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The Biggest Mistake Nonprofits Make With Video

AnnieEscobarHeadshot-WordpressGuest blogger, Annie Escobar is co-founder of ListenIn Pictures which produces compelling video stories for nonprofits.

Creating engaging, sharable videos doesn’t seem to come naturally for most nonprofits and I think I know why.  Instead of highlighting naturally dynamic stories about people, nonprofits tend to create videos about programs.

I call this The Program Trap.

Your organization’s job is to run your programs well. That’s why you care about the details of how they are run. But your audience is hungry for meaning, belonging and purpose.  They want to be a part of something that matters.

The best use of video is not to inform and educate.  It’s to make your audience feel something and through that emotional response, create a connection to your work. As humans, we respond to stories.  Stories about people we can relate to. Stories that show what’s at stake in your work. Stories that inspire us to see ourselves as a part of your story.

It’s about the why, not the what. Showing, not telling.  Feeling, not facts.

Recently, I saw a nonprofit video that claimed to tell ‘the story of [this program].’ But in reality, it was just a list describing what their program does.

So how do you know if you are really telling a story in your video?

Stories have a beginning, middle and end.  They have a protagonist who wants something- that could be a mother wanting a better life for her kids or perhaps your founder who wanted to find a solution to an intractable problem.  They keep people curious by making them ask, “How is this person going to get what they want?” They have tension then resolution.   Not all stories you tell have to be about the people you serve, but I’ve found these to be the most effective and moving.

Whenever I ask employees of non-profits what drives them to keep doing their work, time and time again, they tell me that it’s the stories of people they’ve met through the organization.

That’s where your power to inspire lies.

In my next guest post, I’ll share what I’ve learned about how to translate programs into compelling stories for video.

Does this resonate with your organization’s struggles to represent what you do?  What have you learned about how to encourage your organization to move away from descriptions and towards stories?

8 Interview Guidelines for Capturing the Best Stories

As nonprofits continue to realize the value of storytelling in their print and digital communications, strong interview skills are critical for capturing constituent stories. Interviewing really is an art, as I learned when I first started writing professionally more than a dozen years ago.

These eight guidelines can help you conduct better interviews and accurately capture the most compelling stories.

1. Prepare. Try to get a sense of the person you’re talking to, when possible—look at a photo, a website, historical information, whatever your organization or Google has available. (But don’t make assumptions based on those things.) Spend some time putting yourself in that person’s shoes and considering what their perspective might be. (Might be.)

2. Compile a list of questions. Have an idea of what you hope to cover—you don’t want to waste people’s time with a lack of focus. As you talk (i.e. listen), skip questions that seem less relevant and instead raise questions you hadn’t thought of previously. Skilled interviewers ask the “right” questions and also can tell instinctively when to delve further or move on.

3. Record. You’ll be surprised what you can miss if you’re trying to take notes by hand, either with a pen or keyboard. Make sure you ask permission first, though.

4. Pay closer attention than you think you need to. It’s surprisingly hard to listen, process what you’re hearing and think of the next question to ask quickly. I recently heard a recorded interview where the interviewer summarized what the interviewee said after each question—but got it wrong almost every time. She clearly wasn’t hearing the nuances of what her source was relating. This is also why you record; so you can pay less attention to your notes and more attention to the person talking.

5. Clarify rather than draw conclusions or assume. Remember that you’re trying to gather someone else’s story. In order to clarify what they’re saying, ask “Am I understanding correctly that…?” or “It sounds like…, is that true?” rather than “So, you were X and did Y.” And never judge.

6. Be quiet. Don’t think of interviews as conversations, during which most of us feel pressure to make small talk to fill silences. It’s fine to “Mmm-hmm” or say that you understand (if you do), or to ask for more detail or clarification or just…be silent. Don’t hijack the interview by talking too much.

7. Ask. Always ask if there’s anything else the person wants to share or feels is important for you to know. You might get some of your best information this way. I used to worry that, if given the chance, people would talk my ear off about unrelated things. Sure, it’s happened. When it does, I politely interrupt and say I need to wrap up. But it’s rare; most people are respectful of others’ time and busy themselves.

8. Stay in touch. Make sure you have contact information so you can gather more details and confirm accuracy as you incorporate interviewee stories into your content. Always thank people for sharing, and follow up with samples or links to the related material your org produces.