3 Steps to Video Annual Report Success: VolunteerMatch Case Study

I dug into VolunteerMatch’s recent annual report in video format the minute it reached my inbox. It hit my sweet spot — I’m intrigued by innovative use of video and also by the challenge of reinventing nonprofit annual reports to be vibrant and meaningful. VolunteerMatch’s video version is both — and holds great value as a model for other nonprofits — so I rushed to interview Robert Rosenthal, Director of Communications on the why, how and how much of this production. Read on to learn what it took and gain insight on whether a video format is right for your organization’s annual report.

1. Robert, VolunteerMatch has produced a fantastic annual report in video format. What kind of feedback are you getting?

Everything we’ve heard from our members, key stakeholders, and peers has been overwhelmingly positive! We “broke the mold” on our traditional printed annual report process last year when we tried out Prezi – that was a huge change for us after more than a decade, and we received all kinds of kudos for taking some risks and trying something new. Since then we’ve seen Prezi all over. So when we were planning for this year, I was concerned that it would be a tough to act to follow.

The feedback this time around was really of a different nature. Instead of lots of comments about using a new technology, we heard feedback about the story itself. Viewers told us that our theme of “Relationships,” and our strategy of having our front-line team members (the ones who are closest to our constituents) do the talking, really resonated. This was a view into our work and our mission that many folks, even some of our core supporters, had never seen.

We also used about ten or so VolunteerMatch team members in the video, mostly junior staff, and for many it was their first time being featured in our communications. They invariably said it was a fun project that they were proud to take part in, and of course they were more likely to share it with their personal networks than our past reports.

Final observation: We unveiled the video for the first time at our annual Client Summit, in front of more than 100 of corporate partners. And at the end they were applauding!

2. What motivated your decision to do the video format this year?

As communications director I always shoot for two key goals with our annual report. First, we always have great stories to tell about our work, so I want to convey those stories into an engaging format that will be sticky and memorable. Second, because the annual report is one of our biggest communications productions of the year, I want to use it as an opportunity for my team to learn something new, try something different, and really expand our capabilities so we have one more arrow in our communications quiver. We achieved that in 2009 by using Prezi for our annual report, and moving to a video format for 2010 kept this evolution alive.

3. What did production take in terms of time, budget and skills? Would you do it again (at this point)?

In terms of our capabilities, we have a talented young video producer named Julia Lee on staff. She works in a completely different function by day, but we knew she was interested in making videos. Last year she began to do creative, smaller projects for us on the side that everyone really enjoyed, and so when the time came to plan this year’s annual report video, it felt natural to get her involved even though it was a bigger production than she’s ever undertaken.

Julia managed the production, shooting and editing, plugging in other team talents for creative concept, script, and distribution/promotion of the final video. During planning, we decided we wanted to include an animated graphic segment at midpoint where we could go in some detail into our numbers and financials for the year. We got help from Ben Hess at Bay Area Productions for that part, and he also spent time with Julia smoothing out transitions and working to balance the sound.

We hosted the video at Youtube, and embedded that file in lots of other places, including our two blogs, our big web site, and other places.  In the end, total hard costs amounted to about $3,000.

4.  What did you run into that you wish you had known at the very beginning of the process?

Julia’s earlier videos had used stop animation and clay to great effect, and we originally wanted to do something as creative and fun here. What we found though was that we just didn’t have the production time to do it right, so we pulled back and tried a simpler direction.

Julia shot everyone from two angles, head on and side view, and she used two different cameras for that. The side view camera, unfortunately, was a Flip on a tripod, and she found during editing that the aspect ratios and resolution just didn’t match up well with the head on footage and most of it ended up on the cutting room floor.

5. What are your top three recommendations for orgs embarking on a video annual report?

  • First, have a great theme that you can wrap all your planning around. Your theme guide the writing, editing, and branding of the video, and it will be helpful for differentiating this year’s video from next year’s if you decide to do more video.
  • Second, don’t worry if you can’t do it all yourself. A big part of planning is identifying the areas of production you aren’t good at and then getting strategic help you need.
  • Finally, length: Decide on your ideal length and then make sure you stick to it. We love our video but it was at least a minute and a half too long. At a certain point, we couldn’t cut anymore without risking our theme or annoying team members who had blocked off time to participate.   Shorter is better, of course.

 6. This is the second new format in as many years. Should we expect a new format for the next annual report?

After Prezi and video formats, I’m not sure what comes next. Maybe augmented reality or 3D!

As a VolunteerMatch supporter, I find this video format brings the “behind-the-scenes” workings of this organization to life in an incredibly meaningful way. I feel more of a part of the organization via “meeting” many staff members via the video, and learned things on the operational side that are fascinating and build my respect for this hard-working and innovative organization.

My one recommendation is to include the calls-to-action earlier on in the video, rather than at the end. You never know when your audience is going to jump off and many folks won’t last the whole 5 1/2 minutes!

Do you think video may be right for your organization’s annual report, or not? Please share your take with the Getting Attention community.

P.S. Messages that connect are a priority no matter your format. Learn how to craft the most essential message — your tagline. Download the Nonprofit Tagline Report and Database for must-dos, don’t dos, case studies and 5,000 searchable nonprofit tagline examples!

Nancy Schwartz on August 9, 2011 in Annual Reports | 0 comments
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