Watch WorkingNation discuss why storytelling is a game-changing fundraising tool, how to craft your organization’s unique story and how to best deliver it — on any budget.
Read below for a full transcript of the conversation.
Tiffany Carter: Hello, my name is Tiffany Carter and I’m the Nonprofit Marketing Director here at First Republic. Thank you, everyone, for joining us today for our Fundraisers Alliance event, the second installment of our fall learning series. Welcome to anyone who’s new to the alliance, and to our members, hello and welcome back — we look forward to seeing you in person, hopefully sometime very soon. If you’re not familiar, our Fundraisers Alliance allows us to bring together First Republic’s nonprofit community in order to deepen fundraising skills, share best practices, and learn from peers and best-in-class service providers, and today’s session focuses on the importance of storytelling.
Who better to provide insights in this space than our friends at WorkingNation? I’m very excited to introduce Joan Lynch and Melissa Panzer. Joan is the Chief Content and Programming Officer at WorkingNation. And she is a television and film executive, having worked at ESPN and ABC News. She has extensive background in news sports and digital programming. Joan has received a Primetime Emmy nomination and is a two-time Peabody Award winner. Melissa is the Executive Producer of Video Content Development and Production and brings more than a decade of experience in media and entertainment to her role at WorkingNation. Melissa began her career at ESPN and has also produced national commercials for Hallmark and Reebok, among others.
WorkingNation, if you’re not familiar, is a media company that tells stories about the future of work. To date, they’ve reached over 50 million people with their content, thanks to distribution partners such as CNN, Time, Forbes, PBS, Comcast and many others. Their mission is to create and distribute powerful stories about the nation’s current and future state of work that educates, inspires and connects people, thereby driving decision-makers to scale solutions that can provide and sustain a thriving workforce. WorkingNation strives to secure the future of working-class Americans by catalyzing C-suite executives, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, educators, legislators and local civic leaders to act in ways that will change the current trajectory of today’s and tomorrow’s workers, and they do this primarily through storytelling.
So we hope you enjoy this session. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions in the chat throughout the event, and thank you for those who are responding to the icebreaker question. You’re welcome to keep doing that. And we’ll also reserve some dedicated time at the end for questions. Thank you so much for joining us, and with that I’m going to turn it over to Joan and Melissa.
Joan Lynch: Good morning, everyone. We are going to put up a little poll here as well. Thank you so much for the kind introduction. And it’s really our pleasure to be talking to you guys today about the power of storytelling. Both Melissa and I, as you heard, come from a background in traditional media. When we created WorkingNation six years ago, together, for our founder, it was really our first experience within the world of not-for-profits. So WorkingNation is a not-for-profit. So we understand the space that you’re in a little bit better, but our goal and our business still is to tell stories. And to engage people and to create change through story. So hopefully some of this will resonate with you. We encourage you to jump in and add questions or comments in the chat. We are watching it, and we’re really excited to get this time with you today. So I just put up the poll. I think you all can see it, that right?
Melissa Panzer: Yeah, we got half participation so far.
Joan: OK, let’s move on. Melissa is running the PowerPoint — there we go. Let’s kick it off.
Melissa: Sure, just — sorry, moving some … gotta see. And OK, so yeah. So we’re going to start with the first step of how to tell a story: distill a cause down to an individual and as I glance over at the poll here, and a lot of you are saying, you know, one person is all you need to tell an impactful story. And basically we would agree. Um, so as we dive right in — and I think this is a good place to start — so large numbers. So, generally speaking, nonprofits, including what we do at WorkingNation, are trying to solve a large-picture problem, and there are lots and lots of numbers and statistics and bits of information that get tossed around when you’re trying to solve that problem. So, for example, at WorkingNation the problem we’re trying to solve is how do we make sure people are gainfully employed over the next 10 years while the future of work and the current work of today is changing so rapidly? And it’s super easy to use statistics and numbers to do that, but it’s far less impactful than when you tell the story of one single person or two single people. So oftentimes what we do when we’re trying to tell a story of, like, an upscaling program or, you know, how programs like — an example I’ll just use called The Last Mile is serving the incarcerated population — how one person’s life can be changed by good training. And that raises high emotions, and so by using one single story to sort of identify that you’re really capturing hearts and minds as opposed to maybe think on a high level about statistics and not the human beings that you’re aligning your mission with. Um, what else, Joan?
Joan: Yeah, I would say one example that I think is probably familiar for all of you is the success of things like GoFundMe. So when you’re seeing total strangers like myself — I’m guilty of it — or maybe it’s a positive, giving money to someone they’ve never heard of or a dog that has been injured or any of that kind of thing. There’s a study, and it shows that by telling a story, a really good story, about a human being, it releases oxytocin in the brain. And oxytocin is what causes you to act, so, you know, this only came out about four years ago — they thought certain physical movements release oxytocin, but storytelling does the same thing. So, you know, going through this with you and, hopefully, helping you and your organizations tell the best story about what you’re doing through an individual — we believe it will increase, and we’ve seen it increase donors and engagement and programs. So we should say that from the get-go — we’ve probably told about 2,000 stories at WorkingNation and a lot of our nonprofits come back and say, “We have increased awareness, for sure, but we’ve increased donors and participation,” so it really does work. And we’ll sort of go through this with you, but back to Melissa’s point. Large numbers like 10 million people unemployed is — it’s interesting, but it’s not motivational, so, you know, let’s dig
Melissa: I would also just quickly add to that it’s a really good hook in, right? Like so saying 10 million people are unemployed, that’s a great way to get people’s attention, but it’s impossible to tell the story of 10 million people so once you’ve got the hook, then you, like, immediately dive into here’s an example of one of those people. OK, moving on. You want to start this one?
Joan: Sure, so, you know, it sounds pretty obvious, but it really is true. It’s what we’re talking about. It’s about how do you engage people emotionally? How do you get someone to care? In our case, WorkingNation, we’re talking about a lot of high — well, let’s just say, a lot of rich people, and we’re talking to them about giving money and focusing on people and situations that they are really not familiar with. So, you know, one of the things we say is how do we make this personal for people? And so, these are just a little, these are some tidbits into how to tell these stories to dive into their personal stories. What is the background of the person? How has the issue at hand affected their life? Sounds obvious. What have been their struggles and their successes? How has your organization helped? A lot of times, one of the things that gets left off of that when people are telling stories is what have been their struggles? When you’re telling a story about a program, oftentimes you really very quickly get to the success of the program and the success of that person. But we encourage you all to spend some serious time when you’re telling these stories talking about the person’s path to whatever it is that your program is providing. And, you know, that to us, and you know there’s a there’s an event that goes around the country and people get up it’s open mic and you talk about what your biggest screwup was, and it’s hugely successful. And LinkedIn folks actually tell us as well that stories about how people were failing or had an issue and came back are the stories that do the best overall on LinkedIn. So, you know, don’t be afraid of diving into that and also if you’re telling a story, sometimes your characters, or your person, will be shy about talking about that, so, you know, we’ll get into it in a little bit, but asking those questions and getting them to feel comfortable about their path is incredibly important, and difficult, so —
Melissa: I’d just quickly add to that, too, that the internet is smart. The people of the internet are smart, and they will sniff out a commercial well beyond, well before it is intended. So when I have, unrelated to nonprofit work, the best feedback I’ve gotten when making like a true commercial is “Oh, my god, I didn’t even realize this was a commercial until the end” and that really is, you always want that, because then your folks, your audience is invested in your story, and you want them — I mean, the goal, the goal should never be, you know, they’ll tune out if they’re not interested and traditional commercials people tune out to. So I’d always encourage when you’re telling your story, or your organization’s story, that you pepper in its objectives and goals, but, you know, you’re much more likely to get people to watch longer if they’re compelled by what they’re watching, and human storytelling will always dominate.
Joan: Right. Sometimes within organizations as well, and then we’ll move on, there’s a difference between your marketing department, if you have a marketing department, and your communications department. As to Melissa’s point, you don’t want to be making commercials. You want to be telling a beautiful story, so you don’t want your logo all over everything. People assume that you do. Tell a beautiful story, and they will wait till the end, and they will become more engaged, and they will love you for it. Otherwise, you know, the watch rate on some of these — the content that we watch, where people try to tell a story, but it becomes a commercial — is very, very small. So, I can’t see the answers to the poll, but I’m assuming, Melissa, you’re saying that most of them got it right.
Melissa: Yes, yes, I mean for this first poll what’s the number of people you need that’s most likely to move someone to action, the 22 of 35 people who have participated in the poll of 53, I might add, so we have some non-poll takers here. 65% said “one,” which, we would say would be the right answer. One to two, sort of depending on how long your story can be.
Joan: We won’t bore you with the research, but it is unbelievably jaw-dropping to see how, if the numbers, in terms of, the amount of money that people give goes down significantly when that number goes up to two, which is very odd, but it supports what we’re talking about. So pick a character and tell a great story about them.
Melissa: Yeah, um.
Joan: We’re going to go into now, just the story arc, and part of, Melissa, I can’t see it, so the next.
Melissa: Oh yes, sorry. So you want me to move on or down one. OK, great.
Joan: One of the most important things when we were talking to the ladies at First Republic about what was key for you guys to think about with your organizations, and that’s why we asked for a little bit of feedback about who was going to be on this, is to know your audience. Sounds simple, but you might have different audiences, and — I think you’re on the wrong slide.
Melissa: Sorry, I’m getting us over. My mouse is moving very slow. There we go.
Joan: There we go. So some of you might say that policymakers are your audience. That is the most important people to get your story in front of, while others will say donors. And the general public might be somebody that, you know, you want to get it out to. So the story can be different, based on those audiences, and should be different. But you really have to know that before you start, you have to know that before you start the story. You have to know that before you get into building the arc. And like I said, some of this sounds incredibly simple but, as most of you know, there’s a lot of content out there, and a lot of it is really bad. So oftentimes when we watch content, or people send us stuff and ask us if we’ll share it on WorkingNation, one of the first things that Melissa or I will say after watching it is, “They have no idea who their audience is.” It’s too broad, and so it doesn’t have impact, so, and the other thing is —
Melissa: And I’ll just add, we struggle. I mean, a lot of organizations struggle with this, so Joan and I are working on a piece of content right now that is not for WorkingNation, for another client nonprofit, and they’re spending a sizable sum of money on this one video — in nonprofit standards — and they can’t tell us exactly who they feel the audience of this piece is, and it’s definitely impacting the quality of the content, because if you can say your bullseye is men 18–24 because your organization is focused on, you know, I don’t know what. You know, consent, let’s just say, and so you want people, 18–34, women and men to be paying attention, then you know that, and we know exactly how to make a piece of content that’s targeting that audience. But if you say it’s about consent, our organization, but we need policymakers to make changes, and we need people to understand what consent means, those are two super different audiences, and how you talk to them needs to be different. So, understanding how you approach that topic, as an example, matters. And it matters when you’re hiring someone to do your work, because otherwise it’s wasting your money.
And then the last bullet here on this page, I would just add, which is about platforms, and that is really important. Which a lot of people tend to not understand, and I don’t just mean people on the outside, I mean people sort of on the inside, too. So when you make a piece of content, there’s three different aspect ratios today that that content could be made in. You know it could be made like this. It could be made like this, and then it could be made like this. And those all — the way you frame for those, the way you edit for those, is different. So when you’re hiring someone or doing it internally it’s really important, I would say, for you to consider where you want the content to live, because it’s much easier to say to someone who’s producing the material, “I need this for, like, an Instagram story, I need this for an Instagram feed, and I need this for a YouTube player.” And then, when you’re shooting the material, you’re framing for all three so there’s like a safe zone, and, you know, a lot of like technical mumbo jumbo. But always know going in where you want the thing to live, and you know, do you want short versions? Do you want long versions? And make that part of the package that you’re looking to accomplish.
Next, there is, did we miss a poll, ladies?
Joan: For some reason I can’t get the poll to move to the second one. So I don’t know.
Meghan Vogel: I can. Do you want me to deploy number two?
Joan: Yeah, that would be great. I think we actually skipped by three, yeah. I don’t know why I’m only seeing number one on my side.
Meghan: No worries. Are you seeing it?
Joan: Yeah, there you go.
Melissa: This is yes.
Joan: We would love for you to answer this question, you know —
Melissa: All 56 of you.
Joan: Melissa’s a big shamer. That’s very effective as well.
Melissa: Um, well, people are moving very quickly through this one, this poll.
Joan: And they know. It’s interesting.
Melissa: Um, yeah, so I’ll hang on a second, actually, before moving to the next slide, so we get — wow, people are going very fast! The shaming is working with this group. We’re up to 42 out of 56.
Joan: General public. Interesting.
Melissa: But can you see the results, as this is going? I don’t know, yes?
Joan: I can. I don’t know.
Tiffany: I think you need to publish them.
Melissa: I have to end the poll to do that. Should I do that? 82%. There are 10 stragglers, but I’m going to end the poll now. You can make it up on the next one. OK. Here we go. So, general public 33%, policymakers 4%, donors 63%. I wish we had, maybe in the chat? I’m curious to know, when people say donors, are you big donors, or like, you know, 50 bucks here, 50 bucks there? I presume big donors, but I’d be curious to know if people want to share that somewhere. Um, should we move on?
Melissa: OK, cool.
Joan: Major donors. I like it, Victoria. Major donors.
Melissa: Good. OK, so the essence of establishing drama. Somebody wants something but has trouble getting it. I think that’s pretty straightforward. I’ll move on. Um, OK, so this is, like, pretty basic I would say, but it’s always good for a refresher. In fact, I refresh myself with this information before we tell any story, and I spend every day of my life telling stories. So, the three-part structure of effective storytelling. And I would say, like, you take anything away from this meeting, this is the slide, like, to take a screenshot of and pin to your wall the next time you want to tell a story.
So, there’s a problem. So oftentimes people leave that out, especially if you are not-for-profit, because you think — in our case, this happens, too — everybody already knows the problem. That’s why we exist. But they don’t. So you have to establish the problem, and sometimes, by the way, you can establish the problem with, like, a black card on the screen with just like a simple sentence of text, and that’s a great place to use 10 million people are out of work as an example. It opens the door for whatever story you’re about to tell. So right, so this is the thesis statement of your charity’s mission, what is the issue that you’re looking to solve, how is the issue affecting the subject on a personal level — health, well-being, family, etc. — and what does your subject hope for in the future? Honestly, like, if you get into all of that, great. But if you can capture the problem simply, efficiently and quickly, that can be just as effective. So, you know, the 100 million out of work, I mean the 10 million out of work is a great example.
Then we want to introduce the conflict. And again, oftentimes conflict can be complicated for nonprofit storytelling, because you do not want to point your finger at anybody. I mean, we face this struggle all the time. So who is the responsible party for creating the problem? And even if you don’t want to point a finger at them in your piece of content, it’s really important you know who that is. And so, and there are ways to soften the blow. So for WorkingNation, we don’t ever really say there’s one particular person that’s responsible for this problem. There’s a collective group of beings that’s responsible: People aren’t trained enough; education systems are broken; the government didn’t prioritize it on whatever side of that fence you’re on. You know, we really keep it broad, because the truth is the conflict, the villain in this story is like everyone. It’s just depending on how you approach it.
So, what is the obstacle that stands in the way of your subject attaining their dreams? So you likely have moved into the personal story at this point. And as a WorkingNation example, you know, maybe we have someone that was fired from a manufacturing facility, they never went to college, maybe they didn’t even graduate high school. Those are examples of what’s standing in their way. The job that they’d be looking for next is not available anymore, because jobs have changed. So how do those barriers exists on a personal, environmental, political, or societal level. It’s expensive to go back to school, they don’t have proper childcare, they don’t know what to study where they’ll make more money. And how do these oppositions affect your subjects daily? So, in our case, like they’re not making enough money to survive, they have to sell their car, or their, you know, move, or all these things that are — I’m sorry to say this, but the worse, the better, right? The harder it feels, the better the story likely is. And how do they feel about their situation at hand? I mean, Joan and I have a funny sad back and forth, where we talk about, like, when you’re doing an interview how many times you’ve made someone cry. And it’s like that’s a measure of success when you’re talking about someone’s personal conflict. So, you know, oftentimes we don’t use the crying parts because they’re too dramatic. But making — getting people to feel and explore really feeling low is important when you’re in that, sort of, second act.
And then the resolution. And this is where your program is the hero and saves the day. How they’ve come to terms — they got a scholarship, you know, the grant came in to play and they were able to do your program, they found a program that otherwise didn’t exist that was for people that had low incomes, or they provide childcare, or whatever. And so, um, so yeah. So this is the value proposition of your specific organization. Has your organization demonstrated change that’s impacted the lives of your subjects? So you always want the answer to that to be yes, of course. And then, if it’s not, which you hope it is, but if it’s not, what offerings does your proposal provide that will ultimately improve the quality of life? So that’s, like, a pretty standard story structure I would say. You can certainly break that structure, but you better understand it before you decide to break it. Anything else, Joan?
Joan: I would say one thing that’s important also within the area of conflict or having a bad guy in a story is to remember — we say this to people all the time — do not believe the media that this country is so divergent that it is us versus them. The media — I’m in the media, so I will tell you that’s what they do. But your donors might surprise you. So the more, you know, we see a lot of stuff that is very partisan, and we’ll go down a direction of, like, politically. Just be careful of that. I know it is a knee-jerk thing to do, but I — it would surprise you how many people might support your program but would be really turned off because it becomes political. So if you don’t have to do it, and your program isn’t set up that way, then I would say just really be careful and shy away from it. And you’ll be surprised, who gives you money. But —
Melissa: Yeah, so to the beginning of the point Joan was making, conflict is the core of every story. So with no conflict there is no uncomfortableness, and your solution is not needed. So, here is why. Right? Contrast is essential for a story — you want to do this one?
Joan: Sure, yeah, we use the term “rational panic” at WorkingNation. You do want to make people uncomfortable, and listen, I had a three-hour call last night about a piece of video that we’re making, and the people we were making it for said it made them uncomfortable. And we said, “Great! That’s exactly what we were going for.” And it is going to be a piece of content that’s going to be hugely successful because — you’re in it, and it just feels like, god, there’s a problem to be solved. And then it connects to a person, and then you want to help. So, you know, don’t shy away from it. Again, if you’re doing interviews with people that have gone through your program, make sure you’re asking about that. You know, I think it’s really key — we didn’t put this necessarily on it, but the person that’s asking those questions should really be prepared to ask questions that they might not normally ask. They might normally ask, “What is the program? What did it do for you? Where are you now?” But make sure that if you’re if you’re diving into it, and you’re telling the story, that you really are taking them back through some of the conflict and some of the uncomfortableness. So, we don’t want to shy away from that.
You know that this is something that you guys know: Blue-sky stories ring hollow. You know, people will tune out. We’ve seen it. We track, on the content side, how long people watch a piece of content. We saw a blue-sky story yesterday, and it was four seconds that people were watching it. Whereas there’s other stories that we tell where we’re using this story arc that Melissa described, really, really well. And you’re having people that are — the completion rate is 96, 97% — very high. So you know, we do know from a data perspective that this works.
And then, at the end something that we talked about: Revealing the ugly truth adds gravitas, and it really does create a sense of urgency. And having looked through what you guys put from the icebreaker, you know, you have some really interesting and very important programs that you guys are working on. I’m going to research all of these programs. I’m fascinated by them. So I don’t think it’s going to be hard for you necessarily to find what that ugly truth is, and I believe if you’re working for these organizations you already feel a sense of urgency yourself. We’re just hoping that, in this presentation we’re going to help you to tell your story the best way possible to make money — which is the goal — from the major donors, which is what most people said. Major donors.
Melissa: So, I will take this one. Because I have a lot of opinions on this.
Joan: She does.
Melissa: So allowing your visuals to speak. So this is a major problem that storytelling suffers from. Telling — saying too many words is not as impactful as showing really strong compelling imagery on the screen. Visual storytelling involves the use of graphics, pictures and videos to engage viewers in an effort to drive emotion and motivate an audience to action. What I will add to this, which we don’t have a slide on, so now’s a good time to talk about. Sound design, music, sound effects helps with this tremendously. So you want to be thinking about the sort of three-dimensional experience that your viewer will have, and if you don’t have compelling B roll in your piece that is personal — you know, like showing big groups of people doing stuff — is fine, but you have to get into the small story details, and camerawork matters, and the color palette matters, and we live in a time, for better or worse, where small storytelling needs to compete with big storytelling. And if your piece of content isn’t as visually compelling — I mean, unless you, like, are making a video of, like, a cat on a Roomba falling into a pool of water, which Joan mentioned yesterday on our three-hour conversation about this, then you’re going to — if that’s not, if you’re making something to compete about that, that’s always going to win. But if you’re competing against another story, yours needs to feel powerful, and you do that by ensuring strong visual references.
So, when we make a piece of content, if we’re working with a new director, for example, we board out stuff. And I don’t mean like board out, do storyboards necessarily, of the piece of content. I mean sometimes that’s helpful and sometimes it’s not necessary. But I mean like, we asked them for visual references. What does the light look like in your head? What is the colors in the back, like, what does this part look like? And you know, like what are you communicating? Are they on a white wall? Are they this size? Are they this size in their interview? Like, all those things help drive the story, and they’re important. So, here, so consider what will be shown on the screen. So beyond the interview footage, right? Which will drive the narrative of your story likely. But beyond that, what elements can be recorded to add color, life, texture to your narrative? So some examples: local community events, a family dinner. I will tell you, time and time again, meals are a home run. Like they are always a useful thing to film because people show lots of ranges of emotions in family meals. They’re doing an action that’s distracting so it’s easier for them to forget that the camera is there. They engage with one another. And it’s sort of like, you can kind of use a meal anywhere when people are talking about, like, being with your family, or together time, or whatever. Another one that’s not on here is like a walk in a park, or down the street, or a physical activity. Going on a run. Those things are super useful when you’re just like trying to fill space. A subject’s commute to work. That’s always really good. There’s good background stuff usually. You can film them walking out of their house. If you do it at five o’clock in the morning you can do a while the sun’s coming up. Like it’s really thinking about, like, what is their day look like and how can I track with them.
And then, this next point is super important. Locations and establishing shots visually communicate a great deal of information in a short amount of time. So if you’re filming something and all you do is film the inside of a building, you’re keeping the filming really small. Like, that’s what, I don’t know how else to explain it. It feels like you’re in a little space with no breadth. And as soon as you dig the camera outside and you film the front of the office building, or someone walking from their car into the office building, all of a sudden you’re giving it a breath. And you can, I mean, if you watch a sitcom — it happens all the time, right? They’re on a stage for the whole show, but whenever they’re going into a new location, someone’s apartment or house, they cut to an exterior of the building, and that gives it a feeling of, like, openness. So that’s an important thing to remember. And does it — and then these are some other things that helps establish — does the story take place in a rural environment, an urban environment, is there a visual contrast that can be shown? You know, is the building in a large field, and then the person is working in a small desk? It gives you contrasting feelings about the story you’re trying to tell.
And then does the footage you’re showing pertain to the issue at hand? So whether recording on the fly, or purchasing from stock video websites, which by the way, is a totally fine thing to do. We do that all the time. Does this footage serve the story you’re trying to tell? If the answer is no, don’t use it. Like, you know, we did a shoot recently about a single mom for something and we filmed this whole, like, super elaborate yoga — she was doing yoga — and it like made zero sense to use in the piece, so we just tossed it and used something else. So that’s OK. It’s fine to film things that you end up never needing to use. And, and then also this thing about graphics and statistics, if you’re including infographics or statistical data, is it clear how it relates back to your subject? The other thing I would include in that is make sure that that information is done in a way that elevates your piece of content. So if you have, like, beautifully shot footage and you just, like, throw some white text on the screen or black text on the screen, and the font just doesn’t match the tone, it’ll stick out. So you want to be aware of, sort of — it all needs to feel like a cohesive package. Anything to add?
Joan: No, that’s excellent. Always shoot more than you think you need.
Melissa: That’s right. Yeah, I mean, I would just quickly add to that, if you are going to make, like, a four-minute thing, that four-minute thing, probably you need to shoot, like, for four days.
Joan: I think that’s one of the things that we’ve learned over the years. It will surprise you what you end up using. So you know, as we said, we can’t say it enough, and you know, we understand from some cases this is a budget issue for folks. But if you’re shooting for a day use the whole day, shoot as much as you possibly can. You’ll be, you’ll be surprised what you end up using. But I couldn’t agree more with Melissa. You really want to get people engaging with one another just for B-roll. That’s just having people sit down and talking heads. Melissa referred to the piece that we’re working on now, where unfortunately, the client doesn’t know who their audience is. We have 15 interviews that are just talking heads, and a couple of shots of them walking around and doing hikes. It’s incredible, this is an incredibly difficult piece of content, because as Melissa says, every day, to me, what are we putting on the screen and —
Melissa: What are we going to see?
Joan: What are we going to see? And the answer should not be a talking head. So incredibly important. So we’re going to go through the “in conclusion” here. Mind your p’s and q’s. And then if it’s all right, we’ll open it up for some questions or some thoughts. And happy also to share some content that we’ve made that we think could be representative of some examples that you guys might want to try. But why don’t we go through this?
Melissa: Yeah. So, in conclusion, mind your p’s and q’s. So, people, this page obviously, you know, print out and pin behind the other one.
People: spotlight subjects that make this care, relate and emotionally invest in the cause. These should be as few individuals as possible and people you want to root for. You know, mom making a career change when dad is super supportive, but they also take care of their kids — really good story of mom. You know, getting dad crying at the graduation —really good story of mom.
Place: location adds depth, relevance, and intrigue to your story. Ensure that all look locations being highlighted are relevant to your subject and our cause. So, like, don’t go film B-roll in Indiana when you’re telling a story that’s in Montana. Plot. I mean, you can, but make sure it’s not, we can’t tell its Indiana. Don’t film the Capitol building in, you know, Indiana.
Plot: Finding the conflict, struggle or tension will hook the viewer and generate intrigue. Without compelling conflict, a story can come across as a fluff piece. Most important thing to take away, that is true. Don’t make fluff pieces. Make compelling, uncomfortable, strong pieces of content, because that is what people want to watch.
Purpose: What is the essence, the meaning of the story you’re telling? The more impactful your messages, the more it will resonate with the viewer.
All four should serve to answer the central questions: Why is your organization dedicated to this cause? How will/does its effort create meaningful, life-altering change? And that’s it. Thank you.
Should I stop sharing this slide? Ladies? Tiffany?
Tiffany: Sure, I can see, we can see more of you then.
Joan: Good, now I can see some faces of our participants. Yeah, we’d love to open it up to some questions if people have questions? Or issues that they’re struggling with their own organization?
Tiffany: Do we want to invite people to come off mute and just ask questions, or in the chat if that would be more comfortable for them? I have one just to kick it off actually, since I spent 15 years of my career in the nonprofit sector prior to this. So what would you say are some of the takeaways for nonprofits who aren’t necessarily familiar with the video space? But how can some of the storytelling techniques maybe translate if it’s not a visual storytelling piece that they’re working on?
Melissa: Yeah, I mean, this presentation is for a podcast, it’s for a written piece of content. It’s like, you know, we tell, video storytelling is our, like, number one. But I don’t think there’s one thing we said here that’s not true for any, you know, type of media. And in fact, I would say that some of those other points that you would normally think are just for video are some of the most valuable things for other types of media storytelling. So if you’re writing a story, and you talk to me about, like you know, just think about this, right, like we’re in the — you’re telling me that we’re in someone’s kitchen. What does the kitchen look like? What does it smell like? What does it sound like? Like, build an environment for me to know what your subject is experiencing. Same thing if you’re doing an audio story. Like don’t kill me with sound effects, but like if a tea kettle really is going off, let me hear the tea kettle. Like, give me the atmosphere so I can experience what this person is living through.
Joan: Yeah, I would add to it, I think this also is an effective way to raise money as a, just a pitch, as a story that you’re telling to a donor. It doesn’t have to be written, or a podcast. I use these techniques every day when I do — because I’m the I’m the main fundraiser for WorkingNation — so having this plan in place before you meet with a donor and telling them a story that is compelling to them, you really will have much better, much better results. I also think, and I’m going to tell one quick story. There was, I was meeting with a woman that ran a not-for-profit that takes women out of, when they come out of prison, and puts them into a home and gives them some life lessons before they go into work. And this woman couldn’t tell her own story about her program, but one of the side comments that she made to me was a story about one of the women that came out of this program that went into the home. And what this what they would do is get them jobs in a mall at a kiosk. And they had an agreement with this mall that they would get these women jobs there and they would take care of them. Well, one of their women said, “I can’t go to work at that kiosk. I was arrested 15 times at that mall. And I punched a security guard in the face last time, and that’s why I went to prison. And so, I can’t work there.” And she went on to tell me that she pushed and pushed and pushed. She got the woman the job at the kiosk. Within a week, the woman came back to the woman running this not-for-profit and said, “Do you know someone in security at the mall? I think I can help them.” So, this shoplifter had a skill. And when she was working at the kiosk, all of a sudden, she started to see that she could tell when people were stealing from other stores. That woman now works in security at the mall, her kids are in school, she has health insurance. So, when I was talking to the woman that runs the not-for-profit who’d gone through numbers with me and skills stories, and I went back and said, “That’s your story. That when you go to funders, that’s your story. That’s a success story.” There’s an actual story arc there of that woman’s life. And so you don’t have to, I would say, use these skills as well if you’re just going into put someone in their office to get them to invest or donate.
Melissa: I have two quick things. One is just in addition to what Joan was saying, which is knowing — unrelated to video, writing, podcasting, whatever — knowing your organization’s own story is like super important. So if you don’t know that? Work it out. Like be able to — because any piece of content that gets created needs to know what your story is. So I would add that. And then there’s a question in the chat that I will just quickly answer regarding iPhones. iPhones? Totally great option. I mean, like there are lots of tips and tricks that you can learn. What I would suggest about that is there are add-ons that you can get, like lens packages and audio components. During the pandemic American Idol filmed all of their in-home auditions on iPhones. So like, you’re, it’s limitless. But you just need someone in your organization that’s, like, interested in learning. Like is there a techie person that’s interested in learning about, like, what the cool stuff is? And if there is, it’s a great opportunity to give them some power in the organization and sort of say, like, find out. You have a budget of $500, let’s say. Find out what the best lens or add-on lenses are, or is there an audio kit that plugs into the bottom, the microphone jack? Or you know, can we get one panel light that, like, helps, you know, you put here, you put here, or whatever. I mean there are so many — an iPhone is not a limiting tool. So I would lean into that. I mean Joan and I have explored using iPhones for a lot of things, I mean a movie won a very large award at the Sundance Film Festival that was exclusively shot on an iPhone, actually vertically. So like there are lots of ways to use an iPhone. I would never let that limit you.
Caitlin Gassert: I have one. I have a question. Particularly for fundraisers raising money, how do you balance telling a really compelling story and maintaining your client or constituent’s dignity?
Melissa: What do you mean “dignity”? I would just, I would just want to clarify.
Caitlin: Just making sure that it’s not something that feels like you’re exploiting that person or their story and being really respectful of it in the same moment. So you want to pull heartstrings and you want to have that conflict that you talked about. How you guys want to make sure you’re not completely exploiting the person whose story you’re sharing?
Joan: You know I think, number one, which is the easy answer, I think you really want to — you want to choose your character going into the story. And if your, if the person that you pick you do not believe is going to be comfortable going there? And someone in this in this chat had mentioned that they worked, I think, with a Boston area Rape Crisis Center — very difficult story to tell. Most people, I would say, are probably not as comfortable telling that story. So, if possible, finding somebody that is willing, that is the best possible — you know, do a pre-interview. Are you comfortable with this? And then I would say, you know, giving them dignity within the interview. Melissa and I just did an interview with someone that we’re very familiar with who’s a veteran who tried to commit suicide twice. He did not succeed, he’s still here. Hence, we’re doing the interview with him. And he talked about trying to commit suicide and he kind of, to the side, said, “Well, I wrote my children a goodbye letter.” And then he just kept going. And by the end of the interview, you know, Melissa was like, “What was in the letter?” And he didn’t want to say it. And, but we knew, what we were gently saying, like, you love your children you’re saying goodbye.
Melissa: I was not gentle about it.
Joan: Yeah. And we did make him cry. And he did tell us. And we got the most powerful statement out of it when we said, “What did you say to your children in that letter?” And this is a veteran — an award-winning veteran who did unbelievable things for our country. And he said, “In the letter, I said to my children, ‘I hope you don’t grow up to be a coward like your father.’” And so, but it got — I don’t — it’s not completely answering your question. It’s taking somebody through that process and getting them to be brutally honest, but they also have to agree going in. Because, you know, we didn’t say this but, of course, you have to get clearances. Of course, you have to — anybody that you’re interviewing you have to get them to sign something that says, you can use their likeness.
I think, respectfully you have to let them know that you’re going to go there. And let them know also that their story is a part of an effort to make sure maybe that doesn’t happen to someone again. Or that someone doesn’t end up in this situation. So they feel sort of empowered to tell their story because they feel like something good will come out of it. Somebody else’s life will be affected, or will be better because they’re willing to share their story.
Melissa: I have a little bit of, like a vain response actually to this, which is you are exploiting them. Like, that’s just true. And that’s not bad, right? Like, they’re signing up to tell their story and literally by doing that you’re exploiting their story. But in exploiting their story — like that has such a negative connotation. We’re not, like, making a reality TV show where we’re twisting their truth. We’re, like, taking their story, exploiting it for the greater good, and saying, to Joan’s point, we are telling this story to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. Or to show that this should happen again. Or whatever it is. But the word exploitation, in this context, doesn’t have to be bad.
Joan: Right, right.
Melissa: More? Who else? Anybody else? Questions?
Joan: Reading all the programs,
Melissa: I know you guys have, like, the best programs there are. It’s like the best stories. Like I want to make your stories.
Tiffany: Joan, you had mentioned possibly sharing an example or two of stories that you’ve worked on. Do you have anything that you’d be willing to share with the group?
Joan: In video form?
Tiffany: Whatever your … whatever form you want.
Tiffany: If it’s going to be hard to dig up, don’t worry.
Joan: No, I’m just trying to think of — I’m trying to think of some of the ones that are our favorites. I know The Last Mile is one of — if you’re not familiar with that, Melissa mentioned that it’s the story about folks being trained in prisons? And we can share with Tiffany and she can share with all of you some links to some videos that we think are the best in terms of storytelling. But I think, you know, back to what we had in the in the presentation. You want people to be upset. You want people to feel like there is a problem and I need to solve it. One of the documentaries we’re working on right now is about returning medics who come out of the military, they come back, and they don’t have any credit towards PA school, or EMT school. And there’s a suicide rate for these folks, and, you know, these are — they’ve got a million dollars’ worth of training and during COVID they weren’t allowed to give COVID shots in most states. So, we’re doing a documentary on the people that are trying to change that, and when you start to tell that kind of stuff, people get enraged. And so, tying it back to something, you know, current. COVID made it easy for us to tell this story, because there was such a shortage, and so there’s so much attention being paid to medical providers, and doctors, and nurses, and frontline people. Essential became different to us in the year of COVID. So it’s, you know, I would say also, you know, it’s not in our packet, but we do talk a lot about how can you tie it to something that feels very current right now to get people engaged.
Melissa: I have something that we did not make, but that I think we should show. It’s one minute, if that’s OK.
Melissa: Does that works for everybody? OK, so I’m going to see here if I can, like, do it. All right, so screen-share this.
Joan: I’m curious to see what this is.
Melissa: OK, so here we go. Let me refresh.
Vide narrator (video shared by Melissa): Years ago, when I was asked this question, you know, “What degree gives you the highest chance of success in a career?” Number one would have been engineering. Number two engineering. Number three engineering. And generally, it’s the graduating cohort of engineers, and about a third of those classes go on to take their ideas, turn them into patents, turn them into businesses. But I’ve changed my mind in the last two years, and I’ll tell you why, Evan. Since the pandemic hit, the number one demand I have from my companies are people that can take the concept of the business and tell a story about it, produce a video, do really rich photography, build out 59-second, 39-second, 29-second videos, 14-second videos to plaster all over social media to sell product direct to customer. So if you’re a graduate from the arts, or you’re a writer, or you’re a photographer, or an editor or videographer, all of a sudden, I’m paying you $150,000, and I would have thought I could have hired you for nothing because you’re a starving artist.
Melissa: Anyway, so I think that’s sort of where we’re going, and you know, he says it, it’s obviously true.
Joan: Anybody else?
Rehana Farrell (she/her) | Youth INC: I came off mute before to just say thank you to Caitlin for raising the issue that she did. I do think this has been really helpful and constructive. You guys did a great job and I totally agree with what that guy just said in the clip, and it’s something that our organization doesn’t do as well as we need to yet. But it is a really tricky space to navigate avoiding poverty porn and not perpetuating the status quo of people feeling good by other people, like, their hardship, right? So it’s just it’s something that the whole sector is grappling with in a much more upfront way than we ever have before. And so I think it’s just really important for us all to acknowledge that on this call. That it is a really tricky thing. So I appreciate Melissa’s honesty. It’s like, you are exploiting them. You are exploiting them to advance your mission. Like, yes, that is true. And at the same time, like, how do we, as people who deeply care about our missions, whatever they are — and it’s a wide swath of missions on this call — you know, not try to perpetuate the way philanthropy works today by making people feel good, and you know, like I’ll say in, like one example would be, like, the white savior complex. So like, you don’t — people in our organizations don’t want to perpetuate that, and yet we still need to make rent and payroll. So it’s a really tricky space that we navigate, and so it might be, Tiffany, that this is like a future seminar that we can all grapple with a little bit more, because I know it’s up for all of us, so thank you, Caitlin, for raising it.
Melissa: What do you, what does your organization do?
Rehana: We are an intermediary of 75 youth development organizations in New York City helping young people largely living at, or below, the poverty line.
Joan: I wanted to say, I know we’re running out of time, so I wanted to say one quick thing, which is incredibly important. When we’re talking about storytelling, do not hesitate to fundraise for storytelling. Oftentimes you’re fundraising for your program. There are people out there that will absolutely and want to fund stories, but a lot of nonprofits don’t think to ask that. So people that understand story and understand media, they understand that’s the multiplier effect. You get it in front of more people, they’ll understand your program. So don’t hesitate when you’re fundraising to ask people if that’s something that they’re willing to fund.
Melissa: Encourage them to fund, I would say.
Joan: Yeah, it’s true. We actually did a story about a fishery program in Rhode Island. And they had only ever had people apply for the jobs from Rhode Island and Massachusetts, in that area of the country, a little bit from Virginia. And it’s a little apprentice program. We did it and they ended up getting people apply from every state and internationally, for this fishing apprenticeship in Rhode Island. And they got a lot more donors, and a lot more people went to the program, so it’s just telling a story can make an absolute huge difference in your funding and in the in the overall growth of your program.
Tiffany: Well, I want to be mindful of time. I want to thank Melissa and Joan so much for your time today, for sharing your insights and wisdom. Thank you all who have joined us today, and we will be sharing some details with you, after this via email, including some of those links, I’m excited to see Joan, of some examples of some excellent content that you all have produced. Thanks again, everyone. I hope you have a wonderful day.
Joan: Thanks, guys!
William Kelly: Thanks!
Mary-Catherine Deibel – CCAE: Thank you! It was great!