What makes a nonprofit video Oscar worthy?

publication date: Feb 18, 2015
author/source: Andrew Littlefield
Andrew LittlefieldI only watch one award show all year long – the Academy Awards.

What I really love about the Oscars is that it gives me a whole list of movies to check out, either in theaters or on Netflix throughout the next year. The committee does the hard work of filtering out the snoozers for you and hand you a catered list of great movies that will make you laugh, cry, and love.

As video has increased in popularity online, I think a new Academy Award category for best online video needs to be created. Videos online have evolved from shaky, poor-quality cat videos to high-quality, emotionally-moving masterpieces.

When done properly, video is a powerful storytelling tool that nonprofits would be wise to take advantage of.

The problem is, most nonprofits don’t have Clint Eastwood on their staff to direct a 3-minute video to raise money or tell their story.

But, making a great nonprofit video doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, many of the best videos utilize many of the same elements that you too can harness for your organization.

Let’s hand out some awards of our own for excellence in nonprofit videos!

1. Award - Best Leading Role
Winner - Bedford-Stuyvesant Volunteer Ambulance Corps

This may seem obvious, but if you’re going to put someone on camera, make sure it’s someone who can;

a) be comfortable on camera and

b) speak passionately and authentically about your organization.

The Bedford-Stuyvesant Volunteer Ambulance Corps did a phenomenal job with this in their video. Every individual who takes a turn speaking seems at ease speaking on camera, which makes it feel like a casual conversation with the viewer.

Additionally, you can see their passion for their organization and cause pouring out from them. It’s hard not to get chills hearing them speak about the impact they have on the community.

Finally, their words feel very authentic. They don’t seem overly rehearsed or forced, but natural and from the heart. Viewers can see that authenticity, and that builds trust with potential donors.

2. Award - Use of Music
Winner - 100 Cameras

I have two degrees in music. Something that was always drilled into me during my studies was that music should always be doing one of two things:

1) moving towards something or

2) moving away from something.

But it should never, ever be staying the same.

The music in this video for 100 Cameras captures this perfectly. It starts off light and quiet, but as we progress and learn more about the problem statement and the organization’s solution, the music grows in intensity and volume. This has the effect of pushing the viewer along emotionally, making them feel the issue and not just think the issue. That’s what inspires people to donate.

3. Award - Use of Animations and Data
Winner - Charity: Water

If you don’t absolutely need to say something, don’t say anything. Keeping your video simple and understandable is always better than talking and rambling and distracting your viewer. Charity: Water has mastered this simplicity with the use of graphics, data, music, and not a single spoken word to drive their message home.

The animations are such an effective way to visually convey need rather than aurally. Remember, we humans love visual presentations of data.

4. Award - Best Comedic Feature
Winner - Rainforest Alliance

Evoking strong emotional reactions is a very effective way to make a nonprofit video go viral, but let’s face it: there’s a bit of a flood in the market when it comes to emotional videos in the nonprofit world.

Rainforest Alliance skillfully breaks this mold by going with self-deprecating humor. In their “Follow the Frog” video, Rainforest Alliance pokes fun of the all-too-common “cliche gringo fantasy” of swooping into an impoverished region and saving the day.

They juxtapose this fantasy against a more realistic action supporters can take to help save the rainforest: buying Rainforest Alliance Certified products, or simply “Following the Frog.”

What are your favorite nonprofit videos? Any that you think are Oscar worthy? Let us know in the comments!

Andrew Littlefield is a writer and marketer for WeDidIt, a startup focused on helping nonprofits maximize their fundraising efforts through software solutions.

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