Nonprofit video roars into 2011: Here are the trends

flickr/John Biehler

I just took a terrific, free, Common Knowledge webinar on the five big nonprofit communication trends for 2011. It was beyond great; it was inspirational! So thorough and well-grounded in strategy-first. I’m going to be sharing some of the major take-aways in my next couple of posts.

BTW—Common Knowledge hosts a weekly webinar series, usually free. I highly recommend them.

One of the trends that excited me most was the increasingly central role that video will play in nonprofit (and everyone else’s) communications starting this year. Two things are contributing to that fact: Technology’s making it easier to stream video and video production tools are easily accessible, simple to use, and affordable.

In the last several months, mobile devices like smart phones and pads have made huge leaps in their capacity to stream video, and internet providers continued to provide faster wireless services and increased bandwidth. Meanwhile, the flipcam and other small, simple video cams—and easy movie editing software included on most computers—have brought production capabilities to almost anyone. If you don’t have any one on staff who knows how to shoot and edit video, you can easily find someone to do it for you at a reasonable rate.

The big predictions

What’s going to be happening in the nonprofit world with video this year?

  • Mobile video breaks out

Greater speed and capacity will have everyone viewing video on their phones or pads.

  • Video advertising becomes more popular

Following commercial advertising trends that recognize dynamic is more effective than static, video ads will join SEO and banner ads as ways that nonprofits can cultivate supporters.

  • User-generated video content goes mainstream

Your nonprofit isn’t the only one capable of producing video that can advance your organization. Your supporters can—and do—too. They’ll be looking for ways to help you tell your story through this medium. Invite them.

  • Marketing video blossoms

Our lingering reliance on text and photos will fade further as nonprofit storytelling makes more and more use of video—a medium (thanks to TV) that everyone’s familiar with and one that humans find very engaging.

Your first steps

If you’ve never done a video before, start now! And probably, start small.

Produce a video in 2011. Take a look at all your communications strategies and objectives this year (and your budgets) and seriously consider which could be better met through a video. There must be at least one opportunity in there somewhere! (Read more about video strategy in my past post on it. Figuring out who you’re trying to reach and why is a critical first step.)

Find a videographer who knows how to shoot, edit, help create a story arc, and do effective interviewing. Work with them on your first production to learn the ropes.(BTW: The rule of thumb for budgeting is about $1,000 for each finished minute of video, but you can pay more if you want a really professional result.) Once you’ve been through the production process a few times, and have gained skills, you may be able to buy a small video camera and do production yourself.

Think in advance how you will use/promote the video, and what ROI you’re after. Will you put it on your website, in an email, on YouTube, on your social networking sites? Also think how the video will integrate with and support your other communications tactics. What response to the video will spell success?

Measure results against the ROI you outlined. By tracking these results, you can get better with each video production you do. You don’t have to be great right off the bat, but you do owe it to your supporters to get better and better.

I leave you with one statistic: Within the next three years, it’s estimated that nearly half of all the information on the internet will be streaming video.

Need any more motivation?

CC photo credit: John Biehler


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The CEO bully pulpit: Commentaries in the digital age

Flickr/southtyrolean

I’ve wanted to post for a while about one of my favorite media tactics for nonprofits and foundations. I guess it’s one of my favorites because I’ve been lucky enough to work with some courageous CEOs and executive directors who were willing to use their stature and credibility in the community to move the needle on social issues—everything from renewable energy to the importance of arts for school children.

I call this media tactic the bully pulpit, and you should only use it if you and your board are comfortable taking a public stand on an issue.

As more foundations and nonprofits understand that information is one of their chief assets, their leaders are using online tools like blogs and twitter to share their knowledge and perspectives with a wider audience. One simple sharing tactic is the submission of opinion editorials or commentaries to online media outlets—both mainstream and niche.

Most mainstream media have robust online websites, and nearly all include invitations for people from the community to submit opinion pieces or commentaries for online publication. Think about the media outlets—and don’t forget the specialty media—that are read by the audiences you’re trying to reach.

First, let me remind you that any tactic has to fit within your larger communications strategy. For instance, if you’re trying to change an issue frame on a particular issue, or bring new information and wisdom to light about a public policy, this tactic may be of use to you. If you’re trying to change public policy, this can work too, but be sure to adhere to nonprofit guidelines about advocacy.

Part one: Placing the commentary

This tactic actually has two parts, both equally important. First, you need to write and place the commentary. That involves five steps:

1) Clarify what you want to change (behavior, policy, awareness) as a result of the commentary and who can actually make that change (your key audiences).

2) Thoughtfully pick which media outlets reach those people and look over those outlets’ submission policies.

3) Think about timing (if you’re submitting more than one, do you want a blitz or a stream? Do you want to tie this to an event?).

4) Write a commentary tailored to each media outlet and the audience it attracts, which includes understanding your main talking points and path of persuasion, as well as the commentary guidelines for each outlet. Most op-eds run between 500-800 words.

5) Submit the piece online, including a brief explanation of who you are. (NOTE: Most outlets can take up to three weeks to publish op-eds. They may ask you for a photo.)

For each of the outlets you think are good matches for you key audiences, take time to read through the last few months of  published op-eds—both from  their editorial staff and members of the community—to get a sense of what kinds of issues and approaches each outlet is interested in. (Also, make sure no one has already written what you’re planning to write.)

Then do a topic search of their news for the past two months on the issue you want to write about. Pay special attention to what they’ve published about this issue in the past two weeks—there may be a news hook for your piece in there. For instance, if you want to write about education, it’s important to know that a new educational achievement report just came out last week—you may want to tie your commentary to that article.

Part two: Targeted recycling

Part two kicks in when the commentary is published. It’s great when visitors to the media website happen to read your piece, but don’t rely on serendipity for getting your key audiences to the website. Let them know once it’s been published through a short email with a link included. Don’t look at the email as a way to toot your own horn, think of it as sharing interesting content with potential readers. (Check to see if the media outlet requires link rights. Sometimes, these articles go offline after a couple of weeks unless you have obtained those rights.)

If you want to get even more personal, get reprint permission rights from the media outlet and send it out to key people with a personal note attached. (Be aware, reprint rights can cost money. Be sure to ask if they offer a nonprofit discount.)

More likely than not, this post-publication recycling of the op-ed is going to be the best way to ensure that those people you really want to see it actually do.

You can use online commentaries to create buzz by submitting different pieces to different media on the same topic in a short period–3-4 weeks. Or you can create a steady stream over a few months, or aim at quarterly placements that keep an issue in front of the public.

If you have any other advice for nonprofit leaders who write commentaries—please share it below!

CC photo credit: southtyrolean

Social issue documentaries: Building a movement

Here in the Twin Cities, we’ve just experienced an interesting media frenzy about a social issue documentary called Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story that was produced by the University of Minnesota and funded by various foundations and governmental agencies. The one-hour film–which was scheduled to debut on Twin Cities Public Television this month–examines the contribution of modern agricultural techniques to the dangerous degradation of Midwest water and soil, and the burgeoning growth of the dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

A few weeks before the film’s scheduled airing, the University’s vice president of external affairs pulled the plug on it. They said they were going to have to review it more closely and that it villified agriculture. I won’t get into the PR debacle this last-minute censorship unleashed for the University (and rightly so in my opinion)–that’s a sad cautionary tale in and of itself. The story broke in a community media blog and spread to every other media outlet in the region. After much public outcry and pressure from funders and advocacy groups, the University allowed the film to be shown to a SRO crowd at the University and finally, to be shown on Twin Cities Public Television—without any pre-promotion.

I watched it last night, and was impressed at how clearly it raises important questions about U.S. farm policy and points toward next practices that could help stem the rapid loss of our best soil and the pollution of our watersheds. With all the publicity surrounding it–I’m hopeful it will have a long shelf life and eventually reach a much larger audience.It deserves that kind of exposure. (I wish I could give you a link to the film, but both the University and Twin Cities Public Television provide only minimum text information on their sites. I hope that changes!)

All this reminded me what a powerful medium film has become for igniting social movements. We all haunt the halls of YouTube, but we sometimes overlook the extraordinary film documentary work that’s being done to help people understand the causes and solutions for what seem like intractable problems. It’s not just Al Gore and Michael Moore—there are hundreds of writers, directors, and producers devoting their talents to this new way of educating citizens and building social movements. Here’s a great blog post from the Center for Social Media at The American University on Social Issue Documentaries: The Evolution of Public Engagement.

The good news is that—like Troubled Waters, which was funded in part by The McKnight Foundation—foundations are starting to grasp the promise of film documentaries. Obviously, this isn’t a realistic communications undertaking for most nonprofits—high quality production and distribution cost money. But for foundations, large nonprofits, and consortia of nonprofits—it can be a very effective way of sparking public and media interest, and getting more people engaged in behaviors that support the common good. And remember, as the line between television and computer blurs, these productions could gain much wider viewership in the next few years.


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Using social media to drive policy change

Consider how you can best use social media to achieve your policy change goals

Before I launch into my real post below, I want to take a minute to revel in being a Minnesotan. In the past several years, there have been very few opportunities to do that. But Tuesday, we reclaimed something of our past selves by setting a new state one-day online fund raising record of $14 million!!!

As Beth Kanter says, it’s a jaw dropping figure. One day, one state, one website…hundreds of nonprofits supported.

The success of this venture is due to many factors–great communications among them–but we all owe a debt to the local foundations who helped come up with this idea and who gave major support to it–the Minneapolis and St. Paul Foundations, the Blandin Foundation, the Bush Foundation, and the Minnesota Community Foundation. (United Way was in the mix, too.) Did I mention they matched the first $500,000 in contributions!

This unprecendented outpouring of good will in such hard economic times is not only a fabulous case study for the potential of online giving, but an inspiration for other states. Today, I’m proud to live here.

But, even as GiveMN day was an important proving ground for online fund raising, this post is about a excellent new free online tool for those who want to use social media to support program related goals. Cause Communications has come up with yet another in its great series of guides for nonprofit communicators.

Their new Online Outreach Tool Guide is one the most helpful, concise resources I’ve seen to help nonprofit executives and communications experts decide how to use social media to advance their social issues and mobilize policy change.

The guide features a grid that shows which social media channels are best at achieving four different communications objectives: increasing credibility, raising awareness, encouraging dialogue, and mobilizing support. The authors also provide great examples from the real world about nonprofits that have employed each of these channels successfully—from social bookmarking and online advertising to microblogging and photosharing.

The short booklet also contains a lot of common sense wisdom that can help nonprofits start using these online tools strategically and measuring their results. There’s a whole section listing the ROI milestones that can be measured to gauge progress over time.

What especially appeals to me is the application of social media to policy change and issue framing, rather than just fund- and friend-raising. These tools have tremendous potential for informing people about issues, engaging them in civic dialogue, and ultimately, mobilizing them to take action.

Nonprofits should be thinking about using social media to support their program and organizational goals, not just their development goals. People like Beth Kanter and Allison Fine are helping lead the sector in that direction, and I’m hopeful that—even as beleaguered as nonprofits are right now—they will seize this new opportunity.

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Nonprofit database = Golden goose

flickr/mykl roventine

flickr/mykl roventine

A nonprofit’s database is the goose that lays golden eggs. Feed it, groom it, keep it healthy.

I read on a blog yesterday that now that social media’s here, nonprofits really don’t need to have an email database. I think that’s way premature. Email—and even direct mail—aren’t dead. And they may never be. So don’t stop caring for and honing your database. Start adding social media information to it, too.

It’s very rewarding to create fabulous communications; but it’s just as important to communicate with the right people. You have to know who they are and be able to reach them—through social media, email, snail mail, telephone, etc. And you have to know their history with your organization, their preferences and interests.

Maintaining and growing your database is the way you’re able to establish and build long-term relationships with donors, clients, supporters, volunteers, and others important to your cause. That’s crucial to your sustainability.

Databases are living bodies of information. It takes constant work to keep one in tip-top shape, but the alternative is wasted time, effort, and money…and occasionally, irritated supporters. (How many times do I receive two or three of the same communications from a nonprofit that hasn’t purged its list to remove duplications?)

Even if, as a communicator, you’re not in charge of your organization’s database management, get involved. A good database is fundamental to your success. I’ve rounded up a few good articles that can point the way. Invest some time and thought into making sure that your database is accurate, effectively segmented, easily accessible and searchable, and consistently well managed.

10 Commandments of data management for nonprofits (John Kenyon)

Five symptoms of list decay (Frogloop)

Best practices for managing a database (Robert Weiner)

8 tips to strengthen your database (Network for Good)

If you have any relevant advice from your own experience, or other resources on this topic to recommend, please add them below.

CC photo credit: Mykl Roventine

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Free tool of the week: VoiceThread for nonprofits

flickr/ //amy//

flickr/ //amy//

When I first found out about VoiceThread a while back, it struck me as something that foundations and nonprofits could make good use of. It’s a cool way to capture people’s engagement with a topic and image—to weave the threads of their voices into the story being  told.

A VoiceThread is a multimedia slideshow of photos, video, or documents that allows people to easily leave comments and join the conversation. Visually, it’s a slideshow screen surrounded by a mosaic of little avatars of all the people who comment on the image. When you click on the avatar you hear them or see what they’ve written or drawn. People can comment in five simple ways: by telephone, by computer microphone, by web cam, by writing text, or by drawing.

Once you’ve created the central slideshow story—you can invite people to view it and comment on it. Thus the conversation grows.

Wondering how you might use this free tool?

  • How about getting your donors to add their voices to a story about a common cause they all support, telling why they support it?
  • How about showcasing your grantees’ work by asking them to add their comments to a VoiceThread story you create about an issue they’re working on?
  • How about showing how real living human beings are affected by the work you do? Ask them to add comments to a VoiceThread about how one of your programs has helped them.
  • Honoring someone special? Create a VoiceThread testimonial to them including all the voice of people whose lives they’ve touched
  • Trying to build a social movement? Here’s a very visual way to start—tell your VoiceThread story and ask supporters to add their supportive comments. Watch the little avatars multiply!

These ideas should help you get started thinking about ways you might incorporate VoiceThread into your website, social media platforms, emails to help achieve strategic communication goals.  It’s very easy to share—embeddable, emailable, etc.

Now, for a little introduction from the Voicethreads folks. And here’s a great step-by-step how-to slideshow, and an example of how educators are using VoiceThread to carry out conversations with students. It’s a very versatile tool…as you’ll see as you browse through the collection of existing VoiceThreads; everything from podcasting tutorials to art exhibitions to children’s voices about what’s happening in Darfur.

As usual, I played around with this free tool—just enough to create a very simple 1-slide central story about the issue of homeless teens. When you get to the page, just click on the lone avatar for the ABCD Foundation to hear the story. (I pretended I was a foundation interested in highlighting the work of its grantees working on that issue.) You’re going to have to IMAGINE other little avatars surrounding it—each from a grantee talking about the impact of their work with homeless teens. (It would be terrific to have some of those voices be the teens themselves.)

There are a few different pricing levels beyond what you can get for free (3 min. maximums on recordings, max. of 50 comments, etc.). But, even the Pro account, which gives you the most creative freedom is only $60 per year.

I see a lot of potential of this tool for the nonprofit sector–and not just for educators. Nothing is more fascinating to us than other people–what they think, what they say and do, what they support. VoiceThread is a unique way to combine your organization’s voice with the voices of your supporters or beneficiaries. It makes for richer, more inclusive, more credible storytelling. Plus—it’s pretty darn easy to use! Try it.

CC photo credit: //amy//

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Free tool of the week: Fenton’s Best Practice Guides

fentonCaptureYou might want to take a look at these free, downloadable guides to communications best practices put out by Fenton Communications, a firm that works with nonprofits. I’ve just listed some of the guides. For others, go to the Fenton Web site.

Watta? (What are they talking about) guide is designed to give you a well-grounded overview of Web 2.0, social media, and how to succeed in this new communications paradigm.

Proving Your Worth: 10 Ways to Measure the Impact of Your Communications shows you how to evaluate whether your communications efforts are hitting the mark and getting results.

This Just In summarizes 10 lessons from more than 25 years of learning from Fenton Communications’ partnerships with nonprofit clients to make social change.

Take a Position: 10 Tips to Set Your Organization Apart talks about positioning and how you set yourself apart from the other 1.4 million nonprofits in the U.S.

Now Hear This: The Nine Laws of Successful Advocacy Communications helps you learn how to describe what your organization does and what it stands for.

Making a Name for Yourself: Branding for Nonprofits explains the fundamentals involved in creating a successful brand in today’s saturated market.

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