How to Translate Your Program Into a Compelling Video

AnnieEscobarHeadshot-WordpressGuest blogger Annie Escobar has created over 60 videos for over 30 purpose-driven organizations. She believes there is more good than bad in our world, and she’s driven to share the stories she hears that prove it.

When an organization comes to me and says, “We want a video about our program,” I always cringe a little bit. Many non-profits fall into what I call “The Program Trap.” Their videos focus too much on what they do, instead of why they do it.

Let’s be honest. Videos about programs end up putting people to sleep instead of making them feel something. I’ve learned that compelling, money-raising videos are about people, not programs.

So here’s how I turn a program into an emotional story:

1. Find a Protagonist

A program is not a protagonist. Find one individual whose story demonstrates a clear transformation. Someone who takes a journey that leads to them to see the world in a new way.

2. Lead With A Story

Make your viewer feel they are learning the story of an individual. That’s how you pull them in and keep them watching.

Begin with vivid details of what the protagonists’ life was like before they were affected by your organization. This is not about guilt or pity; it’s about empathy and connection.

3. Leave the Board Members Out

You may feel tempted to fill your video with board members and experts because you can trust that they’ll explain the program articulately and offer credibility.

But real credibility can only come from those you serve. Because while participants are more risky—they speak honestly and aren’t trained with your preferred language—their reflections on the impact of your program on their life is the ultimate proof that what you are doing matters. And it makes your audience feel something.

4. Ask Questions that Lead to Storytelling

In order avoid a dry, vague answers, ask participants questions about moments, especially moments of transformationA great way to do this is to start questions with: “Can you tell me about a moment when you…?”

Also, when you wrap several questions up in one, people are more likely to speak in complete sentences and tell stories. For example: “Are there any moments that stand out in your mind? When did your perspective start to shift? Were there any ‘ah-ha’ moments?”

5. Include Shareable Stories 

After the shoot, pay attention to which stories are you naturally inclined to share with your friends and family. This is important because you want something about your work to stick with your audience.

If you include a compelling story that’s memorable and easy to share, your volunteers, donors and staff will have a story they can share with others to explain why they support your work.

Have you created a compelling video for your organization?  Share your successes and challenges here.

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Nancy Schwartz on August 8, 2013 in Video | 2 comments
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  • Whitney Godwin

    Videos are becoming an ever-popular social platform,
    especially with the popularity of YouTube. According to a study by Richard
    Waters and Paul Jones, the majority of nonprofits primarily use their YouTube
    videos to inform and educate viewers. As you mentioned this can get pretty
    boring. Due to lack of time or experience, many nonprofits tend to copy what
    other organizations do that allow videos to get lost in the shuffle.

    I work as a Graduate Assistant in the Television Journalism department at West Virginia University. Last fall, a mother with a daughter who has special needs
    approached me and asked me to make a video to promote the “R-Word” project. Theproject is a movement to stop the use of the word “retard” in conversation ( While the video turned out
    well,, and several people took the pledge, I felt like it was boring and a copy
    of what other people had done. We used celebrities on campus to make the videomore popular. We also included several people who were affected by the word insome way, but the video was produced in a way that you don’t know how peopleare affected by the “r-word.”

    I’ve recently partnered with this mother again to
    see if we can do another video for the same purpose, but a different video
    style. I want people to tell their story and tell how they’re affected by the
    use of the word “retard.” People connect better to real stories. I’m interested
    to see how this will turn out. Thanks for your post, it was really motivating!

    Whitney Godwin

  • Whitney, thanks for sharing your story. Please update it with the link to the upcoming video!

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