Nonprofit Pitches: Numbers Need A Story

Nonprofit Pitches: Numbers Need A Story
6 years, 4 months ago Comments Off on Nonprofit Pitches: Numbers Need A Story
Posted in: Blog

As I prepare to help provide guidance to nonprofits involved in Social Venture Partners Arizona’s upcoming “Fast Pitch” event, I looked back on some of what’s been written here.

I focused on video storytelling, an increasingly important strategy for nonprofits.

Charitable Words Scholars have produced several videos for our nonprofit partners’ events, web sites and fundraising campaigns.  The value has been evident in outcomes that significantly raised awareness, support and funding.

Students have benefited from working with Charitable Words’ network of volunteer advisors, which includes experienced and award-winning video professionals.  Our approach has been to recognize that students today were brought up with cameras in hand. Their technical skills are evident, often beyond their teachers and advisors.  And digital tools are readily available to help with cutting, clipping and other editing tools.

So we don’t spend a lot of time talking about the technical side. We talk a lot about storytelling.

Advice to young videographers:

The least important element of a video is, well, video.

Storytelling goes beyond what video can capture (and as Ken Burns documentaries have taught us, images from the earliest days of photography can be edited to move across the screen, providing dramatic effect).

Good storytelling calls for clear audio for sure. Imagery can be edited in post-production, muffled sounds and noise clutter not so easily.

The most important element of a video story is the story itself.  And as four, five and six-second segments add up, three minutes for a web site or Fast Pitch and even six or seven for an event presentation can go by quickly.

How to pack in all the information you want to get across?

Perhaps the simplest – and best – advice I’ve heard on storytelling for nonprofits came from

Lori Jacobwith, a Minneapolis-based fundraising coach who has provided training and coaching for thousands of organizations and their boards nationwide. Her strategies and tools have helped organizations to collectively raise nearly $200 million. I met her at a Social Venture Partners session, where she was providing guidance on how to tell stories in short time, such as a Fast Pitch event or crowdfunding campaign.

Her mantra is simple: “No stories without numbers, no numbers without stories.”

It’s important to identify the scope of a social issue, problem or challenge with numbers. But numbers along can be numbing.  It’s important to show faces of the story, showcasing individuals – but in the context of the numbers of others in situations of need.

That’s storytelling.

A good example of an important story, told well:

Charitable Words Scholar Tyler Bell of The University of Cincinnati was assigned to produce a video for People Working Cooperatively’s “Ramp It Up For Veterans” campaign in Cincinnati.

The numbers: More than 8,000 of veterans 65 years and older are living below the poverty level, and in need of critical home repairs and modifications needs such a wheelchair ramps. Since 2012, the program has served over 3,000 veterans.

The story: Bell, a Marine veteran of Iraq, connected with a veteran of a much different era, 98-year-old World War II combat nurse Anna Fields. His compelling story told about how PWC volunteers helped stay in her home. And, Tyler’s video was instrumental in helping the nonprofit raise $190,000.

The need was evident in the numbers.  But Anna’s face and words of gratitude told the story.


Thanks for reading Charitable Words’ blog…And thank you for the difference you make in our world.

Since 2012, Charitable Words has connected more than 30 nonprofits with 70 students and recent graduates and hundreds of hours of pro bono engagement by our network of volunteer advisors. Their impact has been evident. Yet to be measured: The lifelong impact of purposeful scholarship, internship and special assignment experiences on their personal growth, and how much they will give back to their communities over time.

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