Archive for November, 2011

The one essential thing you need in your next story

Posted on November 25, 2011. Filed under: Power of Video | Tags: |

This video is a must-see for anyone working in nonprofit communications. Take 5 minutes, it is well worth it!

The one essential thing you need in your next story

The one essential thing? ONE.

Let me explain. Storytelling is a great way to compel action. And the key to action is emotion. And emotion is triggered most strongly by experiencing something on a scale of one.

This phenomenon is called the “identifiable victim effect” or “singularity effect.” In other words, when humans hear about one identifiable victim, we care more than when we hear about millions. We tend to donate more when we feel we are helping an identified, single individual. I’ve blogged quite a bit about it, but this video is worth sharing. Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, sums up everything you need to know about this phenomenon in five minutes. Enjoy this short behavioral economics lecture!

And remember: The most important motivator in giving is how close people feel to a cause – whether it be to an identified victim or to a shared ideology. Your best bet is to build that closeness through stories about individuals.

Source: The one essential thing you need in your next story –

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Nonprofit Video: How Rhythm Keeps Us Watching

Posted on November 21, 2011. Filed under: Power of Video | Tags: , |

This article by Cam Hayduk and Kat Kelly is a wonderful exploration into what makes a successful video tick and it gives some great tips on how to structure your video storytelling.

The next step is to monetize your video content to open up a new fundraising channel for your organisation, and create an effective social media strategy to promote it.

Thank you for sharing Cam and Kat!

Nonprofit Video: How Rhythm Keeps Us Watching

Why do some online videos grab us, pull us in and capture our imagination for the few minutes that we watch them? What is it that separates the good videos from the truly great videos? We all know that length is important; online audiences demand brief messaging, and the importance of story telling cannot be emphasized enough, a good story is necessary. But, there is also another important element of a great video, something that drives the viewers attention and creates a deep connection: in a word, rhythm.

Human nature is drawn to rhythm. Our heart beats in rhythm and we struggle when we feel that things are out of sync. It’s easy to get distracted when we are confronted with multiple rhythms at once. When watching a well-crafted scene in a movie, documentary, or even an online video, the world outside melts away and our internal energy and emotion are in sync with the energy of what we’re viewing. We are experiencing life in the same rhythm. You can feel it, but it isn’t easy to articulate.

In editor Karen Pearlman’s book, Cutting Rhythms: Shaping the Film Edit, she states that most great editors claim to edit by “intuition”. She also equates film editing with dance choreography:

The intuitive, choreographic shaping of movement and energy over time… creates the rise and fall of tension and release in a film. That is the purpose of rhythm in film: to shape understanding and emotions through cycles of tension and release. Rhythm signals the story’s meaning and the character’s intentions at an immediate, physically recognizable level. By creating the waves of tension and release, the editor creates the film’s ‘beat’ or ‘pulse’. By riding the waves of tension and release, the spectator’s body rhythm is drawn into a kind of synchronization with the film’s rhythm.

The visual rhythm of the action in each individual shot is one element that drives the pacing of edits. Feeling the beat of people’s, movements, even the emotional pulse of a still image; this awareness of rhythm is key to creating engaging content.

Here is an example that creates incredible rhythm with the action in each shot. You are swept up as the tension and pacing mount.

Music can, of course, be a powerful tool for driving the rhythm of a video. The style can range from simple, intro and outro music to full on music video.

The “music video” style of this piece for Charity:Water is an almost perfect marriage of the tempo of the song and the emotion of the message contained in the lyrics and visuals.

The original Girl Effect video spawned a plethora of copy cats because it was unique and successful. Many of the copy cats incorporated the same motion graphics style, but few managed to achieve this level of emotional connection. Even if you’ve seen it a hundred times, watch it again with an awareness of its rhythm.

The tempo of the dialogue, which can be scripted, interview format, or even visual dialogue is another element that establishes the rhythm. In this piece promoting the creation of a National Park, we worked with the client to create rhythmic dialogue, which was edited beat for beat over a musical score we designed to mirror the pacing.

As all these rhythmic elements come together, it’s important to maintain a sense of the wider emotional arc of a piece. In feature animation, one of the first things that is often created during pre-production is something called the “emotional beat board”. The story department actually creates a graph for what they want to be the viewer’s emotional experience and each animated sequence is laid out along the graph. It may not be necessary to go to that level of detail for an online video, but it is important to make sure the pacing of the editing and the scoring or music match the wider, overall emotional arc of the audience experience.

We all know that online video can be a powerful way to reach an audience. By making ourselves aware of, and developing a sense of pacing and rhythm, we can produce captivating content that moves people to take action.

Launched in 2009 and based on Bowen Island, near Vancouver BC, Turtlebox Productions creates innovative and engaging advocacy, educational and fundraising videos for non-profits, foundations and socially responsible businesses.

Source: Nonprofit Video: How Rhythm Keeps Us Watching –

Authors: Cam Hayduk and Kat Kelly, Turtlebox Productions

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What’s missing from your emails? A great tip on a good ending

Posted on November 18, 2011. Filed under: Online Communications | Tags: , , |

What a fabulous idea! Thanks for sharing Katya.

What’s missing from your emails? A great tip on a good ending

An often overlooked, free way to promote your cause is right in front of you – your email signature.

You send out loads of emails every day. Each is an opportunity to tell your story.

I was reminded of this by an email I got today from Dean Munro of Via Services. The signature line caught my eye, because it said: A Story. Below was written:

Sixty-six years ago two women saw a little boy sitting in a window everyday, isolated from the real world because of cerebral palsy. With permission from the boy’s single working mother, they carried the boy and his wheelchair down a steep flight of stairs so he could explore new places that would spark his intellectual and emotional development. That act of generosity led to the creation of the organization that would become Via Services which has continued to serve youth and adults with disabilities for over half a century.

I have never, ever seen a signature line with a story in it, and it seized my attention and thoroughly won me over.

Why is a mini-story a great signature idea? Because most emails are workaday, left-brain fare and adding a mini-story is like a mental break and emotional recharge. People will remember it, and they’ll remember your cause.

If you think I’m making this up, there’s a new study highlighted in Roger Dooley’s Neuromarketing blog that once again proves emotional messaging is processed quite differently by the brain than appeals to logic. It’s a great idea to experiment with story to make a connection in unexpected places – like the clogged, dim world of the inbox. Thanks, Dean, for the inspiration.

Source: What’s missing from your emails? A great tip on a good ending –

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Telling Your Story Like Steve Jobs

Posted on November 14, 2011. Filed under: Storytelling | Tags: |

Lately, I have been emphasizing storytelling with the articles I’ve been posting to our blog, having read these you will be aware that it’s rather an important aspect of nonprofit communications.

In this article posted on the Inspiring Generosity blog, there are some great insights into what made Steve Jobs such a brilliant storyteller.

You can take some cues from Jobs to implement into your own organisations’ storytelling. In my mind, one of the key components is the use of visuals. However, it is worth adding here that your organisation is not limited to a stage presentation scenario with the topic of an inanimate object. Your human stories about real life situations can be told using the power of video to take supporters on a journey.

And, of course you can monetize your video stories and use the connectivity of social media to engage your audience, expand your reach and enhance your relationship with your supporters.

Kathie van

Telling Your Story Like Steve JobsTelling Your Story Like Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was a classic storyteller. With every product launch, he took us on a journey into the world of possibility. He peeled single ideas with clever anticipation drawing in our curiosity with more intensity, “wowing” us with a product’s features, functionality, design and must-have aura. How? By turning a product launch into more than a product–into a presentation that delivered a story.

In your communications, are you trying to make sure and pack every “key message” into your delivery? Doing so can dilute your message and your mission. Let’s review four lessons we can learn from the presentation and storytelling style of the great Steve Jobs.

Lesson #1: Package your main point into a punchline.

When Steve Jobs launched a product, he introduced it with a punchline–one clear, descriptive message that read more like a headline. It was social media friendly (watch those character limits!) and evoked a sense of wonder.

For example, when Jobs introduced the MacBook Air, Apple’s ultra-thin computer, he simply said, “It’s the world’s thinnest notebook.” With the iPod, he said, “1,000 songs that fit in your pocket.” Get in the mindset of the volunteers, donors or stakeholders you’re talking with and think about what message resonates the most with them. Get rid of the bullets and package the value-add your offer into a tangible one-liner. Avoid the jargon–and get right to the punch.

Lesson #2: Use less text and more visuals.

Why do you think the use of infographics as a storytelling tool is increasing? People not only like visuals, but they remember them. When you say something orally, people remember 10% of what was said. Add a picture, and people recall 65%. You can say more with less.

Lesson #3: Go for the experience.

Are you pushing out communications and printing posters and pamphlets yet not seeing your desired ROI? Perhaps it’s time to consider the donor experience you’re offering. Jobs was about creating great products, but he was also about creating and designing unique experiences. How can you better integrate the concept of “experience” into your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts?

Maybe it’s by taking engaging area businesses and supporters in a cup night, inviting fundraisers to scale down a high rise, helping others honor their moms, or participating in a lip-synch contest. Get those creative juices flowing!

Lesson #4: Find an antagonist.

Every good story has a villain. Who or what can your supporters rally against? In the infamous 1984 Macintosh commercial, Jobs and Apple painted IBM to be the villain–and now sits as one of the best commercials ever-made. A more current example comes from with their, “F*CK: Famine is the real obscenity” video. It’s jarring, but it immediately turns your perspective upside down, gets your attention and draws you in. What’s working against you and how can you make it work for you?

What’s your story?

You can make the content and the technology work for you. But until you have your story fully developed and thought through, neither one is going to be too compelling in the long run when it comes to fundraising (online or off). At your next meeting, ask each team member to tell your organization’s story. You may be surprised, moved and inspired by what you hear.

Source: Telling Your Story Like Steve Jobs –

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A Free Agent for Hunger: Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project

Posted on November 11, 2011. Filed under: Social Media Marketing | Tags: , , , , |

I love it how Beth Kanter finds out about the most inspiring stories, regardless of how big or small they are. This story about Sue Kerr is wonderful.

It just goes to show that even the smallest NFP can move mountains with social media savvy, whether it’s in-house or actioned by a free agent like Sue.

And, of course, if you are running your social media communications in-house, then CommsConsole can help you too!

A Free Agent for Hunger: Pittsburgh Tote Bag ProjectA Free Agent for Hunger: Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project

Many nonprofits, particularly smaller organizations, say their biggest challenge to using social media effectively is that they don’t have the time or staff. Those that have opened themselves up to using these tools and connecting with passionate people in their networks find abundance. Here’s one story about how one free agent, a social media savvy volunteer for a local food bank, saw a problem, reached out to her network, and helped solved in collaboration with the local nonprofit.

Sue Kerr has put her social media savvy to work to fight hunger in the Greater Pittsburgh area and save the environment. In 2009, she was live tweeting a food distribution event at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank when she noticed a man leaving the food bank juggling a lot of thin plastic grocery bags filled with food donations. One bag split and a cabbage rolled out onto the sidewalk and he chased after it.

That’s where she got the idea that food banks should be using canvas tote bags to distribute foods and she tweeted her idea. To her surprise, the Pittsburgh Foundation was following her live tweets. Christopher Whitlatch from the Foundation responded to her tweet with that had a few bags they could donate. Not too long after that, the Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project was launched.

As Sue tells it, “Inspired, I began to reach out to my personal network on Twitter and Facebook and offline through word of mouth. It began informally with a few drives here and there over an 18 month period. I had lots of positive feedback. So, I contacted the Food Bank and proposed we collaborate. We spent some time sorting out the logistics and formally kicked-off on Earth Day.”

The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project collects gently used tote bags for distribution to the region’s food pantries. They partner with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank which coordinates distribution of the bags along with food. The Food Bank serves 11 counties and more than 120,000 people each month (about 1.9 million pounds of food) through a network of more than 300 pantries The project receives bags from a network of permanent drop-off spots, informal and formal tote bag drives (with or without food) and corporate donations of excess schwag.

Her partnership with the local food bank has been productive. Says Sue, “The Food Bank has been very supportive and encouraging to our project. They’ve provided logistical and staff support. Through the Food Bank staff, we’ve heard that the pantries love the idea and want as many bags as we can provide. The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project has collected 5,000+ bags for local food pantries. Says Sue, “We estimate that our project has kept 15,000 disposable bags from being used. “

Sue has also collaborated on social media activities with the food bank. Says Sue, “Beyond tagging and shout outs on Twitter, we organized Pittsburgh’s first ever #blogmob (play on flash mob), inviting local foodie bloggers to come out to the Food Bank for a tour, a chance to observe a food distribution, and general discussion. We plan to repeat every September to honor Hunger Action Month.” Says Sue, “Our hope is to develop a model that can be replicated in other communities.” The project freely shares its lessons learned with other groups that want to run similar drives.

Has your organization discovered and worked with a free agent like Sue?

Source: A Free Agent for Hunger: Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project –

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Microsites in Action: Telling Your Nonprofit’s Story

Posted on November 7, 2011. Filed under: Effective Website Design | Tags: , , , , |

This article by Carla Chadwick demonstrates how a nonprofit organisation can maximise the way its website creates connection with supporters by using microsites to segment various story topics that will appeal to different segments of your membership base and allow you to delve deaper into each issue.

This is a very effective way to arrange your website contents and lends itself brilliantly to enable you to implement video storytelling as a component of each topic’s page.  

Think about which of your organisation’s communications topics require specialised attention, and how your website could be maximised with the use of microsites.

As Carla concludes: ” While microsites are an investment, they are a powerful tool in the new age of online fundraising and marketing.”

Kathie van

Microsites in Action: Telling Your Nonprofit’s Story

Let’s face it: nonprofit websites often suffer from multiple personality disorder.

There’s the “program” side that wants to tell you all the amazing ways your programs help save homeless pets, feed the hungry, find cures, protect our children, or empower women. There’s the “events” side that must sell tickets. And don’t forget the “communications” side, whose press releases and news items help raise awareness. While often a complicated web of messaging, it’s a necessary evil when many departments must relay information using a single corporate website.

So as fundraisers, how can we tell the real story – expose the true heart of an organization – when our messaging is only one part of a huge multi-dimensional website?

The answer is simple: create a microsite that allows you to focus on a particular topic, present specific calls to action and, with the help of social media, reach large numbers of people much more quickly than a traditional website.

When done correctly, a microsite can be one of the most powerful storytelling tools available to fundraisers.

But don’t take my word for it, here are some examples of wonderful and highly effective, microsites:


Covenant House is the largest privately-funded agency in the Americas providing food, shelter, crisis care, and essential services to homeless and at-risk kids. In an effort to mobilize their existing activists and acquire new ones, Covenant House developed a microsite that digs deep into the issue of domestic child trafficking.

Through the stories of four young victims, the A.C.T. microsite raises awareness of a crisis that affects thousands of American kids each year and issues an urgent call to action. Clear, concise information, bold statistics, and striking graphics help further engage the audience and dispel the misconception that human trafficking is a trend relegated to foreign soil.

While the content makes a strong case for giving, the main goal of this campaign is to use the broad reach of Facebook, Twitter, email, and free infographics to help raise awareness.

There is a valuable lesson to be learned in this strategy. Microsites do not have to be used solely for fundraising. Even though microsites cost money to develop, there are times when building a solid warm-prospect list is a legitimate goal that deserves the investment.

2. NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) – Voting Rights Microsite:

Problem: How do you educate people about racism in the post-Obama era? For America’s first and foremost civil rights legal organization, the solution had to be educational, factually accurate, and most importantly, compelling enough to remind people that the fight for equality is not over.

LDF decided to tell the story of minority Americans – in 38 states across the country – who still face obstacles at the voting booth. Their microsite reveals documented, widespread threats to voting rights in America and effectively weaves localized challenges into a broad picture of the problem.

Any one of these local challenges may be too small to spark a national call to action, but when combined, they serve to rally a renewed commitment from LDF’s constituency.

This microsite allowed LDF to take a complex issue like voting rights and break it down into small, easy-to-understand pieces. The site also enabled LDF to break out of their normal website messaging mode and dig deeper, providing more detail, substance, and emotion. The Voting Rights microsite shows that often the greatest impact is made with a singularly focused story.

3. American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) – Making AIDS History Microsite:

Dedicated to ending the global AIDS epidemic, amfAR has invested nearly $325 million in innovative research and awarded grants to more than 2,000 research teams since 1985. They have increased the world’s understanding of HIV and helped lay the groundwork for major advances in the study and treatment of HIV/AIDS.

While finding a cure for AIDS is the driving force behind amfAR’s work, their motivation comes from the sum of 50 million personal stories of heartache, courage, and triumph over adversity. To help mark the 25th anniversary of their founding, amfAR decided to share a handful of these stories on the Making AIDS History microsite. With compelling video and a simple call to action – a $25 gift in recognition of amfAR’s 25 years – this microsite encourages a renewed, collective commitment to the organization.

Making AIDS History is an example of how a microsite can complement its parent site and act as a powerful fundraising tool at the same time. While the main website establishes amfAR as a world leader in HIV/AIDS research, their microsite connects donors to the people who have benefitted from the research.

Is a microsite right for your organization?

There is no question that microsites allow you to effectively tell the story of a single compelling issue – one that is important to your organization and the people you serve. They can easily take off, gathering new supporters for your cause and generating many types of action. They are also just as effective for mobilizing your existing base and serve as a starting point for engaging people in social media conversations.

But don’t jump on the microsite bandwagon just because other nonprofits are doing it – make sure you put some careful planning in before deciding if a microsite is right for your organization.

Only use microsites when you have something urgent to say, when you feel a specific topic or area deserves specialized attention, and when you’re willing to set aside or reduce your core messaging. It’s true that microsites allow you the freedom to break away from your normal brand – but remember, you have to give a microsite as much attention to detail as you would a flagship site. You need to create a good design, you need to do keyword research and SEO, you need functional/practical on-site navigation, and ultimately you need to have a compelling story to tell.

We are all looking for innovative ways to reactivate our existing audiences and cultivate new ones. The more we can provide constituents with interactive ways to connect with us, the better we will be in growing our communities. While microsites are an investment, they are a powerful tool in the new age of online fundraising and marketing.

Author: Carla ChadwickCarla Chadwick, daughter of fundraising pioneer Sanky Perlowin, has been with SankyNet since 2000. Carla develops unique and innovative creative strategies for dozens of non-profit organizations, and oversees SankyNet’s creative team on a broad spectrum of online marketing, fundraising and branding projects. Under Carla’s creative direction, SankyNet has won many prestigious awards, including the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Award for Excellence in e-Philanthropy, DMFA’s Package of the Year, the Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and the 2011 Web Marketing Association’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Web Development.

Source: Microsites in Action: Telling Your Nonprofit’s Story –

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A nifty little trick to compel people to action

Posted on November 4, 2011. Filed under: Tips and Ideas |

Again, Katya Andresen gives us a great little pearl of wisdom.  Thanks Katya!

A nifty little trick to compel people to action

If you get people to do something small to confirm their intention to do something, they are far more likely to take action later. A “pre-commit” is a powerful thing!

I recently covered a study that showed just asking people about their intentions to do something increases the probability they will take action later.

Now there’s another study (cited in Influence at Work) showing a variation on that theme – an approach that combines pre-commitment with social proof.

In the National Health Service in the UK, there’s a bad problem with people not showing up for their appointments. To call attention to the problem and try to change people’s behavior, many offices had signs showing the rate at which people miss appointments. This is a terrible idea, by the way, because it creates the social norm that people don’t show up. So people won’t give a thought to failing to keep their commitments.

The folks at Influence at Work sponsored a study that took a different approach. They got rid of those signs and instead of calling attention to who wasn’t taking action, they highlighted the people who showed up. The changed sign read that 95% of patients at (the name of the office) turn up for their appointments or call (insert phone number) if they have to cancel. This strategy (using social proof correctly) combined with another approach produced a 31.4% reduction in no-shows.

So what were the other actions? When people made their appointments, they were asked to either repeat or write down their appointment times. That small act of confirmation made a huge difference because people want to be consistent in their actions:

In one condition patients making their appointment were asked to verbally repeat the date and time for their next appointment before hanging up the phone. This simple and virtually costless change used the Principle of Consistency an led to an immediate reduction in no-shows by 6.7%

In a second condition, which again employed the Principle of Consistency, nurses and receptionists, when making the patient’s next appointment in person, instead of filling out the small white appointment card asked the patient to fill out this card themselves. This small change produced an 18% reduction in no-shows.

Pretty amazing.

So how does this apply to you?

If you’re trying to get people to take action (give, volunteer, be more healthy, attend a concert, etc.), first ask them to pledge to do it—and emphasize how many other people do it. It’s a nifty – and effective – approach.

Source: A nifty little trick to compel people to action –

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