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.

Try This!

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 advocacy video resources (5)


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.


3 Stumbles


1. A great follow-up to Morgan's post on fonts.
2. TIME's 50 Best Websites of 2011: Music and Video
3. When storytelling fails to engage donors.

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Nonprofit Profile: Preemptive Love Coalition


By Tucker Walsh

One day last spring, my photojournalism classmate, Lydia Bullock, whispered into my ear, "Tucker, I'm going to Iraq." I sat up straight. "For six months," she added. Lydia, at barely five feet tall with short blonde hair, might seem like the least-likely candidate to move to a war zone for half a year. But her passion to do good was insationable. She had a mission to help the Iraqi people through "visual peacemaking," and so, too, did her comrades in arm, the Preemptive Love Coalition. Living and working in Iraq, PLC trains local heart surgeons and nurses to help the tens of thousands of children in need of surgery. By documenting each child's operation, they do what far too many nonprofits fail to do: let donors see first-hand the lives they are saving, literally. Find out how they do it in my Q&A with PLC co-founder Cody Fisher. 

Untitled - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.



TDN: Talk about how and why PLC made video and digital storytelling a priority. Has it been a major part of PLC's marketing outreach from the start, or is it a new strategy you're developing to reach your audience?
PLC: Storytelling matters because people matter. That means we’re in the endless pursuit of finding the most effective mediums for storytelling, and right now it has so much to do with video and digital storytelling.

Our work takes us to cities and villages all over Iraq, so we’re constantly listening to the stories of people we live and work alongside - stories that bring us to tears, stories that make us throw our heads back and laugh, and stories that shatter stereotypes and misunderstandings. We’re better for hearing them, and we want others to hear them, too.

People need to know Sheikh Ali and his coalition of Muslim leaders who are waging peace across Iraq alongside us. They need to know little Ghazel and her father who left their secure Sunni community so the Shiite doctors down the road could give her the lifesaving heart surgery she desperately needed. This father put his daughter in the hands of his “enemy” to make a statement that there can and will be peace in Iraq. These people matter, and so do their stories.

We live this out by never going anywhere without a camera and a paper and pen to document our day-to-day interactions. Every lifesaving heart surgery we perform in Iraq is documented and crafted into our story so people back home can feel like they’re right here with us, and also so the families of these children can see that their story is important and that their voice is being heard.

We’ve always been passionate about digital storytelling because we see it as a form of visual peacemaking. We began PLC with the story of the first child we saved, a boy named Aras, and we haven’t stopped telling stories since.

But of course, we’ll never stop developing and evolving how we’re doing it.

Saving Mohammad's Life - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.


TDN: Why is visual storytelling important for nonprofits to invest in?
PLC: A love for good storytelling is in our DNA. It’s how we’re wired. To miss out on good stories means to miss out on so much of what it means to be human. Without a doubt, one of the most thrilling day-to-day tasks that I have is using the stories I hear to connect the people I love around the world with the people I love in Iraq. For a nonprofit to miss out on knowing and telling the stories of those they’re helping, it means others miss out on it too, and if that’s the case then how are they supposed to care about your cause?

If you want to cultivate a community of passionate advocates and donors who stick with you for the long run, start telling stories.

TDN: How do you decide what subject or stories you want to document? Who shoots and produces them?
PLC: Everything we do is filtered through our Core Values, so every story we tell reflects them in some way or another. Beyond that, we want to tell the stories we don’t think others are telling or hearing. We’re fully aware of the single story that most of the world hears about Iraq, and we’re out to tell the stories that people are missing out on - stories of hope, courage, and reconciliation.

In Iraq, we’ve had the privilege to work alongside filmmakers and photographers like Lydia Bullock, Heber Vega, Matt Brandon, Matthew Foster Addington from the Duck Duck Collective, Mario Mattei and the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers, and Jonathan Olinger and Ricky Norris from Discover The Journey.

PLC 3 - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.


TDN: Which videos have been most effective? Are there any that you feel failed to get the message across? How did you learn from those?
PLC: One of our first black-and-white videos (above) about a little girl named Nivar was huge for us. We were blown away by all the positive feedback and responses we received after we launched it. Kids loved it, parents loved it, and we heard stories from so many families who watched it together and talked about how to help Nivar.

We had a few ill-conceived vignettes of children that never lasted long. Those were the times we failed to develop a working plan for before we started to film.

We’ve learned the hard way... but we’re better for it. We’ve found that the best videos are simple and personal. If we try to communicate too much in one video, or if we stray from telling the story of just one child or family, we lose our impact.

TDN: Once you create a video, how do you make sure it gets seen?
PLC: We hand it over to our press secretary and he launches it out through the main social media outlets and our blog. If it’s a timeless piece that we want to be around for a while, we’ll put it up on our homepage along with e-mailing it to our followers. From there it makes it way to other blogs, walls, Twitter feeds, donor mailboxes... you name it!

But getting seen in sheer numbers is never our goal. We also want the right people to see it. If we create a video on development, it needs to be seen by people we know really care about development work. If it’s about the medical aspect of our work, then it needs to be seen by the people in the medical field. If our videos are missing the key audiences who would connect with it, we’re not doing our videos justice.

TDN: What percentage of your overall budget is dedicated to video, video staff, marketing, etc?
PLC: Until recently, we have focused most of our efforts on making sure the maximum amount of what we have is making its way to our programs - even if investing in more traditional and new marketing options would’ve produced more revenue.

Last year we put about 3% of our budget into media production (we don’t have any hired staff for media production but we contracted out a few jobs). Off the top of my head, we probably put about $7-8k into media creation last year.

Rather than assume that quality video and photography was out of reach for our paltry budget, we chose to do almost all of our design, video, and photography in-house. Most of our allocated budget was used to purchase equipment with a dedicated grant that was made for that purpose.

We also have one of the most passionate support groups we could ask for, so a lot of our best work was done by volunteers and supporters who wanted to be a part of our work. 

Reconciliation Through Healing - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.


TDN: Tell me about your latest video (above). What did you try to do differently from past videos?
PLC: With our most recent video we sought to articulate our grand vision of “Reconciliation through Healing” - the idea that violence destroys trust and physical healing rebuilds it. The people of Iraq have suffered tremendous injustices - many of which they attribute to America, Americans, and America’s foreign policy. So when we bring in Americans to heal their children, we have a great opportunity to rebuild trust and rebuild the worlds that have been destroyed. We help communities inside Iraq that are at odds with each other learn to work together, serve each other’s children, and openly convey this message of peace.

The short video is the most “big picture” piece we’ve created to date. It’s also our first entirely animated piece, which was a lot of fun! Animation allowed us to tell stories and convey historical elements that we could have never adequately captured with a physical camera.

TDN: Several of your videos, such as "Thoughts on Nivar," are mainly audio driven. Others, like "compulsive whistling video" are purely visual (and music) driven. How do you decide which style is be best to capture the story your trying to tell? Have you found one type of video more effective than the other?
PLC: We choose whichever style tells each individual story the best. If we have footage that does a great job communicating the story in a way that words would negate the impact, then we keep our mouths shut and let the visuals and music take over. If the footage needs a narrative to fill in the gaps, we grab a mic and try to do exactly that. A lot of times we don’t know which way will work best until we see what footage we have to work with.

Because our supporters live around the world, I think the most effective videos for us are the ones that transcend language and rely completely on visual storytelling. In that sense, our purely visual stories reach a much larger audience.

TDN: Have you ever gotten complaints about showing graphic heart surgery images without any warnings?
PLC: I think I’m the only one that’s complained. Seriously, I don’t have the stomach for it. I’ve been in multiple operating rooms to document surgeries but I still can’t get used to staring directly at the heart of a child I know and love. My heroes are the doctors we bring into Iraq that can mend one heart after another.

I think they’re important shots, though, and I’m glad we get them. It may sound odd, but the people who appreciate them most are the children’s parents. They love seeing the hands that are healing their child.

TDN: What tips do you have for other nonprofits that are trying to embrace this medium?
PLC: Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s an intimidating world out there - especially the medium of digital storytelling - and it’s easy to think all of this isn’t worth pursuing unless you’re able to be the best. That’s a mistake. Grab a camera, shoot hours of footage and be happy with the few seconds of actual good footage you end up with. Start creating digital stories and don’t be offended when others critique you. Be thankful for them and learn from them. The worst storytellers are the ones who are silent. Scream your digital lungs out and see what happens. 


Learn more at PreemptiveLove.org and on Facebook.


5 Things You Can Learn from Kickstarter

By Scott Kirkwood

Behind the Scenes: Josephine and the Roach

So you’re producing an advocacy video. In most cases your goal is to inform people of a problem, offer them potential solutions to that problem, and get them to take some action toward that solution, like giving money, signing up for emails, or making meaningful change in their daily lives. If only there were a microcosm of videos that included some of these same principles, a laboratory where we could all learn from successes and mistakes. There is. It’s called Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is one of those brilliantly simple concepts that never would’ve worked before the web explosion. It’s a way for creative people to share their ideas with a massive audience, and get the funding they need to take the next step. Surf Kickstarter.com for a few minutes and you’ll see writers, photographers, videographers, bands, and inventors all competing for your attention and, ultimately, a few bucks. Kickstarter is the hub that connects people with an ambitious project to individuals with money and a desire to help out. Sound familiar?

Sales pitches are generally made in a 3- to 4-minute video pitch. As you would suspect, successful videos have quite a bit in common. Here are some of the biggies.

1. EARN THEIR TRUST. The unlikely love story entitled “Josephine and the Roach” is introduced by a likable, if quirky, filmmaker. The writers of “Oneironautics: A Field Guide to Lucid Dreams” start off by telling you about one of their dreams. The maker of the RedPop iPhone button talks to you from his living-room table. If you can tell a human story using a charismatic figure, it’s a huge advantage. But the broader idea is to earn the viewers’ trust from the outset. That might amount to presenting certain facts in an authoritative way, ensuring quality production techniques, even using consistent fonts in your captions and quality music as a backdrop. Once you see the “face” of an organization, whether literally or figuratively, you’re more likely to be engaged in the story they’re telling.

2. ILLUSTRATE THE PROBLEM QUICKLY. All of these videos mentioned here are about 3 minutes long, and they’ve all prompted people to cough up some serious cash. “Josephine” illustrates work already achieved by the filmmaker, and points out the need for some digital assistance. The lucid dreamers point out that there are many stuffy books on the subject, but none are accessible to the Average Joe. And the couple at Quinn Popcorn explains how they want to make microwave popcorn that tastes great. As most journalists and marketing gurus will tell you, if you can’t explain a problem succinctly, then you don’t really understand the problem. Find a way.

3. ILLUSTRATE THE SOLUTION QUICKLY. Problems without solutions are just depressing. If you’re producing an advocacy video, you must have some sort of solution in mind. State it simply, so viewers can get on board. Josephine’s director will use digital manipulation to erase a puppeteer’s presence. RedPop will create a button that makes it easy to take photos at a precise moment, and shoot again and again. Quinn Popcorn will use a compostable bag, green suppliers, and even let you add the flavors yourself. All are simple and compelling. Your solution might be to donate a few dollars, to write a member of Congress, to sign on to an online petition. If you want action, make that action clear, and explain how it will help.

4. TELL VIEWERS WHAT'S NEXT. Your potential supporters will want to know what happens if they lend their time or money, or simply sign up to receive your emails. Without some idea of the next step, they’re unlikely to join the effort. Kickstarter funds for RedPop will go toward mass production, Quinn Popcorn’s money will go toward distribution. Your advocacy work might be complete in days, weeks, or years. But viewers will want some idea of what they can expect. Don’t leave them in the dark when the video fades to black.

5. BE THE KIND OF GROUP THAT PEOPLE WANT TO SUPPORT. This last item isn’t always easy to achieve, but it’s important. Marketing gurus will tell you that people don’t just buy products for their usefulness, they buy products that label them as the kind of person they want to be. If you buy an iPhone, you’re part of a tribe. If you buy a Prius, or an SUV, or a bike, you’re not just purchasing wheels—you’re saying something about yourself, too. The most effective Kickstarter videos make viewers think not only, “Is it worth $10 to see this project funded?” but “Am I the kind of person who supports quirky filmmakers, nerdy dreamers, or a better bag of popcorn?” Ten dollars allows you to say “Yes, I am.” The same goes for supporting an advocacy movement. So don’t just try to persuade viewers that you’ve got a good idea—show them they’re the kind of person who should belong to your tribe.

Scott Kirkwood is editor-in-chief of National Parks Magazine, a passionate reader of publications like Wired and Fast Company, and a regular contributor to TDN.

A User Guide to The Digital Naturalist

© Pink Sherbet Photography

Web design is not my strong suit. I'll be the first to admit that. And it occured to me recently that because of the way I've set up this blog, a lot of really great content gets buried really fast. So if you're a new reader, it could take you hours, if not days, to comb through this site-- and unless you have the time and patience to explore page-by-page, you could miss some really great posts.

I've enlisted a super-savvy marketing guru to help me find some remedies. More on that to come. In the meantime, I thought I'd offer a basic "user guide" to help readers-- specifically, nonprofit employees who want to push their organization's outreach to new levels-- navigate the many resources TDN can offer.

I don't have much time. Where can I learn a little about digital storytelling, and fast?
About TDN
5 Ways to Rock an Advocacy Video (my guest post for Innovative Interactivity)
8 Rules of Multimedia
8 Rules of Audio
12 Glimpses into the Future of Storytelling

How do I convince my organization that advocacy videos are worth producing?
Never Say Never 
Cause and Effect 
A Journey from Print to Digital 
Nonprofit Profile: Charity Water 

Where can I learn more about the art of storytelling?
Scott Simon on How to Tell a Story
America reCycled: Q&A with the Hussin Brothers 

How can I break down a really complex subject?
Climate Wisconsin: Q&A with Finn Ryan 

How can I think visually?
A Designer's Eye
Fonts Matter

How can I conduct better interviews?
Where Hope Works: Q&A with Danger Docs
America reCycled: Q&A with the Hussin Brothers 

What should my team look like? Who should I hire?
It Takes a Village 
Meet Tucker Walsh
Eye Candy by Ami Vitale 
A New Generation of Wild 
TDN's Contributors 

How do I budget for a video project? How can I measure results?
Climate Wisconsin: Q&A with Finn Ryan 
Nonprofit Profile: Charity Water

Where can I find good music? What if I want to create my own score?
Inside the Mind of a Composer 
TDN's Music Sources

How should I write differently for video versus print?
Growing is Forever
Panel Review: A Golden Opportunity 

What if I don't have much of a budget to work with?
The Beauty of Stills

I made a video-- how do I make sure people watch it?
Viral Videos: A Reality Check 
3 Rules for Getting Your Video Seen
Nonprofit Profile: Charity Water 

What are some examples of really engaging advocacy?
Growing is Forever 
We Are All Connected
Climate Wisconsin: Q&A with Finn Ryan 
Nonprofit Profile: Charity Water 
America reCycled: Q&A with the Hussin Brothers
Where Hope Works: Q&A with Danger Docs 

How can I develop a better eye for digital storytelling?
Panel Review: Witness 
Panel Review: A Golden Opportunity
Plastiki, Deconstructed 
Sometimes Simple is Better

Dude, it's Monday. Can't I just turn my brain off and watch something fun?
TDN's Music Videos 
TDN's Cutting-Edge Videos 
TDN's 3 Stumbles Archive