Whenever I ask nonprofit people about a TV show they find memorable, they usually mention “Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition. Who doesn’t  love it when a family in need receives a complete home, usually accompanied by some bill paying or college scholarships. There’s tears, there’s joy, there’s thank-you’s — it’s a win-win for everyone. If you follow the other home makeover do-gooder, Mike Holmes, he has a similar show called “Make it Right“. Both shows are helping people to feel safe and to move on with their lives. So, how can you make your videos more like these popular shows? Tell the whole story, not just the happy ending.

Let’s start with the talent.  In both cases, the people have been chosen based on certain criteria. Certainly they are comfortable with a camera being in their home non-stop, and it is obvious they want to be on the show. In real life, the people you are helping may not be ready for that. There may be challenges concerning physical and mental health, and feelings of embarrassment, anger and sadness. It’s important to remember that just because people are in the process of receiving help, doesn’t mean that they owe anyone anything. As a caring society we should naturally think of helping each other and I think nonprofits get that. So, how do you find someone that is willing to talk about their story? First, you have to wait until they have received help and feel comfortable. Then, you have to contact them and really talk to them about the possibility of being on a video, either by phone or in person. It’s nice to be up front and to let them know that the reason for the video is really to get more funding or support so that more  people in similar situations can receive help. If you are in fear of a program coming to an end, it’s okay to share that, too.  People appreciate honesty. Make sure you bring up the context of the video — is it for a gala, or will it be posted on your organization’s YouTube? People may feel differently about how they are viewed. If you have done your homework, you probably have someone in mind already. Usually the people that agree to being on camera are now advocates themselves, wanting to help change the lives of others. Make sure you send them a follow up email or letter so that they will remember what was discussed.

Usually the next step with creating a video involves scripting. How will we tell the story? In the “Extreme show, the script bounces back and forth between the family and the people working on the new home. Much of the excitement of the show is built upon the family’s initial submission video which outlines their crisis and why they need a makeover. The original issues brought up in that video are confirmed in interviews throughout the show, creating the expectation that the needs must be met. You can accomplish a similar feel in your video through interview. Although the person in your video has already received help, you can have them talk about what their life was like before they connected with your organization. What were they feeling? How did they get the things they needed back then? What were some of the things they couldn’t do? How did if affect their family? Usually I don’t like to give people questions ahead of time when I interview them, however, in this case you may want to send them a few of the questions  just to make sure they are comfortable. Also, a lot of time may have passed and they may need to review in their own mind what changes have occurred. One of my most memorable interviews was regarding a woman’s experience with domestic abuse.  In this case, I interviewed the woman ahead of time on the phone to make sure I understood her story. I also made sure to question her about which things she was comfortable revealing on video.  She later wrote me a note to thank me for making her so comfortable in revealing something that was so hurtful in her life, and for respecting her wishes. Like many I have interviewed,  she was someone that had become an advocate for other women, so it was a natural step for her to want to reveal her story. Once you have the back story, it’s time to get to the help leading to the life changes. This will help to create the “before” and “after” feeling of a makeover.

Once you have an interview, you will need to re-enact some of what is being said. Again, you have to check to see if the person you are interviewing is comfortable in this situation. If not, you may have an actor or friend help to recreate the scene. As in many TV shows, people may be seen without their faces being shown. Was the person living out of their car? Did they receive financial counseling? Were they living with someone with drug addiction? These are all things that can be recreated in small spaces — sometimes even at the place you are doing the interview. The more you know the person’s story, the more prepared  you will be to recreate it. Don’t forget you will also need images of the person getting help from your organization and the finale shots of their life now changed. That should be the most fun!  Usually those end shots include family and friends. Don’t be scared to ask them to do what they really do at home. If Dad cooks his favorite burgers on Tuesday night, then by all means tape it. The point is to be as real as possible about the person’s life in the video.

If you have done all of these steps, you have interviewed a vibrant advocate and captured images that help to show their life before, during and after help. You also have an uplifting end scene that brings smiles to everyone — a sentimental finish for an extreme makeover.  So often nonprofits only interview for the “after” story. The end is nice, but there can be no build or climax if the whole story is not revealed. Not only does the whole story allow the audience to be part of the experience, but it also allows the interviewee to be a witness to their own change. There is nothing more powerful than that. So, make your nonprofit video extreme and let everyone share in the moment of transformation.




As a nonprofit, you probably have an opportunity to video speeches at your educational talks, panel discussions and galas.  We were recently asked to capture a keynote address on green business for an entrepreneur start-up organization in Finland, which is pretty exciting stuff as we are fans of sustainability.  Our speaker was Trudy Heller, a woman that is well known for this subject in Philadelphia.  After we were finished capturing her talk, we had her change clothing,  made some tweaks of the studio and then proceeded to interview her.  We weren’t asked to do this, so why did we bother?  Simply stated, video is a close-up medium.  The delight of video is that it allows for the intimacy that we can’t have in real life with a subject.    How many times have we caught a character on Saturday Night Live cracking up because the camera has zoomed in so close to their face that we see their eyes looking down and the movement of their chest as they start to chuckle?  You would have to be in the first row of their studio audience to get that kind of view, and we know that isn’t easy!  That camera is giving us the chance to feel like we are there and to recognize that universal feeling that we are all connected.

Now that we’ve painted this dreamy picture, why should you bother with that interview during your speaking events?  You first have to remember that by capturing a speech on video, you are already viewing the subject in its second best mode.  Speeches were made for people to view in rooms at a distance, not on video.  A video can’t replace being there because it can’t capture the reaction of others viewing the speaker at that very moment, and it can’t relay the emotional connection between audience members or the particulars of the environment.  Also, the expectation of what the audience will see on video is much more mesmerizing than the reality of someone at a podium, which is what they will ultimately get.  So, there is already a let down as the image is static.

Let’s look at how we can spice up this speaking footage with interview footage.  Ideally you would do some minor editing and sprinkle the interview clips in amongst the speaking clips, looking for common themes.  Now there is a feeling of being one on one with the speaker.   There is also the opportunity to answer questions that are more personal, because a time limit wasn’t set and the speaker was comfortable enough to allow the conversation to happen.  If you are trying to win an audience over to a cause, you are allowing them the chance to feel that personal connection.  You are also giving the audience a change of scenery, and that holds their interest more so than had you just showed them the footage of the speech.  Don’t want to break up the material?  Then just post some of the best interview moments on-line.  You are still allowing your audience another way to view a subject and to feel closer to the speaker.  In the case of Trudy Heller, our interview footage can be used for her website or even a demo reel for public speaking.  Options and re-use are what it is all about, whether it be video or sustainability.  So, get personal and make sure you grab an interview next time your record that speech.


Recently one of our nonprofits had the opportunity to display their videos at a concert of 75,000 people.  Now I realize that you may not have the opportunity to do large scale concerts, but what you do have the opportunity to do is affect the branding of your video.  Some organizations are supplied with national/worldwide videos that may be of excellent quality, but they lack the local feeling that will really promote giving.  So, let’s look at some fixes that can help your videos, whether they are shown to a potential donor at their home, or shown to thousands at a gala.

Location, Location, Location

Are you looking at images of a mid-west town when you are located in a bustling urban area?  Are the people seen in the video representative of the diversity in your area?  You know how exciting it is when you recognize your surroundings in the news, so you can only imagine how important location is to your viewer.  If it’s not fitting your criteria, then it’s time to shoot some images of your area and do an edit.  You may find your local tourism office has some “beauty shots” of your area to choose from, both in video and photos.  Of course gritty images may be of more help to your cause, so don’t be scared to go after what you really need to tell the story in an honest way.

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