This post was written Benji Hyam, who reached out to us to share how non-profit organizations can increase their fundraising efforts through emotional storytelling. We thought this was a great idea and hope Benji’s perspective helps you do the same. Take it away, Benji…
On their first trip to Haiti, Debbie and Bill Harvey’s life was forever changed. A Haitian friend insisted that the two take a look at an abandoned house, and when they showed up, they found 35 abandoned, starving and sick kids. After requesting the help of a doctor to take a look at the kids, the doctor said “these kids are in as bad of shape as I’ve ever seen, by the time you come back [to Haiti] half of these kids will be dead”.
Debbie explains that after going home to the US, “I couldn’t do what I do because I couldn’t get those kids off my mind”. The couple decided they needed to do something to help, and a month after they got home, they set out to raise funds to get their new nonprofit Helping Haitian Angels off the ground.
I got the chance to talk to the Founder, Debbie about how she was able to fundraise over $2M for her non-profit using, in large part two 7-minute videos. I also got the chance to interview TAR Productions’ Founder Tim Ryan to get some insight into how he created the video that was so successful for Helping Haitian Angels.
This is the story of how she leveraged these videos with two unique fundraising techniques to raise millions in non-profit funding.
Our hope is that after reading this, if you run a nonprofit, or a purpose-driven business, you can also leverage similar techniques to raise money for your organization and spread your message.
Let’s meet Debbie and her non-profit.
HHA: A $2 million non-profit focused on people and built by love
Debbie and her husband Bill started Helping Haitian Angels (HHA) after they returned home from that fateful trip. “Fast forward 9 years later, we have 60 kids, 40 staff, we have a school, a church, our orphanage, and sustainable farming,” Debbie says.
Helping Haitian Angels provides medical care, food, shelter, schooling and clean water to the children they found in Dekle, Haiti. As the children grow older and move out of the orphanage, HHA provides jobs to both the men and women. The men are taught carpentry and welding and the women are taught sewing to keep them out of trouble and reinvesting in their community.
That’s the challenge: the organization does so much that they needed a concise way to tell their story so that donors are compelled by the love they have for the Haitian children they’ve been helping for 9 years.
As Debbie explains, in the eyes of potential donors, it’s easy for Helping Haitian Angels to just get grouped in with other non-profits, “There are a lot of organizations that do what we do – especially in Haiti.”
But she’s passionate about how HHA is different, saying “We like to think we’re different… I try not to put us in that NGO, non-profit box because we’re very present. I’m [in Haiti] half the year and we just do everything with love.”
That emotion is a large part of what drives Debbie and Bill to get up every day and work for free on this passion. As Debbie explains, “It’s a full-time job that I do not get paid for….I had to give up everything – it’s 24 hours.” But it’s rewarding. As she puts it, “It’s the best non-paying job I’ve ever had.”
How do you convey this emotion and love, along with explaining all of the different concrete things the organization does to potential donors in a concise way?
A PowerPoint? A speech?
This is where the power of video has been transformational to Debbie, Bill, and Helping Haitian Angels.
Before the Video: Raising $16,000 at a House Party
After returning to the U.S. from Haiti and committing to start Helping Haitian Angels, Bill and Debbie Harvey decided to raise money from friends and family, via a house party. Debbie explains, “We had a party at our house a month after I got home and found the kids and we just had people on our deck in the back, made a powerpoint and had food and had wine. We just told people if you’re coming bring a checkbook, don’t come if you’re not going to help us.”
They were able to raise $16,000 from this event. $16,000 is great as seed money, and it helped them get started, but to build up to a 40 person staff helping 60 kids, with a school, church and orphanage, they needed to find a way to scale fundraising.
That’s when they decided to create a video to help them communicate their message to people beyond their face-to-face connections.
The Video: Telling an Emotional Story in 7 minutes
The key to a video being a successful marketing and fundraising tool for purpose-driven organizations like Helping Haitian Angels is that it needs to build an emotional connection with the viewer. Yes, of course, it also needs to explain some of the nuts and bolts of what the organization does, but without an emotional connection, the techniques below won’t work.
Think of Your Video as a Movie
When I sat down with TAR Production Founder Tim Ryan about creating this video for HHA, he said,“ When we did this for Helping Haitian Angels, we made sure to follow a story arc to keep the viewer engaged and create an emotional connection in order to hook and keep the attention of the viewer.
The video needs a setup – where you learn the characters and establish the plot and the objective, then you need to introduce conflict (or the problem you’re solving), following the conflict, you take the viewer on a journey and reach a resolution (how you overcame the conflict), and then end with a call to action.
This framework can be used by any company to tell their story. If you’re a purpose driven non-profit or small business looking to do this yourself, first start by brainstorming what your story arc could be:
- Who are the characters?
- What’s the conflict?
- How does the plot develop?
- What’s the resolution and call to action?
You can see how TAR was able to follow this framework in this video:
The videos take Bill and Debbie’s cause, build trust with the audience, and share their passion for their cause in an incredibly short amount of time.
TAR’s research started by asking Bill and Debbie a series of open-ended questions that allowed for follow up questions to go deeper. They were able to determine the key parts to our storyline and comment on aspects that Helping Haitian Angels assumed were boring or mundane. “Without asking follow up questions we would never have been able to get the depth out of our interviews and take our story to the next emotional level,” Tim explained. “Our unique approach helps reveal this and help them share their story with the world.”
The “unique approach” involves being really good at getting clients to open up about their story, figuring out who the key characters are to best tell the story, and then learning as much as they can about the why behind the story. As Tim says, “We don’t often create the story we tell, but collaborate as extraordinary contributors with our clients.”
But while the videos sell when they’re in front of the right people, Bill and Debbie figured out two specific ways to utilize them to get new donors.”
Technique 1: Use the video as the hook in widespread outreach
Bill meets a lot of potential donors all the time, but it’s not easy to explain why someone should donate, and how Helping Haitian Angels stands out amongst the rest of organizations out there. If you ask for a donation immediately, it can feel forced and be a turn off. But if you don’t hook the potential donor early, you’ll be forgotten in a sea of other options.
So Bill and Debbie figured out that if they use the video as an initial introduction to HHA, the emotion and story will hook a donor. Then, they can ask for donations later. They found that this was a much more effective in educating someone why they should donate to the cause.
Many nonprofits might have a great story, elevator speech, PDF or business card, but the problem with a lot of those assets is that they don’t build emotion.
What’s compelling about HHA, as you can tell from the video is the people aspect and the love that Bill and Debbie have for the kids.
As Debbie says, “Everything we do is based on love.”
The video is great tool to show that love they have and the real things they‘ve accomplished. As Debbie says “It allows people to see our passion, which in turn touches people’s hearts, which in turn gets people to write checks.” Helping Haitian Angels wanted to move hearts and minds and get people to take action.
But she’s quick to point out, “It’s not just about the money but it’s about them understanding who we are, our hearts, what we’re doing so that they’re touched and helps us do what we do.”
So their strategy with the first video was to first hook the donors and get the entire message across, then follow up. Debbie explains, “Anyone who says they’re interested in what we’re doing or might want to come on a mission trip, or they are thinking about donating to us, we send them a link to the video. Every single person.”
The video serves as the introduction to the organization, its values and it’s mission. From there, people have a better understanding.
Then Bill follows up by email or phone to ask for someone to write a check.
Technique 2: Introduce an Event with the Video
While the first technique involves sending the video out, the second technique uses the video when donors are first invited in, via a gala or event.
Building off of the success of their initial party, Bill and Debbie experimented with an annual fundraising gala 6 years ago and have continued to do it every year since.
The video is a key part of this event. For anyone attending, the video is one of the first things they see. Similar to how it’s used in the outreach technique, it instantly introduces them to the organization, the emotion, and their mission. Debbie says while “most people [who attend an event] have seen [the video], if there’s 10 people in the room that haven’t seen it, it’s worth it for them.
They play the video at the beginning of the event so that attendees can understand the purpose behind the gala, and then people will donate various amounts of money throughout the night.
Debbie explains, “It’s our biggest annual fundraiser, dinner, band, auction kind of thing. We probably raise $150k. We just do it once a year.”
Using a Short Video As Your Emotional Calling Card
To get buy-in for a purpose driven company or nonprofit, it’s important that people build an emotional connection for what you’re doing. The videos for Helping Haitian Angels have been a key fundraising tool that do just that. As Debbie says “we call it our number one fundraising tool.”
The two videos have been so successful for HHA that they plan to create a third one this year that will educate people on all of the accomplishments they’ve made in their last nine years.
You can bet that Tim and his team will use the same story arc method to create this one as they did for the first two, because as Tim says “video is the most impactful medium, but it has to be done the right way.”