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4 Ways Nonprofits Can Elevate Their Advertising

Effective marketing is often a challenge for nonprofits, especially when it comes to advertising. In essence, advertisements try to convince a potential customer to buy a product or contribute to a cause. Oftentimes, nonprofits lack the necessary budget to create compelling media that adequately conveys their mission to attract new donors. Let’s explore the state of nonprofit advertising today, as well as the possible approaches to improve this type of marketing in the future.

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The current state of media content for nonprofits

For a long time, nonprofits have struggled with a few issues when it comes to advertising: tight budget constraints, tricky criteria to break those budget constraints, and far too many executives who do not see the value in spending extra money on content. Ultimately, a nonprofit’s objective is to tackle causes and issues, such as removing ocean plastic or building wells for underprivileged communities, not deciding who to hire to make the best ad.

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An example of a nonprofit ad

This video from Charity: Water is a great example of a low-budget video produced for the purpose of garnering support for building wells. 

Put simply, this video is beautiful. However, if you’re looking for best practices, good cinematography, interesting edits, or truly artful storytelling, you won’t find it here. Instead, you’ll find a touching story of the impact that Charity: Water has had on just one person. Then you’ll learn exactly what it takes to make that happen for 70,000 others. Finally, you’re invited to take part in giving back to improve the lives of people you have never met.

Charity: Water does not care for trends. They aren’t here to convince you that your life will be amazing if you donate to their cause. This nonprofit aims to help people, and they want to give like-minded individuals the opportunity to take part in doing good. As famed entrepreneur Seth Godin preaches to his marketing students, “People like us, do things like this.”

What would make this ad better?

Ultimately, the goal for nonprofits focused on marketing: create an advertising video that persuades the casual observer to believe their donation can make a difference in the world — that it benefits them to lean into that. Here are a few changes that could apply to this Charity: Water video to make it more impactful and reach a broader audience.

1. Cinematography

The video would benefit greatly with a better videographer, as it was apparently filmed on an older DSLR, on site with no extra lighting. There are also very few shots in the piece — in fact, to drive the point home, the editors should have considered adding B-roll that gives the viewer more context on the issue and that specific area of the world.

As it stands, the video is shaky, and it suffers from low quality in regard to the picture and audio. Does the advertisement serve its purpose? Yes. Does it likely turn some potential donors away due to its low production value? Probably. Therefore, improvement could mean more donations for the charity. 

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2. Staffing

Charity: Water should hire a videographer from a digital agency, someone who knows the ins and outs of digital storytelling. Even better, said videographer should specialize in documentary filmmaking because they could create the same video but take it to an entirely new level. Also, hiring someone internally would pay back tenfold on the investment, which would be much cheaper than hiring freelancers or agencies to create one video at a time.

3. Graphics

This particular video includes some graphic elements, as well as text and logos, which simply fade on screen with a black background. These elements currently serve only as information for people who decide to donate, but could add a lot more value to the piece as a whole if made differently.

Hiring a motion graphics artist — or a videographer who possesses that skill set — could greatly benefit the piece. To improve the video, there could be interesting animations and small interactions between graphics presented at opportune moments throughout the piece instead of only in an end slate.

4. Sound

The final way that this piece could be improved is through the sound. Currently, you hear a woman speaking in a different language, with subtitles underneath. This is an effective way to communicate the story for this piece, but it is definitely not the most effective way to keep viewers engaged. The more engaged the viewer is, the more likely they are to donate. Therefore, the first thing to change is the voiceover.

The woman’s words are still the perfect message, but an English-speaking voice actress should do the voiceover. This will allow potential donors to immediately get the message without the friction of reading captions or hearing amorphous sounds they don’t understand.

Finally, add some music that tugs on the heartstrings. The lack of tailored music for this piece leaves a lot to be desired. If the editor had made a custom track that fit the tone and mood better, building to a climax at the end, it may have hit prospective donors a little harder, prompting them to act.

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