Fundraising videos can be a powerful tool, when done right. Some advice…

When you have a problem with donor retention, you have an expensive problem. Most likely you can pinpoint the reason. It’s lackluster donor communications. Donors fail to make an emotional connection. They lose interest.

But through video, you can nurture donor relationships.

Every donor needs to connect

You devote staff time for one-to-one communications with major donors. That’s essential. But even small and mid-range donors need a personal connection. Video can be your workhorse for reaching these donors. It’s like having an extra staff person out there telling your story with passion … taking donors on a personal tour to see the work and the results.

What should a fundraising video be about?

It’s not about you. It’s about the donor. All your communication needs to be donor-centric. Your donors are heroes who make things happen. So the topic is not your organization so much as it’s about the donor’s essential role.

Beware the curse 

Your staff knows so much about your organization, and that’s a hurdle. The book “Made to Stick” calls this the curse of knowledge. What’s most interesting to your staff is rarely that interesting to your donors. Donors don’t really care about the details of your programs. They are interested in the big picture and the why. Why your nonprofit helps others (“to save lives,” “to end hunger,” “to give kids a brighter future”). Should they support you? Is your approach the best one and why? Work to inspire donors, not educate.

Ways to make your video effective

• Just because it’s video, doesn’t mean it will work. Content needs to be relevant and engaging.

• Look for ways to add powerful emotional triggers. Fear and hope. Anger and love. Deep emotions engage us, and influence every rational decision we make.

Be bold. Show passion for your mission. It can be tempting to avoid talking about difficulties. But it’s much more effective to be transparent. Show the obstacle, and the hero who struggles and wins. Donor communication fails when it’s milquetoast. Drama reels us in.

• If there is a secret to great fundraising videos, it is storytelling. Taking on the role of storyteller can sound intimidating, but it’s as simple as introducing a person, their dilemma and showing them overcome the problem. Consider those Ice Bucket Challenge videos: setup the challenge (our hero is about to be hit over the head by ice), the hero takes on the challenge (shows bravery as they are showered by ice), and overcomes the challenge (hero’s happy reaction in the end).

Stories are the only thing people remember for long. And the only thing that truly moves us.

How to get a great ROI

Maybe you produce only one fundraising video a year for your big annual event. But then what do you do with it? I find this mystifies many nonprofits. You can put that video to work year round. Here are some tips.

1. Do more than post to YouTube. Take the next step and use the code from YouTube to embed the video in your nonprofit’s homepage. Make sure you use video SEOtricks. Also work on a short catchy title, but make it more descriptive than cute so people can find the video through search.

2. Place the video on your homepage above the fold so it’s prominent. Make sure it plays on your homepage, and doesn’t send you off to another site for viewing. And remember: Adding video engages people so they stay longer on your website — and this raises your ranking in Google search, so you reach even more people.

3. Repurpose your fundraising video. Edit your big video down to a preview or teaser version for posting on YouTube with a link to your homepage to see more. Or cut your longer video into sections and post each section on YouTube, again with a link to your homepage to see more. But remember the goal is not just to be seen on YouTube, but to draw people to your website.

4. Add video to your email newsletters. The technology is not yet there for every email program to play video right from the inbox. You can use a thumbnail image that opens the landing page for your video. Also think of adding a snippet of just audio in the email. How great to click and hear a thank you from someone you helped.

A Few More

5. Create a short version for social media. Post it on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram. Look up what length and type of video works best for each social media platform.

6. Make sure your fundraising videos have links for social media so donors can share them. One of the very best places for your video is on the social media feed of your donors because then it reaches their friends.

7. Does your main video end with a soft ask? You could edit versions with different calls to action at the end, and put them to different uses.

8. When you look at the cost of a fundraising video, add up everything you get in return. It’s more than donations at your gala. You will also show the video at other gatherings over the year. You’ll share it when visiting major donors and other influential people. Also count the increased number of web visitors and see how they stay longer on your site when they watch the video … because you’ve engaged them. Add in all the other people reached by the video through social media, as well as through your email newsletters and other email campaigns. There are so many ways you can put your video to work.

The bottom line

As a result, you also need to consider the high cost of losing donors. But you can do something about it. Video raises awareness, nurtures donor relations and inspires people to take action. Video needs to play a major role in your marketing. I don’t think it’s extreme to say that without video your outreach is limited.

Originally posted on


Mary is a freelance video producer in Seattle. She creates videos for you that help your business or nonprofit grow. Visit her LinkedIn page, and see her videos on Vimeo. You can reach her at