Storytelling should be at the heart of every nonprofit’s marketing strategy. Yet, even if it is, being a powerful storyteller is a perfected art. So, then who better to tell the impact of a nonprofit’s work on their life than the actual recipient of the goodness? These PSAs may be emotionally engaging and heartwarming (or breaking), but there are 3 key ingredients to making it happen. First, the examples. Don’t judge, but these two examples are our clients. Even if they weren’t, we still think they are the best of the best.

While the American Red Cross is one of the most well-known brands, they still feel challenged on educating the public on what they do every day; the day-in and day-out work that goes beyond major disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. For example, in the Washington Metro region, they respond to at least 2 home fires each day! Stories from 300 individuals from 23 states submitted more than 250 hours of footage which was edited down to 25 short “films” that make up the broader brand PSA campaign. Here’s one of the passionate stories.

The USO has been lifting the spirits of the troops and their families since 1941. Over the past ten years, they have constantly widened their scope of programs and services to match the changing needs of the troops. And those that need the USO most today are wounded warriors. But, the hardest wounds to detect are those that are literally invisible. The objective of this PSA campaign is to educate Americans about the invisible wounds of war, an issue that is quite complex and different for each of those that it effects. Through storytelling, we knew the spots needed to present the severity and impact of the problem but also acknowledge that restoration is possible and is happening.

3 key ingredients to effective storytelling in video:

1) QUALITY COUNTS. When telling a story through video, it needs to be high-quality (or at least edited in a high-quality way). Sure, lots of viral videos are bad quality. But they are the exception to the rule and your content needs to stay consistent with your brand image. Bottom line is that most low-quality content doesn’t get shared.

2) BE SPECIFIC. You can’t just ask people to submit stories – you won’t get the quality or type of consistency you are envisioning. We see nonprofit’s asking for this all of the time, but not generating enough quality stories (because they aren’t receiving them). The key is to be as specific as possible with your ask. See how the American Red Cross generated their stories through a package outfitted with a storytelling kit, video camera, directions on filming and tips on sharing their stories on camera.

For the USO spots, we spent several days pre-interviewing more than 30 people to get just a few that could be easily translated into an short, emotionally compelling :30 TV spot. For example, Jessica’s story made for a better feature video instead of a PSA.

3) A LOT FOR A LITTLE. Stories for use in marketing campaigns need to be quick, yet piercing. As marketers, we know we are usually looking for that golden statement that says it all in just a few words. But, to find that, you’ll need a lot of content to sift through. Sometimes it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. For example, when MSGT Mike Martinez said “Get educated. Don’t brush aside and don’t count us out” we knew it was a powerful statement. It’s a challenge to the entire American public and that is what the USO was challenging everyone to do.