The Digital Naturalist is an inspired forum for video, film, and multimedia with a cause. It brings together an elite panel of experts to analyze what makes digital storytelling successful, establish helpful guidelines for advocacy groups, and shine a light on the most effective and inspiring work being produced today. Through analysis, forums, interviews, and personal accounts, we hope to help nonprofit organizations and the creatives working with them better communicate the most pressing, complex issues of our time.

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If your video is comprised of interviews, try to get your b-roll after you’ve recorded all or most of the interviews. The reason is that inevitably the people interviewed will say certain things that may inspire the kind of b-roll you’ll want to shoot. Read more bladeronner.com.


Entries in 5 types of advocacy videos (3)


The Fundraising Video: Part 5 of a 5-Part Series


Ahhhh, fundraising. This is where the power of video really comes into play. Asking for money is tough, especially considering one in seven Americans are currently living below the poverty line. So if you're going to do it, you not only need to inspire people; you need to convince them that the world-- their world-- will be better as a result.

As I see it, the Fundraising Video is defined by:

THE GOALS: To appeal directly to donors and potential donors to give to your cause. To brand your organization and lay out its goals in a way that inspires and motivates viewers to support the movement.

THE PRODUCT: The best fundraising videos I've seen include include a clear, compelling profile of the organization, what it does, what it's overcome to get where it is now, and a clear message about where it wants/needs to go-- and how you can help it get there. I've seen pared-down versions that are successful as well, but either way, your ask should be clear and direct.



charity: water turns 5 - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

I can't think of a better model of Switch than this video. It offers a short and simple overview of the organization and how far it's come; it gives just the right amount of hard numbers and stats; it puts a human face on the issue; it breaks down exact needs and costs, so there's no question about where your money is going; and it offers two distinct ways supporters can help. Brilliant.


A Story in Aftercare - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

I don't love every editing decision in this video, but overall, it's beautifully filmed, and the ask is simple and clear. Something else that struck me was the story of this young girl likely triggers two important emotions: anger and hope-- a powerful, motivating combination.

LIVESTRONG/Alpheus Media


Really great pacing to back up a powerful message. I generally tend to stay away from packing a video with so many words, but in this case, I think it works, as it kept me engaged all the way through. I don't know what kind of budget Livestrong was working with here, but I imagine a video like this could be done for a smaller fee, as it doesn't require tons of assignment footage-- just good b-roll and some interviews that you could probably shoot in a day. I suspect most of their time/energy went into nailing down a script and creating a super tight edit, which is what truly makes this video shine.

And that, my friends, wraps up our 5-part series. How do you plan to move forward with these ideas? We'd love to know! Keep the conversation going in the comments below, on Facebook, and on Twitter.


The Character-Driven Video: Part 4 of a 5-Part Series

"The Mast Brothers" by The Scout

Ahhh folks, this is a tough one. Tucker and I have searched high and low for nonprofit videos that meet the quality we're looking for in a Character-Driven Video-- but we keep coming up short. And that's a bummer, because in my opinion, this is is the most powerful category of them all.

Instead, I'm going to post some documentary-style videos that weren't produced by advocacy groups, but stand as really solid models regardless. By getting viewers to care about the central characters in these stories, these filmmakers are also getting viewers to care about the bigger themes those characters are part of (chocolate as an art, families in poverty, and the sacrifices of caretakers). And that's a formula nonprofits can learn from.

As I see it, the Character-Driven Video is defined by:

THE GOALS: To inspire appreciation for a cause through the perspective of a character (or characters) whose life relates to that cause. Ditching figures and stats in exchange for human stories that other humans can't help but connect to.

THE PRODUCT: An intimate character profile that keeps the character central, but also expands to tell a bigger story about a bigger issue that their life represents. The advocacy itself is subtle. For example, a video like this doesn't make you care about women's health care in Zambia by relying on a bunch of experts to say it's a problem; it makes you care by telling the story of a woman in Zambia who is struggling with health care. It's the A+ example of the age-old storytelling rule: "Show, don't tell." In the end, your audience should feel like they caught an intimate glimpse of someone's personal struggle-- not like they were being preached to by an advocacy group. In fact, I imagine the most successful videos would take the organization out of the story almost completely, aside from a simple logo and URL text slide at the end.


The Scout

The Mast Brothers - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

This is one of my favorite kinds of character-driven videos-- the kind that grabs you with a raw and intimate glimpse of the person (in this case, two brothers' passion for the sea)-- which offers viewers an immediate connection-- and then weaves that into the larger story the filmmakers ultimately want you to care about (in this case, the brothers' business: chocolate). The quotes are constantly answering the "So what? Who cares?" questions, and by the end, viewers understand that their business is about more than just making candy; it's about finding art and meaning in a craft that has sadly been reduced to 99-cent bags of high-fructose corn syrup on the shelves of Walmart.

Filmmaker Catherine Spangler at UNC

Enough to Survive - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

This one's a heartbreaker, and could very well serve as a video for a nonprofit that's tackling poverty. Again, there's nothing wrong with facts and figures when used in the right way-- but numbers don't hold a flame to the emotion on this woman's face when she talks about her situation.

Evolve Digital Cineman/IMG

The Promise - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

I don't love the style of this video (the dramatic zooms on interviews, the scripted narration), but never mind, because it fits ESPN's brand. What I love is that this starts out as just another super-cinematic, adrenaline-packed profile about an ambitious athlete-- no doubt inspiring enough to keep you watching-- but then it jolts you into a much deeper story 2 minutes and 15 seconds in. And that's when the story gets real. In the end, you're not just impressed by the character's physical potential-- you're left thinking hard about everything he's sacrificed for his father, how clueless we when we judge people on the surface, the pressures of being a caretaker, the frailty of life, the depth of human suffering...

Agree? Disagree? Have something to add that we might have overlooked? Keep the conversation going in the comments below, on Facebook, and on Twitter. Next week we'll drill down on the Fundraising Video-- the last in our series. Stay tuned!


The Issue-Driven Video: Part 3 of a 5-Part Series

MediaStorm: Surviving the Peace

At some point or another, every single advocacy organization must be able to capture their supporters' undivided attention and educate them about a problem that needs solving. It's the only way the organization will survive. Which means this week's Issue-Driven Video is a biggie-- but based on the dozens of advocacy videos I've watched this year, it's also apparently one of the hardest to execute well. Too often, I see groups attempt to cover complex issues in a 3-5 minute video; the result is an overwhelming number of stats, facts, and talking heads that not only fail to engage, but often leave viewers confused about the issue and what exactly they can do about it.

So if you set out to make an issue-driven video less than five minutes long, remember, less it more. Choose the single most important fact to center the entire story around, and save the rest of the details for the website or follow-up videos. If you have the budget to produce a longer, more complex video, the examples below might help. As I see it, the Issue-Driven Video is defined by:

THE GOALS: To educate viewers about a problematic issue, as well as empower and motivate them to take action to fix it.

THE PRODUCT: In most cases, I see these as longer-form films, anywhere from 7 minutes to a feature-length documentary... but for the sake of the kinds of videos we profile on this blog, let's say 5-20 minutes. One exception here would be an issue that's divided into much shorter chapters, in which case short chapters might focus on a single character or idea-- here's one of my favorite examples (this one's animated, but you could achieve the same effect with film). Perhaps we could even put feature documentary trailers in this category; Bag It's, for example, does a fantastic job of presenting a complex issue in 2.5 minutes, although if your goal is to educate viewers, a trailer alone won't cut it. In general, issue-driven videos require more than one voice to explain an issue-- and to prevent those voices from competing with each other or overwhelming the viewer, you need to allow some space for each of those characters to breathe, hence a longer piece. Your characters would likely include a central figure to put a human face on the issue, along with experts to provide stats and informed perspectives. Videos should include a legitimate story arc with a beginning, middle, and end, lots of great tension, and some kind of resolution, or at least suggestions on how to reach a resolution if the issue hasn't actually been resolved.


Filmmakers Scott Anger and Bob Sacha

50 Milligrams Is Not Enough - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

It wasn't that long ago that we featured Anger and Sacha's work for the Open Society Foundation's Stop Torture in Health Care, but this story remains a shining example of how to tackle an issue well. By featuring Vlad, a young man suffering from incurable brain cancer, they're able to insert a HUGE dose of humanity into what is otherwise a complicated and political topic about inadequate pain treatment in Ukraine. The story centers around Vlad's struggle, yet manages to bring in in other voices-- including experts-- quite successfully.


Surviving the Peace takes an intimate look at the impact of unexploded bombs left over from the Vietnam war in Laos and profiles the dangerous, yet life saving work, that MAG has undertaken in the country. See the project at http://mediastorm.com/clients/surviving-the-peace-for-mag

"An example of what advocacy storytelling can and should be"-- that's what Tucker's email read when he sent me the link to MediaStorm's latest video for a nonprofit client. I couldn't agree more. The opening scene is ridiculously intense (I mean really? A butterfly landing on the hand detonating the mines? Insane.). What follows is beautifully cinematic, well paced, and thorough in its education. I appreciated not having to dive immediately into subtitles, but obviously love the use of this family as central characters-- I have no doubt that I care more about this issue now that I can put faces to it. I'll be shocked if this video doesn't win some serious awards in the near future, or at the least, channels some new funding to the nonprofit it represents. (If the video alone isn't impressive enough, check out all the challenges the film crew faced shooting the story. It's impossible not to learn from this project!)

Diesel New Voices

An oldie but goodie. This is the first advocacy video I saw that made me realize that there's hope for issue-driven advocacy videos. This 10-minute film touches on some of the touchiest issues of our time-- the war in Afghanistan, Afghan women's rights, and the uprising of reform-minded youth in the Middle East. Aside from the woman managing this NGO, you won't hear any expert interviews here; the visuals and testimonies carry this story just fine. My only complaint is that the credits run too long before offering a website address where viewers can take action. If I worked at Skateistan, I'd demand that those text slides get flipped.

Agree? Disagree? Have something to add that I might have overlooked? Keep the conversation going in the comments below, on Facebook, and on Twitter. Next Monday we'll drill down on the Character-Driven Video. Stay tuned!