit. Delivery on the mission is primary. Lowering cost-per-delivery, while essential to good accounting, is not a measurement of success. Neither is efficiency in certain areas. Sometimes nonprofits need to spend a lot of time listening to their “customers” in order to deliver better services, and this listening is often done by social workers or nurses or pastors–professional listeners, but not folks in a marketing setting. The way they may evolve a solution to a particular customer problem may not be the most cost-efficient delivery of service, but it might create the best outcomes in the community served.

The same can be said of effective nonprofit leadership styles. Someone who understands how to harness the different concentric circles of supporters–from staff to donors to volunteers (and students and faculty, in the case of an educational institution) are going to be more successful in moving a strategic plan forward to get the mission accomplished.

So my bet is on Sullivan. What about yours?

Social web is maturing, and that’s great news for nonprofits. In the early days, we complained about navel-gazing Facebook posts and Tweets about the dog throwing up. Now I see posts like a series from a videographer friend who tapes useful side by side camera tests and puts them on his Facebook Page.  Or this interesting study by Twitter showing that some of the heaviest volume retweets are coming from evangelist pastors, not famous celebs.  With the evolution of crowdraising sites like Crowdrise, virtual engagement around conferences, and flexible editing tools like FinalCutPro X and Adobe Premiere, nonprofits can compete with corporate communicators.

Where I see the lag now is in learning how to curate and manage all the assets these great organizations are busy acquiring. I have several nonprofit clients who have literally millions of untagged photos, and they are still out shooting more at every event. Can you imagine if you walked into a library and there were just random boxes of books on every surface? And the librarian–if you could find one–told you “yeah, we probably have that book here somewhere. I think the cover was green.” So I’m doing a lot more training on building systems to archive, tag and curate all the digital assets that can then be re-used by nonprofits, bringing down the costs of telling their mission story.

Along with asset management comes a need to have the Right Kind of assets.  So if you are planning to post a flip-cam video to a large conference screen, you’ll probably be disappointed when you see lots of pixilation and unusable audio.  And if you want to post a fun series of shots from your conference on YouTube, along with a soundtrack from Billy Joel, you’ll need to be sure you’ve got sync rights cleared first.  Things were a little more loose in the early days, but now social web consumers are expecting High-Def videos that they can actually see and hear, and license-holders are expecting payment when their copyrighted materials are used online.

Asset workflow, curation, management and rights clearances can all be stumbling blocks to nonprofits communicating around important, mission-driven work. Don’t let them trip you up. Take action steps instead:

  1. Build a library system—it can be as simple as creating a useful folder structure on your server—and educate everyone on the communication team on how to use it.
  2. Assign asset curation and metatagging duties to team members BEFORE an event occurs at which you will be photographing/videotaping/interviewing. Interns can tag, but leadership must be involved in setting up the system.
  3. Create standards, so that outside vendors know what formats you like to acquire in.  For non-professionals, be sure to get the highest quality versions you can—not just the miniature files they post on Facebook.
  4. Engage your donors in building a wonderful archive of images, stories and video content that tells the story of your mission—from the past to the present.