… Build Support Through Online Video

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On film:  IRIM uses its young clients to bring in more volunteers. Source: IRIM.

In the new world of social media, youth development organizations are struggling to keep up. Often short-staffed and cash-strapped, youth agencies may at first think the world of Facebook and Twitter is just one more thing to keep up with. But as more and more organizations are discovering, social media can be a cheap (and sometimes free) way of staying connected with supporters, donors and kids. One way a number of youth organizations are reaching out online is through video.

Organizations say their videos are used most frequently to appeal to donors and supporters, but that involving youths in video production aids in their development.

“Moving pictures and immediate access to information are taking over traditional print media,” says Jonathan Zeichner, executive director of A Place Called Home in Los Angeles.

“It’s incumbent upon us in youth work to get in the curve. If we want to get the word out, we have to understand relationships between different forms of social media,” Zeichner says.

In his view, that means getting videos posted not only on the organization web site and on YouTube, but also on Facebook and MySpace pages. He’s already encouraging his own staff to link their Facebook and MySpace pages back to those of APCH.

Make it Real, Make it Accessible

For the Children’s Aid Society in New York, video has made the organization’s programs all the more real to potential funders, sponsors, and supporters. “What we’re trying to do is bring our programs and their impact to life,” says Associate Director of Development and Director of Marketing and Events Kathy Gallagher de Meij. She points out that when parents and children get in front of a camera and talk about their struggles, it really makes an impact.

Children’s Aid, which supports at-risk youth with programs from pregnancy prevention to college prep training, uses video for a variety of purposes, including as a marketing tool and as a medium for education. Sometimes one video can cover multiple angles. “Anything directed to a potential donor is going to talk about problems and their solutions,” de Meij says.

With social media, getting one’s video out to the world is easier than ever. Many youth organizations have their own channels on YouTube, and some are either posting (or about to post) video to their MySpace and Facebook pages. Posting videos on any of these sites is free.

Linking to these videos in emails is another free avenue of promotion. De Meij says she makes use of this option often, especially when in communication with donors and sponsors. “When you see it, you can feel it,” she says. “Keep it short and compelling. Send it to all your supporters, and encourage them to share it as well.”

Know Your Message, Use Your Kids

De Meij says it’s important to think about why you want to make a video in the first place. “Lay out the script, figure out why you’re doing it, and what you want people to take away,” she says. Then she advises keeping the whole thing under five minutes; three minutes is even better.

You don’t necessarily have to hire professionals either. Most youth organizations use their own youth, staff and parents for the videos, whether they are on the screen or off – helping with script writing or filming.

But be certain to take the proper legal steps. “Get everyone to sign a release first,” de Meij says. “It’s not that hard. Usually people are clamoring to be in these.”

Zeichner agrees, pointing out that youth members of A Place Called Home (APCH) are only too happy to promote the organization, which provides a safe place for tutoring, mentoring and help with college counseling and preparation. Getting video release forms signed by parents has never been a problem for APCH. “We’re so connected into the kids’ families,” Zeichner says. “There has to be a parent or guardian to even sign them into the organization.”

The video production itself can be a youth development tool. Children’s Aid tries to ensure that kids are involved in the process whenever practicable. “The kids are acknowledging the problems they’re facing,” she says of those who have been filmed. “They also feel good about being in a production. It’s a huge thing to them, and they’ll remember it.”

Zeichner says including kids in the production also makes the video more authentic to whoever is watching it. “Don’t worry about making it too slick,” he says. “Just make sure there is a call to action.”

Production can be as simple as using a handycam, downloading the video to a personal computer and then uploading the video to a YouTube account. Nonprofits can create their own YouTube channels for free. The videos can then be accessed either through a link on the nonprofit’s website, or through a quick search on YouTube for the organization’s channel.

At the other end of the spectrum are the videos produced for youth organizations by pricey professional firms. Recently the Boy Scouts of America produced 759: Boy Scouts of Harlem, to promote their organization and its contributions to youth development. The film had its premier screening last month in Washington, D.C. right on Capitol Hill under the sponsorship of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

To get a professionally produced video without paying lots of cash, de Meij suggests reaching out to supporters who may work in video as part of their jobs or as a hobby. Often these videographers and editors will work for free on a nonprofit’s presentation. Children’s Aid usually hires someone to do video editing, but the organization often has staff do the recording, using just a tripod to hold the camera steady for filming. The group has also used in-kind donations from media companies.

Check out how these organizations are producing their videos: