Video Campaigns that Drive Huge End-of-Year Fundraising Results

57 percent of everyone who watches an online video produced by a nonprofit will go on to give to that nonprofit. (Google, 2013)

Keep that in mind, then go look at the number of views you have on some of your strongest Facebook or YouTube videos. And imagine 60 percent of those views becoming donors. Technically, that should be the case.

If only it were that easy …or maybe it is?

The following are three tips to build a video-driven content strategy that leads to your organization’s strongest ever end-of-calendar-year fundraising push.

Facebook Live – do it and do it often in December

Launch an end-of-year Facebook Live telethon. On New Year’s Eve or the week before, invite your best supporters who are also digitally active (your online ambassadors) to a special end-of-year party. Be sure there are plenty of food, drinks, and entertainment …and an experienced Facebook Live crew.


During this event, conduct several interviews with attendees and have them talk about why they gave back to your organization in the previous year and why they will continue giving in the new year. You might also interview a person or two who has been positively impacted by your mission. This could be a student, a patient, or a dog-in-waiting to be rescued …you get the idea.

To increase the audience for your Facebook Live, make sure everyone you’re interviewing shared the Facebook Live with their friends and family as soon as you go live.

And of course, throughout the Facebook Live event, be sure to frequently remind donors they “can give to support your mission by clicking ‘donate now’ in the Facebook post.

We call this the “modern Facebook pledge drive.” For more details on how to conduct a Facebook pledge drive, click here to watch our webinar.

Keep it simple for more video

You might have heard from various digital experts that lower quality, more authentic video is more effective for fundraising.

At least in some cases, that’s true.

According to Thankview, lower-quality, webcam-recorded videos are watched to completion 61 percent of the time, while higher-quality, uploaded videos are watched to completion only 47 percent of the time. More importantly, webcam-recorded videos lead to call-to-action clickthroughs on an email link 15 percent of the time, while uploaded videos only lead to CTA clickthroughs 10 percent of the time.

If you’re sending 10,000 emails, that’s an extra 500 people who go to your gift form from the lower-quality video.

That’s not to say high quality video doesn’t have it’s place. (Wait until you see what Groundwork is doing with virtual reality and major donors) But we should never avoid sharing videos with our donors, because we feel the quality is unbecoming of our mission. Can you see the video? Can you hear the video? If you answer “yes” to both and the message is on point, then share that video with your donors and prospects. Especially via year-end appeals. This approach will lead to more video messaging and, ultimately, more gifts.

Sell virtual seats to your holiday season gala

If you’ve experienced virtual reality, then you are aware of the medium’s transformative power. VR can place a person in a different time and space while giving them an emotional experience similar to being present (in the literal sense).

VirtualRealityPurpleImagine using this technology to democratize your high-priced, end-of-year donor galas. Of course, nothing beats the real thing – actually being there – but for $50, a donor can experience the event virtually as opposed to paying $5,000 for a table. Access to watching the speakers, hearing the musicians, enjoying the celebrity keynotes… can all take place from the comfort of home and at a more approachable price point. This gives the annual fund donors unique access to high-end experiences without cheapening the experience for large gift donors, because the large gift donors still have the exclusive benefit of literally being there.

This tactic could also be used as a leadership annual giving tool by moving the $50 up to $500. Especially if you’re concerned about cheapening the high-price live gala experience.

Using VR to widen the reach of a gala could be done through Facebook Live or could be recorded and edited for later use. For example, gift officers could carry VR headsets with them to donor visits and allow those who couldn’t attend in person to watch the next best thing.

Is your development operation ready to transform your fundraising outcomes with video? Groundwork Digital builds sophisticated digital strategies and produces award-winning videos for clients. Ask us about it by emailing me at or clicking here and completing our contact form.


Getting Noticed on #GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesday is a powerful swell of support for philanthropy across the world. With over 1.5 million gifts given last year, it’s clear donors are paying attention. Make sure your content helps your mission stand out on Giving Tuesday!

Check out our video below for three tips for outstanding #GivingTuesday content, even with the smallest of budgets.

Do you need help planning your biggest #GivingTuesday yet? …or launching your first? No one has planned and launched more online giving days that Groundwork Digital. Fill out your contact info below and we’ll get back to you with a free, 30-minute #GivingTuesday consultation.

HOW TO Produce More (Cheap) Video for Your Nonprofit

This could finally be the year.

Thanks to a seemingly endless stream of posts touting the life or death cruciality of video content, 2015 might finally be the year we video producers have been waiting for – the point in time when organizations and companies make investing in video content their top communications priority. But you don’t have to take my word for it…

There’s this recent Ad Age piece that says users are posting 75 percent more videos to Facebook than they were one year ago.

More importantly for those of us who make our livings working in communications is this Guardian piece that, among other things, highlights an Axonn Research study that tells us seven in 10 people view brands in a more positive light after watching a video produced by those brands.

And finally this post by Recode that lays out the magnitude of the whole thing – Facebook users watch about 3 BILLION videos on Facebook everyday.

Among other amazing video stats, a recent Google study tells us 57 percent of those who view a nonprofit's video will go on to make a gift to that nonprofit.

Among other amazing video stats, a recent Google study tells us 57 percent of those who view a nonprofit’s video will go on to make a gift to that nonprofit.

Simply put, an investment in producing your own video might be the most important decision you make this year. And the good news is, with amazingly high quality video cameras built into everyday items like the phones in our pockets, that investment doesn’t have to break the bank.

The following are a few tips to help your organization create more quality, engaging video content without pushing your organization’s budget into the red…

Hire a social media manager with video experience

Social media managers should do more than sit in front of a social network dashboard all day. They should be involved in strategic planning, help train staff and volunteers on using social media to advocate for your cause, and they should be content producers. And because video is quickly emerging as the top form of content, they should be video content producers.

Work with internal and external (volunteer) content producers

In higher ed, this is a no brainer. There are students on your campus who know how to do video and will do it at a small cost or no cost at all if they can add it to their nascent resumes. Find them and work with them.

For other organizations, the volunteers might be difficult to find, but they are out there. Do you know any board members who love talking about their beautifully produced videos of a weekend at the family lake cabin? How about a video blogger who often links to your organization’s website? …or a local video production company employee who also happens to be a repeat donor? There are video producers out there in your supporter base. Find them and work with them.

Select willing staff and provide them with video training

Again, thanks to inventions like the iPhone, most of us are carrying high quality cameras with us everywhere we go. So put those cameras to use! There’s a good chance a small handful of your staff would welcome the opportunity to receive (free) video production training. Thankfully (SHAMELESS PLUG AHEAD) organizations like BWF_social provide our clients with video training workshops and services. Regardless of the approach you take, find your willing staff and provide them with the training they need to become video evangelists for your cause.

Justin Ware is a Emmy-winning and Webby-nominated video producer who helps BWF_social‘s clients produce transformational online and social media (and video) strategies.

Creating Targeted Direct (Digital) Marketing for Major Gift Donors

According to Google, 57 percent of those who watch a video go on to make a gift to the org featured in that video. Imagine if you had one tool that could guarantee half your major gift prospects would make a gift?

Imagine if you had one tool that could guarantee half your major gift prospects would make a gift?

Direct response is key for donors at all levels. That notion was recently reinforced in this blog post that suggests you keep your biggest givers in the mass marketing program unless they specifically ask to be removed.

But that doesn’t mean your major gift donors and prospects should be receiving the same email and print pieces your annual fund donors receive. Major gift donors deserve the resources necessary for highly targeted direct marketing based on how they support your organization and which components of your work matter most to them.

Fortunately, this targeted approach is easier than ever to accomplish, thanks both to better technology and a better understanding of how to deliver personalized stewardship and solicitation experiences to our donors. As you embark on a more targeted content marketing strategy for your biggest donors, here are a few things to consider:

  • First, know your audience. Create content profiles. A content profile is a donor file that is focused on what content the donor shares and interacts with online. It’s a record of the emails they responded to, the Facebook posts they liked, the blog posts they shared — anything that helps you understand what matters to them. As a development operation, you can either track this manually by recording data as you come across it, or work with any number of software programs, such as EverTrue, that capture and organize information from social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn. But all the data doesn’t have to come from technology, either. Like most things, the best content profiles are combination of new tech and traditional development work. A content profile can also be informed by the gift officer’s knowledge based on their relationship with the donor. In the end, a content profile is just a richer set of attributes recorded in your donor database.
  • Next, dedicate resources to creating beautiful content. 57 percent of people who watch a video eventually go on to make a gift to the nonprofit featured in that video (click here for more stats and the study). Let’s read that again: MORE THAN HALF OF THE PEOPLE WHO WATCH YOUR NONPROFIT’S VIDEO WILL MAKE A GIFT TO YOUR NONPROFIT. Based on that statistic from the very reputable Google, it might make sense that you drop all other expenses until you’ve adequately resourced a video content program. Especially for your major gift donors and prospects. Just imagine, what if you had one tool that would likely lead to half of them making a gift? Video appears to be that tool. Whether thanking, asking, or showing impact, great content is important at all levels of the fundraising game. But especially for your major gift program where one donor can change everything for your organization.
  • Train your MGOs to use social media! For a major gift officer, not being active on at least LinkedIn and Twitter is no longer excusable. From Bill Gates, to Elon Musk, to your average millionaire down the street, the more money a person has, the more likely it is they are active on social media. And that trend is only gaining steam. If you’re a major gift officer, ignoring social media is like ignoring the telephone …maybe worse.

It seems that just about every new year in the past half decade has ushered in a new trend in online fundraising. Ambassador programs, online giving days, crowdfunding …in 2015, let’s make it the year nonprofits started using digital communication — and specifically direct marketing through great, targeted content — to engage, cultivate, and steward major gift donors and prospects.

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner’s BWF_social practice where he helps clients build online and social media strategies for fundraising.


For Social Media Fundraising Success, Make Your Donors Feel Something

In fundraising, the ultimate metric is donors acquired or retained and dollars raised. The question is, how do we get there? What steps do we need to take in order to secure that final conversion or gift from a donor?

One option is sharing a bundle of statistics that numerically demonstrate the impact your organization has on the world. While that pie-chart packed annual report is important for the CFO types in the crowd, the vast majority of donors (including those CFO types) make a gift, not because of numbers, but because they feel moved to support your cause. Something about the work you do touches a nerve deep inside the donor to the point where they can’t stand the problem you’re addressing and will give everything they can, including money, to end that problem.

In other words, if you want to expand support for your organization, you need to create content that makes people feel something.

As is often the case, we have plenty of examples of this emotional content marketing from the for-profit world. From Steve Jobs to Dove, the best marketers – specifically content marketers – have been pulling money out of our wallets for decades, not by appealing to our heads, but to our hearts. Take, for example, the most recent viral content marketing hit distributed by Dove:

The sense of  yearning to love your kid endlessly that comes with being a parent; the want to be a unique, cutting edge individual that Apple so deftly communicated while Jobs was at the helm; the drive to compete and win that shoemakers like Nike have conveyed; those aren’t appeals that require a calculator to ingest – they go straight to the heart and they make people do things a million times faster than any logic-based approach.

Tugging at the heart strings opens the purse strings. It's true in the consumer and nonprofit worlds.

Tugging at the heart strings opens the purse strings. It’s true in the consumer and nonprofit worlds.

Of course, for fundraisers, this should be easy. Your work changes the world and you have countless stories to tell as a result. And now, thanks to social media, you have unprecedented access directly to enormous audiences. When you create amazing content, people take notice and you raise a LOT of money. The key is:

  • Having a smart, data-driven content marketing strategy.
  • Dedicating or reallocating resources to produce amazing written, photographic, and (especially) video content.
  • Hiring creative content producers to create posts that simply can’t be ignored.

The third item is the most crucial and the most difficult to come by. Creative content geniuses are not easy to find, but if you have them, give them the resources they need. Allow them creative license to produce amazing, heart-wrenching, and awe-inspring content. Doing that (with a strategic vision in mind) is one of the quickest and most effective paths you can take to reaching that ultimate metric of more donors and dollars raised.

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner and an Emmy-winning content creator who has produced several viral YouTube videos. To learn more about how Justin can help you take content marketing to the next level, click here.

Michigan State’s Successful Crowdfunding Campaigns


Michigan State leveraged the popularity of its mascot, Sparty, for one successful crowdfunding campaign.

A handful of small projects are the beginning of what Michigan State development staff hope will be a massive change in annual giving work at the University. That change involves a shift of focus toward more donor engagement via crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding allows donors – specifically new and smaller gift donors – to more clearly see the impact of their gifts, because they’re helping to fund a specific project or cause. This demonstration or proof of impact is something annual giving programs have been struggling with for some time. Crowdfunding, or online peer-to-peer giving, is one very effective way of addressing that desire of the donor to see the impact of their gift.

At the same time, crowdfunding is tremendously efficient at acquiring new donors, because …well, it’s all about the crowd! Peer-to-peer or online ambassador-fueled crowdfunding campaigns reach out to new donors by way of friends and family communicating online, specifically, via social networks. On average, 40 percent of the donors who give during ambassador-led online campaigns are new.

In the video below, Michigan State’s Director of Online Engagement, Paul Prewitt, uses MSU’s recent Extreme Makeover: Sparty Edition campaign to show how crowdfunding is helping the University identify more new donors and communicate the impact of philanthropy to all donors, big and small.

Consider the following:

In other words, all those new donors the Sparty campaign brought in for MSU are not just college kids and recent grads – they’re middle age and older supporters of the school. Many of them have deeper pockets than you might imagine.

Knowing the above, it’s clear – serious resources should be dedicated to an online and social media strategy for development. And not just resources for crowdfunding in the annual giving department, but for your entire development operation. Millionaires are online disproportionately more than those of lesser means. It’s not just about the annual fund – if you want to have a major gift program ten years from now, you had better start engaging and stewarding those future big gift donors with a smart online and social media strategy today. And you can start by leveraging the crowd.

Justin Ware helps BWF’s clients build online and social media strategies that lead to six and seven-figure online fundraising campaigns. For more on BWF’s social media service offerings, click here.

57% of Those Who Watch Nonprofit Videos Go On to Make a Donation

YouTube_LogoA recent survey from Google found that 57 percent of everyone who watches a nonprofit’s video will go on to make a donation to that nonprofit.

57 percent.

So, what is your nonprofit’s video strategy? As recently as 10 years ago, that question was ludicrous for a large number of cash-strapped organizations. But video is far more affordable than it used to be. High-quality cameras that provide HD video can be purchased for just a few hundred dollars. Editing software is either free or low-cost …most of us even carry phones that shoot decent video!

Below is a video from a workshop with tips to help even the most novice photographers shoot quality video that can be uploaded to sites and networks like YouTube and Facebook. It’s likely your organization has someone who could easily become a decent videographer. Think about your staff members who have active Instagram feeds or those who often post cool pictures to Facebook – they could become highly valuable video producers for your nonprofit. Get them started with the tips in the video below…

Now that you know how to shoot, the next question is, what should you shoot? Think about the following when deciding what to produce and/or post:

  • Length: Shorter is always sweeter. Remember, the total running time on YouTube videos is apparent before a person starts to watch. If you’re at your desk taking a short break, which video are you more likely to watch …the 2:00 video or the 20:00 video?
  • Authenticity: Avoid the urge to produce what looks like a traditional TV ad. Instead, deliver the message straight from the mouths of those your organization helps. Simple thank yous, like this one from The Children’s Hospital Foundation, are beyond powerful. [WARNING: grab a tissue before clicking on that Children’s Hospital Foundation video]
  • Produce videos that carry emotion. Whether it’s a deeply moving piece like this one from the Cleveland Clinic or something that makes you laugh like this video for the Rain Forest Alliance, nothing moves a donor to give more quickly that connecting with them on an emotional level.
  • Get creative: From lip dubs, to pink gloves, the viral hits are those that took a chance and did something unique. It’s video …have fun with it! 

Justin Ware is an Emmy-winning YouTube video producer who helps BWF’s clients build online and social media content strategies. To learn more, click here.

UMassGives Online Ambassador Campaign Acquires 1,500+ Donors – Most of them New

The online ambassadors strike again. This time at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (a BWF_social client) where the annual giving team led the inaugural UMassGives online fundraising campaign. Sarah Sligo, Executive Director of Annual Giving at UMass Amherst, had two goals in mind when the campaign planning started – acquire new donors (specifically young alumni and students) and expand the “culture of philanthropy” around UMass Amherst. The 36-hour UMassGives inarguably accomplished both by bringing more than 800 new donors in to the fold and creating a substantial amount of buzz online by way of UMass Amherst’s growing online ambassador program. UMassGivesTweet1

Twitter was a buzz with activity, helping virally spread the culture of philanthropy at UMass Amherst.

Twitter was a buzz with activity, helping virally spread the culture of philanthropy at UMass Amherst.

In the months leading up to UMassGives, Sligo and her colleagues identified more than 200 potential online ambassadors to help promote the campaign. Nearly 150 of those potential ambassadors agreed to use their social networks to share information and build the buzz around UMassGives, creating a viral spread of awareness.

During the campaign, ambassadors received emails asking them to share updates about UMassGives on their social networks. That activity spread across the Internet, helping make news of UMassGives go viral, which ultimately led to the university raising more than $80,000 from 1,588 donors.

For more on the campaign, check out what Sarah has to say in the video below: Need help planning a campaign that acquires new donors? Check out BWF’s social media consulting services by clicking here.

Smart, High-quality Content Leads to More Engaged Supporters

For years I’ve been preaching to audiences far and wide that “quality counts!” when producing online video. And for years, audiences have been pointing me toward videos that are grainy, hard to see, and even more difficult to comprehend …and those videos often earn tens of millions of YouTube views. Case in point, is the following viral sensation “Charlie Schmidt’s Keyboard Cat”:

Yes, quirky videos sometimes find their way to Internet stardom. But that doesn’t mean you should forego any investment in developing good online content – that includes written and photographic content, along with video. Because first of all, we are an increasingly savvy group of Internet content viewers who expect more thanks to several years worth of high definition videos on sites like Vimeo and YouTube, plus countless slide shows and photo galleries with breathtakingly beautiful imagery.

Beyond the allure of pretty or cool images, is the point that well-produced, high-quality content does an amazing job of telling the story of your organization and its culture …AND has the potential of going viral while accomplishing those goals. Case in point #2 is this wonderful piece from the Cleveland Clinic that (gently) leads viewers to associate empathy with the Cleveland Clinic. Take a few minutes and watch the video below. Be sure you grab a tissue or two first…

Consistently producing powerful, moving, funny, endearing, and high-quality content connects you on an emotional level to your biggest supporters. Your biggest supporters then share that content with their networks, enlisting new supporters and new donors for your organization. That’s not opinion, it’s a fact. Thanks to this amazing study from Georgetown University and Waggener Edstrom, we now know that social media is by far the #1 way supporters find out about and support new causes if those supporters are even remotely engaged online. And since more than half of America is on Facebook alone, people who are engaged online make up a strong majority of the public.

YouTube_LogoThe moral of the story? Invest in good content. Ideally, you’re able to hire someone who can lead the charge in managing daily online and social media conversation, in addition to producing quality, visual content. The best case scenario is that person can also build and lead an online and social media strategy for your organization. With how much we’re starting to learn about the value of a strong online and social media presence, having a good, well-rounded communicator on board who is also a content producer is one the best investments your organization can make when it comes to building for the future.

Justin Ware is a fundraising consultant who specializes in online and social media engagement at Bentz Whaley Flessner. To contact Justin, click here.

Make Something Go Viral? No Problem

John Haydon is a fundraising consultant and blogger who, simply put, knows his stuff. His recent post – The Secret Behind Viral Content – is chock full of good tips for producing engaging content. Go read it, then come back and finish reading this post…

Viral social media

Image courtesy of

Back? Cool. John suggests in his post, as many social media specialists do, that the viral spread of content is like catching lightning in a bottle. To some extent, depending on your definition of “viral,” that is true. If you have an alumni base of 300,000 living individuals, then aspirations of having your alumni association YouTube video about the homecoming tailgate reach 15 million views is probably out of the question. (click here to read about why that shouldn’t concern you) But, if you have a video that’s smart, funny, and tells the story of your organization, there’s no reason that video can’t pull in 10,000, 50,000, or even 100,000+ views. This happens when a few of your supporters share that video with a few of their friends, who then share it with a few of their friends, who then share it with a few of their friends, and so on – also known as the viral spread of content. Which is precisely what a well-developed online ambassador program should bring about.

Online ambassador programs are built around a core group of online and social media users who are enthusiastic leaders of online communities — communities that are full of people who matter to your organization. When these ambassadors post something, several members of their online communities are likely to see it, “like” it, comment on it, and hopefully share it. Which, of course, is that exponential exposure that leads to something “going viral.” Ambassador programs have been successful in awareness building and fundraising (see Florida State’s Great Give and Columbia’s Giving Day campaigns). Which is why I disagree with the assertion that no one really knows how to make something go viral. It’s as simple as using your ambassadors. Well, sort of…

Going Viral Part 1: Utilizing your ambassadors

After you’ve identified your first core group of ambassadors, connected with those ambassadors, and provided them with a brief orientation program, you’re now ready to put these enthusiastic supporters to work spreading your nonprofit’s mission and message. But don’t take their allegiance for granted. Part of the ambassador process should be an ongoing effort on your organization’s part to learn about the type and formats of content that your ambassadors like to share. As a group and as individuals, what are the content profiles of your ambassadors? Do they more often share videos or photos (or infographics)? Do they like hearing donor stories? How about messages from your organization’s leadership? Produce and curate content that your ambassadors will want to share based on what you observe them sharing – this includes content that’s not related to your mission. Knowing the content profiles of you ambassadors and those in their networks will help you produce content they’re more likely to share, because it’s similar to what they’re already sharing. (For a great piece on how the Obama team used Facebook both to identify supporters and learn about their content profiles, click here).

Going Viral Part 2: Fit your content into the Zeitgeist

John offers some fantastic tips for content creation in his post. His “Science Behind Viral Content” and “Viral Content Checklist” sections in that post are loaded with tips to help your org produce better, more engaging, more shareable content. As stated above, you might have 5,000 enthusiastic supporters of your cause, but if you give them bland content that doesn’t fit their content profiles, they’re not likely to share it. In addition to knowing what an ambassador wants, another technique for creating shareable content is connecting it to the news of the day. What movies are popular? Which hit dance song is topping the charts? Which sports season is heating up? Are the Oscars right around the corner?

At the University of Minnesota, I was part of a team that created two videos that I believe fit the definition of viral. Both were more the result of a strategic plan than they were luck. Each video connected to the pop culture zeitgeist.

The first, The Science of Watchmen, was released just a few days before the highly-anticipated film “Watchmen” hit theaters. The purpose of the project was to promote the University of Minnesota’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. Knowing full well there would be scores of “Watchmen” fans scouring the Internet for anything related to the movie — and knowing that there would be plenty of potential students and science fans (our core audience) in that group of “Watchmen” fans — we produced a short video that looked at whether there was any plausible science behind the science fiction in the film. In the first few days after we posted the video it received 250,000+ views and sits near 1.8 million views today.

A year later, we tried a similar approach with another video meant to promote the Department of Physics. This time, we connected the science to another popular topic, football. In the video below, Professor Dan Dahlberg does the math to determine just how many Gs wide receiver Eric Decker withstood thanks to a vicious hit he took during a recent Gopher football game. The video was released the week before Thanksgiving at the height of both the college and pro football seasons. It didn’t have the same success as the Science of Watchmen, but it currently sits at 115,000+ views …not bad by most mortal standards.

One person’s idea of “viral” is likely different from the next. But if your goal is to increase exposure by having your content spread out through the vast networks of current and potential online supporters, it can be planned for and accomplished through a strong online ambassador program and corresponding content strategy.

Justin Ware is a fundraising consultant who specializes in online and social media engagement at Bentz Whaley Flessner. To contact Justin, click here.