Show and Tell: Encouraging Volunteer Video | npENGAGE

Show and Tell: Encouraging Volunteer Video

By on Mar 27, 2009


Shortly after tennis-ball sized hail broke my windshield while driving to pick up my son last night, we arrived home frazzled and he insisted on watching the weather on our local news. So for the next hour I got to relive my Texas hail experience through photos and videos that Austinites sent by the gigabyte into our local news channels.
It reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to write about: I’m constantly being asked to TELL my friends about the issues I care about, but I don’t remember being asked to SHOW my friends. I think this should change, because recently I had a really fun time making a volunteer video about a special nonprofit event.  I learned so much and found it so engaging that in fact I made a very basic little brochure nonprofits can give their volunteers, encouraging them to do the same.  It’s easy, it’s fun, and people are uploading personal videos all the time (even during hail storms!).  Reduce/reuse/recyle/revise/rebrand the content as you will. 

What follows is my story and my video as a sample of the benefits to me as the volunteer, and also the benefits to my chosen nonprofit.

So a couple of weeks ago, I took a paid volunteer day (thanks, boss!), borrowed a sweet little Flip pocket video camera, and attended a Lobby Day scheduled at the Texas state capitol.  Immediately after parking my car I got busy recording short snippets of the day. I visited the offices of my legislators, expressed my views, and experienced my government first-hand. I ate a box lunch with people who’d arrived on buses from all over Texas. I met passionate, proactive, and thoughtful people, and about 80% of the times I asked, they’d agree to an interview for the blogosphere.  And at the end of the day, I went home and downloaded nearly an hour of short video clips, which I compiled with the software that came with the camera.

You can check out my video here – it’s 6 minutes, but you can get the gist in a minute or two.

Now this was my first video, so cut me some slack. I didn’t really plan it out, but the messages I instinctively wanted to send were:
* It’s easy & fun to participate in the event,
* you’ll meet lots of positive, proactive people who represent great diversity of support, and
* participation is important – showing up matters.

Many of these basic messages would apply to your events, too, right?

It was fun to see the YouTube view counter reach 200 for my first documentary short, knowing that, for just a few minutes, others were viewing the world through my eyes. But as a volunteer, the sweetest part was that the nonprofit organization I was supporting linked to my video in their next eNewsletter and also mailed me a thank-you note signed by a bunch of staffers who had seen or heard about the video. They may use it to recruit even more participants for future events. So now I’m a jazzed volunteer, they have some free content, and they also know how passionate I am about their organization. It’s a real win-win. 

A quick search on the subject located many inspiring examples of volunteer video. For instance, check out They are an organization in India that empowers the poor to be producers of content, and have a program to help “community video” become a new program area for nonprofits. If you missed it, their story was covered in the Chronicle of Philanthropy as well.
If video weren’t so easy to produce, YouTube wouldn’t be such a phenomenon. Think how many of your future donors are broadcasting themselves. Why not encourage them to SHOW their stories to TELL yours?

[Got great examples of volunteer videos? Post them and let me know how you’re using them. I’d also like to hear where these videos fall on the cost:benefit spectrum…I have a hard time seeing the downside, since people are broadcasting anyway.]


From time to time, a guest blogger will appear on npENGAGE. Guest bloggers are industry experts contributing useful, relevant content to the conversation on npENGAGE. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, contact the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *