Storytelling: 7 Tips for Charities

Written by Michael Johnston, Creative Director at Momentary.

After producing over 100 social impact videos last year, the Momentary team learned a few things about telling stories for not-for-profit organisations. Here are some of their top tips!

TIP #1 Make Video Part of the Mix

It’s fantastic to see that more charities are producing videos to tell their story. However, it’s important to remember to use video as part of your overall communications, marketing or fundraising strategy, rather than producing a video for its own sake.

At Momentary, we often say that a video is only as effective as the campaign that it’s part of. In other words, there is no point producing a video if no one is going to see it or if it doesn’t support your goals!

TIP #2 Use Emotional Storytelling

There have been several scientific studies illustrating how emotional storytelling is more effective than just using facts and statistics. It enables the audience to be more engaged with the material, understand and empathise with the cause, and take action.

Video is the perfect way to do this – it uses visuals, dialogue and music to form an emotional experience that takes the viewer on a journey. If you want to get the message across in a matter of minutes, video is more powerful and more engaging than words on a page.

We believe that facts and figures are important to describe the magnitude of an issue and measuring your impact. When it comes to communicating your impact, show the audience how your work has changed someone’s life forever.

Our video with Ronald McDonald House – a great example of emotional storytelling.

TIP #3 Collaborate with your beneficiaries

We believe that facts and figures are important to describe the magnitude of an issue and measuring your impact. When it comes to communicating your impact, show the audience how your work has changed someone’s life forever.

The key to working with beneficiaries is collaboration. We always seek to gain an understanding of the message that the charity is looking to convey, and then we work with the participant to help them tell their story (rather than telling their story for them).

On top of this, it’s always important to manage the intensity of the production. We recommend a small crew using minimal equipment – this will make the beneficiaries more comfortable, and it will make the production more affordable.

TIP #4 Listen to your case workers

Case workers are often protective of an organisation’s beneficiaries, and for good reason! These families and individuals have been through difficult circumstances and this has to be respected. In order to work with the beneficiaries, having their case workers on side first is a must.

We’ve found that when a case worker fully understands the value of the video for their organisation, their input makes the whole process go more smoothly and results in a stronger story.

Our video with ANZ & Brotherhood of St Laurence – this video required a close relationship with case workers.

TIP #5 Keep it short, but not too short

On social media, you have a limited amount of time to engage, inform and inspire your audience. The first seven seconds of your video has to be captivating. If it isn’t, you will find that very few people will watch the rest of the video.

How long should the video be? Many media producers will suggest 30 seconds, or even 15 seconds. This can work if you are planning to quickly capture the audience’s attention and lead them somewhere else (like your website, for example).

However, if you want to tell someone’s story and do it justice, we recommend one to two minutes. If you find yourself going over three minutes, it’s unlikely that your audience will last the journey. If it’s under one minute, they may not understand the issue and how you are working to solve it.

TIP #6 Be authentic

Whether you are planning to use a script or not, the most important thing to remember is that your video should be real and authentic. Scripts can be an effective way to make sure you get key messages across, but the end result may be perceived to lack sincerity.

If you’re working with beneficiaries, we often find that it’s best to interview them and let the individual tell their story. If you script it, you might fall into the trap of telling them what to say, even when it’s their story to tell!

TIP #7 Work with good folk

We have heard many stories about film crews going to someone’s house and acting in an insensitive way.

You have to be extremely careful if you work with a company that doesn’t understand the cause, doesn’t care about the cause or doesn’t have experience working with vulnerable people. Not only is there a risk in offending your beneficiary or making them feel uncomfortable, the end product will not be the video that you are looking for.

Work with people who care about the cause, just like you!