Digital Fundraising

With Video, "Authentic” Beats “Professional," and It’s Not Close

Justin Ware
Oct 30, 2022

Now more than ever, “real” sells. 

For quite some time, nonprofit marketers have been in pursuit of user-generated content (UGC) that uses real voices to tell their institution’s story. The trouble with UGC is that it usually depends on volunteers, donors, and other well-intentioned constituents producing the right content at the right time. Outliers like the “Ice Bucket Challenge” notwithstanding, most of us who’ve tried procuring authentic content from our audiences have met varying degrees of failure due to this fundamental lack of control.

Despite these difficulties, or perhaps because of them, there is substantial evidence indicating authentic content really is best for engaging audiences. For example, in a 2019 study by Stackla, a substantial majority of respondents (79 percent) said they preferred user-generated content to “professional brand” content (13 percent). This trend seems to be growing, as only 60 percent of respondents said they prefered UGC to professionally branded content in 2017. 

The fact is, to get real, you may have to pay for it. In firstname.co’s experience, hiring digital ambassadors is a game changer. With this in mind, consider the following tips to accelerate your real, authentic content machine. 

1 – Build a team of video ambassadors

In higher education, the solution is really quite simple. For decades, universities have employed students to work in call centers, using their ability to deliver “authentic” messages, as a way to enhance cold-calling for donations. At firstname.co, we harness this same energy to build “Donor Engagement Teams” consisting of student workers who create quality, authentic video content.

Click here, here, and here for a view examples of this video content

But what about organizations without a student workforce? Successful digital communicators are hiring  full-time positions to serve as story-tellers. Organizations like Animal Humane have done a wonderful job allowing their videographers to also spend time in front of the camera, building relationships with supporters on channels like TikTok.

2 – Create New Full-time Roles Around Authentic Content and Engagement

The Digital Development Officer (DDO) is a position that is rapidly gaining popularity across all non-profit organizations. A successful DDO is, first and foremost, an effective video communicator comfortable creating personalized selfie videos, monthly video newsletters, and managing large portfolios in the digital space by creating simple and genuine video content. 

As organizations hire effective videographers into the DDO role, they increase their ability to create content for all channels, including mass outreach and engagement activities. 

3 – Build Authentic Video Into Your Business

Be purposeful about increasing the amount of authentic video content for your organization. Revisit and adjust marketing plans, communications calendars, social media strategies, and any other documents that drive your constituent engagement. Be sure “authentic video” is part of those plans and that you have the infrastructure in place to be sure that video gets produced. 

4 - Track and test

You can’t manage what you don’t measure, so be prepared to test content the same way you might do an a/b on a direct mail piece. For example, at firstname.co we found that the view-to-completion rates on authentic, student-produced content was 54 times higher than a highly-produced video message featuring the same large university’s chancellor. 54 times. We also found that video viewership was a leading indicator of an individual’s inclination to give. In the above example, the increased video viewership led to 300 percent growth over that same campaign one year prior. 

Your organizations’ causes matter. Each mission is a story waiting to be told. Get real and use authentic video content to capture the attention of your audiences and inspire them to support your work.

Justin Ware
Justin Ware is a digital fundraising expert with nearly 15 years of experience helping nonprofits raise money online. An Emmy-winning YouTube producer and one of the original pioneers of the online giving day and online ambassadors programs, Justin is focused on innovative tactics and "what's next?" for cause-based work.

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