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Video has the power to stir emotion, unlike other forms of media, yet, it is underutilized by many nonprofits and markets who fear that the medium is too challenging to get right.
We've sat down with Coury Deeb and Ryan Galanaugh of Nadus Films to break this misconception so that nonprofits can understand how to create effective, enticing, and engaging videos that touch hearts and drive donations for your organization. Don't worry about having a big budget set aside; you can create a video that works at any price.
Why should nonprofit organizations care about video? What are some general industry stats that you can share with our listeners?
Story is an age-old power tool to get messages across. We see it back even on the drawings of caves, thousands and thousands of years ago, so stories are nothing new. At Nadus Films, we believe that story is the most effective, powerful tool to get a message across, whether you're selling something or you're saving lives in your city or thousands of miles away. Story lives best within the context of video; we believe that's the most potent deliverable. However, you've got newsletters, emails, and even face-to-face conversations where stories, if utilized properly, will have the most effective outcome with what you want to do. That's ultimately changing lives, impacting hearts, and in the nonprofit sector, it's donations, it's giving.
Stories have always played a role, more importantly though, like in the past year and a half. With Nadus Films, we've seen an increase in the need and desire for story because content can't be created fast enough. We've got the pandemic, and we're slowly kind of thawing from that, but it was important before, and now it's just critical for nonprofits and brands to deliver properly told stories in their capacity. There are thousands of statistics, but some of the ones that we've landed on are 85% of marketers say that video is an effective way to get attention online. A couple of others: viewers claim they retain 95% of messages when obtained via video, and 85% of people would like to see more videos from brands this coming year.
Those percentages have jumped in the double digits, 10, 20, 30% higher, simply because people consume content faster. Therefore, brands, missions, and nonprofits need to catch up better and utilize stories to serve their mission.
I feel like statistics are such low-hanging fruit. It's so easy to ramble all the powerful statistics on why content is king and video is such a powerful tool. What impresses me most about video and storytelling through the visual conduit form is that current donors and future donors take action based on emotion. They justify their actions with logic, but first comes emotion, and I can't think of a better tool to help evoke emotion than through visual storytelling. You hear the saying, a picture's worth a thousand words. Well, how much more is a video?
When communicating verbally and in written form, it's difficult to truly evoke emotion, especially quickly. In comparison, video can do that. The statistics are overwhelming; they’re easy to pull out. For me, it's more about evoking emotion, and that's what video does. And that's why I think people should care about it.
I think about the Super Bowl, everyone loves those commercials, and every year there's a mix of something inspiring or something funny. It tells a story about whatever that brand is identifying itself with. It's what people talk about the Monday afterward, almost more than what happened in the game.
Who cares about the game, right? It's all about the commercial—the halftime.
Did you see that commercial? Something else, especially with this generation that's coming up, they want to be a part of brands that have stories. They want to donate, buy, and give towards causes that aren't just a name but that have a story. When those brands are not telling their story properly, they're slowly becoming less relevant in this day and age, especially with the past couple of years ramping up the critical need for stories to be developed and told properly. Notice I say properly because many people tell bad stories, and we can get into that. But if you're not telling a story, then you're being left behind.
What are some myths that nonprofit leaders might believe regarding video? What are those myths, and what are some responses you might have to those myths?
There are many myths around video production in general that nonprofits see and frequently avoid [video] entirely because of this. Typical film myths are, I'm not a filmmaker, I don't know what I'm doing. I'm just going to step out and just kind of ignore this facet of what could be a powerful donation-generating tool. Or, I don't know how to tell a story; I’ve never been a good storyteller. I'm just going to leave that to other people. Those are the two most common. And then, of course, three, it's expensive. Those are the three most powerful. I'm not a professional, I don't know how to tell a story, and it's too expensive.
We've been doing this for over 16 years, mainly in the nonprofit space. Those top three myths are often what we come face-to-face with. The reality is that many nonprofits can't afford quality production companies to come in and just do a powerhouse job in telling their story, as important as that is. That doesn't mean they shouldn't do it. There are other tools out there. For the first time in history, the accessibility to having quality tools to tell your story is at our fingertips; the smartphones.
What you carry around day in and day out can capture great footage, as well as audio. That's one of the things that we teach as part of Nadus Institute. If the tools are right before you, understanding often lacks the knowledge of how to tell that story. That's like any type of formula or recipe; just because you've had a good cake doesn't mean you know how to make a really good cake. You know what the ingredients are, but there's a process. There's a formula to execute something that's quality, really good, but you don't need the best ingredients to make a great cake.
As an executive director or a development director at an organization, I feel like the assumption is so often we think XYZ organization needs to create that standard two-minute master promo piece. You see it at every single gala that you attend, which eventually lives on the homepage of your website. That is a powerful tool. There's more opportunity to look at other forms of video storytelling in more of the micro arena. There's just a myriad of other types of videos that I think we're going to talk about a little bit later that you can produce that are easier, more cost-effective, and potentially more powerful.
We find that quantity is necessary, not just quality, but producing enough content because there is an insatiable desire to consume. I think a common myth is we need that dynamite two-minute promotion piece. I'd like to suggest other opportunities to produce more short-form storytelling pieces that could be even more effective.
I just would love to echo a few points you shared. A myth that I observe and can even fall prey to as a marketer is that every video you make has to be super high production value. I've seen even at for-profit organizations with multimillion-dollar budgets in the pandemic they made videos on Zoom. They made videos at home with their phones, like their kids in the background, and people still connected with them.
You're exactly right. The proof is in the pudding, right? Look at all the viral videos out there; very few of them are high production value. Not all of them, but a lot of them have an impact, right? They're not all just people falling and getting hit. There are some compelling commercials out there on a budget that are just really creative. But a successful video for anyone is not contingent on the quality in which it's executed necessarily. It's contingent on how well that story is told. That is what is most important, and that is what's critical for brands to understand to move forward and effectively use story to further their mission.
Many nonprofits might have a YouTube channel, or you might link to a video that's embedded on a landing page. But what are some other ways and other environments that nonprofits can utilize video? And what are some of the ideal video lengths for those different environments?
In and around where you can utilize video beyond standard websites and social media, just a few things come to mind. One would be lunch and learn. If you're engaging businesses and corporations in your community, often, they provide opportunities for you to come in during the lunch hour and talk about your organization. We called them back in my nonprofit days, lunch and learns. Video's a great tool to incorporate in your presentation during your lunch and learns. You can use video to steward your board; that's one thing that I don't think many nonprofit executives consider. At your annual board retreats, you can help cast vision and mission among your board members. You can even help recruit board members with video content. That would be another way.
It goes without saying, major asks. When sitting down with that major donor, you're making that 10,000, that 50, that $100,000 ask. Tee up that ask with a video because, again, video can evoke emotion and prime that donor right before you make that ask. Welcome emails if you have a new donor or first-time donor; what would it look like to blast them just a quick thank you video? "Hey, we just received your first contribution. We're so excited that you've decided to contribute to our organization." That would go a long way. Onboarding staff; you've got new staff coming on board; what a great way to provide an overview of your organization by having them watch video content. Not necessarily training content, but about, "Who is the organization? What are the program areas? What are you doing? Why are you doing what you're doing? What are some of the systemic issues at play in your community that you're trying to solve?"
When reaching out to faith communities, there are often things called moments and missions, where you'll be invited to come up during the service and talk about your organization. Video is a great way to tee up that conversation when working with faith communities. And I said this before, but thank you messages. For your repeat donors, rather than just going the default route of sending an acknowledgment letter, what would it look like to go ahead and surprise them with the thank you video? If you have a welcome center or a lobby, you can have a video going there. There are just so many ways that an organization can leverage video effectively.
I just got so many ideas that spiraled off of all those examples you just shared. There are so many different ways you can do it. But also, I would imagine ways that you can use different portions of a single video that you shot, to speak to those people. It doesn't necessarily mean you need to shoot 50 different videos for all these different instances, but there are ways you can edit those videos into those different contexts.
Absolutely. You don't have to originate new content every single time. What we always do while on production is overshoot. We try to capture more content than we can use for a specific deliverable, but then we'll use that content to produce more deliverables. When you're creating your big promo piece for the year, what you can do is, cut that up into a short little impact segment. Often, the only time donors hear from the organization is when they're being asked for money. Instead, what would it look like to be proactive and send donors a little short impact video? "Hey, here's the impact that we're having." It's the same impact communicated in that promo piece that we created, but we didn't just cut it up, and we sent it out to our donors to steward and cultivate those relationships.
You started Nadus Films to create beautiful videos and stories for brands. It’s for-profit brands and for nonprofits alike. Coury, as the founder, would you love to spend a few minutes sharing your background and kind of the history of Nadus Films?
Absolutely. It's a pretty exciting story. I wasn't a filmmaker; I was a photographer and lived in Philadelphia at the time. My wife and I had bought this three-story Victorian row home in the middle of the city for really cheap because it needed a lot of work. Over that year, I was just consumed with renovations, and I was doing it all on my own. A contractor took advantage of us for like $50,000; they walked off the job. I feel like many people can relate to that. For us, it happened at a young age, and so I was working on the house alone with her.
We were at this church service in Philly called Liberty, and this gentleman is speaking by the name of Celestin Musekura. Celestin worked in Africa; he was in nine different countries. His organization just helps countries, governments, and tribes reconcile. He was talking about the plight of the Sudanese people, and honestly, it's nothing that I hadn't heard before. We hear it all the time. It's like, "Hey, this country needs our help. Hey, there is a natural disaster. Give, give, give." As good as that is, we just get numb to it; we’re inundated, especially those in that field and that industry of nonprofit.
Something clicked that day. It was like, "Why can't I use my skills, what I've been given, to be able to give back and serve? That sounds like a lot of fun, and I'm going to give the best product to that person when I'm using what I'm good at to be able to serve." It is the most elementary kind of revelation, but sometimes the best ones are the simplest. After Celestin was done speaking, I walked up to him and was like. "Dude, you don't know me, but I can help you. I'll pay my own way; there's no risk on your part. I just want to go and tell stories with you in Southern Sudan." So this was 2004, 2005. Sure enough, three months after I spoke to Celestin, we were puddle jumping around Southern Sudan, stepping over mines, landing in airfields that we had to buzz the runway just to get the livestock off of and these little planes.
I was captivated by that trip because I had found a purpose for the first time. I had seen the desire to serve sustainably. I was rewarded because I was doing what I was good at and what I enjoyed. The other people like those I was serving, specifically Celestin's organization, were getting a really good product from me because it was born out of passion, desire, and purpose.
That's where the name Nadus Films comes from; it's Sudan spelled backward. We want it to keep our roots close to us and remember where we came from. We ended up doing two feature films there in Sudan. Then it was Sudan; now it's Southern Sudan. Since then, they have seceded from the North and continue to keep in touch with them. We've gone on to do another feature film called B-Boy for Life, taking on gangs and break dancers in Guatemala City. That was a fun one.
We've been around the world a multitude of times, Southeast Asia, Iraq, throughout Africa, throughout Central America, with the intent of making films that make a difference.
Ryan, how did you enter the picture?
I entered the picture with Nadus Films four years ago. I was captivated by the power of story. I know we've said that often over again, but truly, I was captivated by the quality in which the team at Nadus Films was telling stories specifically in the nonprofit sector. I came out of the nonprofit sector; I spent about a decade working in direct human service on various teams, whether on the programmatic or development sides. I was a program director or deputy director, VP of development of the same organization for about ten years, trying to feed hungry families and individuals, and had produced video content at that organization, quite frankly, ineffectively.
It was your typical standard two-minute promo piece with the talking head, delivering an interview, and it was not compelling. When I was looking for a life change and saw some of the work that Nadus Films was producing, I was like, "I want to be a part of that because there's power there, and we can change lives, and we can change culture and communities as a result of this work." That was some of the genesis that helped me move away from direct human service into filmmaking. I had no video experience in the past, no filmmaking experience. I don't even touch the camera at Nadus Films. I'm more behind the scenes, promoting the business, helping grow the organization, supporting the team, taking care of all logistics, and things like that. Pressing record is above my pay grade, but I value and appreciate the ability to tell good stories and capture that in film.
Ryan's first full day with Nadus Films was sitting next to me for what, 28 hours on a flight to Bangladesh?
Talk about just jumping in the deep end and getting to know your second-in-command guy, sink or swim. Fortunately, we swam, and we've been going strong since. His first trip was to Bangladesh, working with a client there, and a really fun, powerful trip. That was baptism by fire for sure.
Where do you see the role of video storytelling evolving? Are there any interesting things you're noticing in the industry or things you're noticing when it comes to different nonprofits you work with, like, where do you see video going?
One thing that comes to mind is, shorter is better. We're seeing attention spans decrease, so trading shorter content seems to be more effective and powerful, especially when looking at younger generations and capturing the attention of younger folks who have the propensity to give and be a part of different causes.
Absolutely. Raw and real. I had mentioned earlier that this generation is coming up wanting to have more of an identity with the causes they support. That comes only because of these companies' voices and brand development. It's because they're real and raw, and they're sharing from the heart instead of, you know, stats and motion graphics. There's a place for that sometimes, but it's an old school way of thinking that nonprofits often and times fall victim to is, "Hey, it's worked before, it's going to continue to work." We see this separation more and more.
I spoke earlier about the relevancy of brands existing without stories being told properly. That's going to ramp up faster and faster over the next decade, if not the next two years. You're going to see less giving, less going, and less doing unless these nonprofits and brands step up and tell compelling stories in a raw and real humanist-like manner. Unfortunately, nonprofits aren't the best at that. They step away; they don't have the budget. They are not necessarily the best leaders in a changing market. And those that are showing great progress and great success.
You guys are offering a course on Nadus Films at the Nadus Films Institute designed to give some coaching and expertise to nonprofits. Could you maybe share a few tips and tricks in that course with our listeners today and some more information about it?
It is so often we see nonprofits having to make tough decisions. Because finances and resources are finite, they're limited. As a nonprofit executive, you're probably faced with the decision, "Do I invest these limited resources into programming, into operations, into serving those that were serving on the front lines, or do I allocate it towards marketing and communications and development work?" That's really where Nadus Films Institute was born. We want to serve these nonprofits and help make the decision easier. We provide tools, resources, tips, and tricks that lower the threshold a little bit and make video storytelling accessible and something that you can do in-house. Not necessarily something that you have to farm out to a large production company and spend tens and tens of thousands of dollars.
It's a five-hour course online, and in that, there are just tons of different great tools, resources, and things that we impart upon the past 16 years of Nadus Films being in existence. We mentioned this earlier; a couple of little tricks. You don't want to overload your videos with stats. So many nonprofit videos have tons of stats, which can be a distraction. There is a place for them, and if they are being included, we just really encourage them to be more outcome-based, not output-based, in terms of the statistics you're telling. You should focus on emotion over stats, which resonates more with folks. Things like you need to be thinking through how you release your videos; it needs to be strategic. You need to build anticipation, right? Rather than dropping that big piece, you create every year, rather than just playing it at your annual gala. Can you go ahead and tease that with little 15-second teasers? You're posting on social media to create hype and anticipation that can help evoke excitement and emotion.
Who's the hero of your story? Is it you as the organization, or is it the people that you're serving? And most organizations get this part of the storytelling process wrong: who is the hero? Coury, what else? What other tips do we talk about?
We identify the pain point. Nadus Films is not the cheapest film company, but we do high-caliber cinematic work and quality storytelling. We recognize that most nonprofits can't afford that. So in identifying that pain point, we're saying, "Hey, how can we share our knowledge? Because our heart, our passion, our desire, is to see nonprofits continue their missions, whatever it may be." This is us, kind of bestowing on people our 16 years of knowledge of traveling the world many times, getting it wrong, and then figuring out how to get it right. We share all of that knowledge, and sometimes formulaically. There's a 70-page workbook that accompanies it.
Besides what Ryan just said, many nonprofits could do better at getting other people's opinions. All the time, we are so close to our mission in our messaging that we don't see the forest through the trees. Simply getting someone on the outside to give feedback, we should be humble enough to have that constructive criticism. That would go a long way because messages are often missed, stories are mistold, because we think we know what's best because we're in it day in and day out. That's true to some extent, but not necessarily in marketing and sharing your story with the general public or your specific donors and followers with the organization.
One that stood out, Ryan, was you shared about making the, who's the hero of your story? I wanted to add a little bit to that. It's not just the people that the organization is serving, but it's also the donors themselves.
Absolutely. If you're creating an impact video or a campaign video, if you're in the midst of a capital campaign or a year-end appeal and want to create video content for that initiative, the hero is not you or the organization. It's those who make the organization happen. That’s the donor. Making the hero of your story the donor is very smart. On the flip side, though, if you're creating more of a general branding video, a standard promotional piece that talks about the organizational overview and the programs that you're offering. We frequently advise folks that the hero needs to be those you're serving. It's more empowering.
They are why you exist, and making them the hero is much more compelling than you, the person who is helping them. It's rather than doing it for them; you're doing it with them. You want to make them the hero of the story. It depends on the type of video content you're creating. Your clients, your participants, and those you're serving more often than not. Or if you're doing a direct campaign or a direct ask on something, yes, your donor is the hero, not you, organization XYZ.
Another pitfall that we often see within storytelling from nonprofits is that they try to cover too much and the idea, and you've heard keep it simple stupid, KISS. We try to live by that all the time. A perfect example of that is working to provide clean water. Whether it's stateside, internationally, it doesn't matter, but millions of people are affected by contaminated water in other countries. Focusing on one person's story that encompasses all the people you're serving is way more effective than trying to go after showing tons of faces and following tons of stories around versus letting one represent them all.
That is way more clear, and it’s way more effective. The viewer, the listener understands, like, this person, this girl, this boy who's drinking contaminated water represents all the other tens of thousands in that city that are also drinking contaminated water. Sometimes nonprofits think more is more, and that's simply not the case, especially in storytelling. Especially with followers that don't understand your mission, unlike you do.
I wanted to circle back to something that we mentioned at the top of the podcast, which was equipment. What is the barrier to entry for getting a baseline of decent equipment?
A huge barrier. That myth that we talked about earlier is, "I don't have the gear. I can't afford a 5, 10, $50,000 camera; I’m going to give up now." We tackle that head-on. The reality is that you already have the tools in your hand, and that's your smartphone. Whether it's an Android or an iPhone, you can be able to capture great stories and often great audio. Within the course, we teach two approaches, specifically with the production side of things: both video and still photography, by the way. We teach people using their smartphones. There are apps, so you can even edit them. There are simple ways to approach this with the right training. We also show how to use a DSLR or a mirrorless camera, which are basically still cameras that can capture video.
Pretty consumer-based equipment. We also have a link on Nadusinstitute.com, where you can go and see some of the gear you could use. You can see what we've used before and what we recommend nonprofits purchase on a tight budget. It's a microphone, maybe for $100. There's a saying that the eyes are way more forgiving than the ears. Audio is something that you want to take seriously. That doesn't mean you need an expensive mic. We teach you how to capture audio cheaply but effectively throughout the course.
So beyond just the course you offer, are there any other services you provide at Nadus Institute that nonprofits can take advantage of?
Specifically, with Nadus Institute, we offer two outlets for nonprofits to use should they want. One is consulting. If you say, "Hey, from the gates, we just want to know the best story formula with the tools that we have, with the access, the content that we have. We can help work with you to identify the best story approach. There's consulting with any of the teachers on the team, and there's a total of four of us. Additionally, as filmmakers, we understand one of the most painful parts of the process is post-production, which is the actual editing of the footage. That can be challenging, especially if you're new at it.
It's challenging for us sometimes. Often, editors are called second directors because you may have a story in the field during production, as you're capturing it. But you can make that story whatever you want in an office with the lights turned off and the shades drawn because you want to edit it. You have the power to do that. My point is, just because you have a story thought through during production doesn't necessarily mean that's what you're going to land on. We offer editing services for you if you don't want to edit the footage captured by you. We can work with you and walk you through the process of sending us the files and editing them for you.
So Coury, if folks would like to learn more about Nadus Films, see some examples of your work, or just keep up with what you're doing, how can they best get in touch with you and follow you?
We've got our website, which is our storefront, and we've got a lot of our stories. They live there. That's simply Nadusfilms.com. Of course, you can find us on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Depending on the season, if we're in town or not, we'll post some of our adventures and share them with our followers.
Conclusion: Many nonprofit marketers and fundraisers are afraid of video because they think they need a big budget to tell an impactful story. In this podcast, we spoke with Coury Deeb and Ryan Galanaugh from Nadus Films about how nonprofits can create powerful video content on any budget and stop myths from standing in the way of inspiring and driving donors to action.