Charity Television

Imagine my surprise as I followed a link from my ego feed and found that my blog is featured on a “TV show.” The International Charity Association Network (iCAN), an organization that serves as an umbrella for Canadian nonprofits providing food and education, creates video programming on its Charity Television website.

The current program highlights five blogs that discuss nonprofit and philanthropy-related issues. Besides mine, the program talks about Have Fun * Do Good, the DC Goodwill Fashionista Blog, Cause-Related Marketing, and Katya’s Nonprofit Marketing Blog. Though the quick-change editing and camera angles are somewhat disconcerting, and the sexy hostess lady seems more suited to Firebrand TV, it was interesting to see one nonprofit’s take on online video programming. (Though two strikes against her, pronouncing both my first and last names wrong!)

Speaking of Firebrand, if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s an interesting bit of niche programming. It’s all commercials, all the time, with MTV-like “commercial jockeys” or CJs (including, yes, a sexy hostess lady) that pop up from time to time in between the ads. The site is strangely compelling, and they have definitely compiled some of the most clever and artistic spots here. It’s a great place to learn what makes a TV commercial watchable. The site is a brandseeker’s paradise, but there are examples of social advertising mixed in, such as spots from PSI, the American Lung Association, the Ad Council, Know AIDS/HIV, and others. It would be great if they added more social marketing ads and grouped them together in one category. The question is whether anyone but ad industry people are watching.

On the far other end of the programming spectrum is the Starfish Television Network, currently found on the Dish Network and streaming online. This time it’s all nonprofits, all the time. Organizations can submit their video material to appear in the programming, which runs anywhere from about two minutes to an hour long. If you’re a nonprofit with video you want to broadcast, take a look at the guidelines to submit your spots and get some free exposure.

Looking at today’s programs, for example, the broad mix includes things like the High Five Challenge (a TV game show that “recognizes and rewards today’s good kids, making smart choices”), a 5-minute spot about the 2007 Hollywood Arts Gift of Light fundraising event, short pieces on various scout values (e.g., bravery, kindness, etc.), a music video inspired by children with autism, a video called The Go-Getter that is “the story of one man’s refusal to give up even when faced with overwhelming obstacles,” 7 minutes about the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, and a 20-minute show about the medical team from Operation Smile traveling to India to provide free cleft palate surgeries for children. I’m sure sure some of this programming is wonderful and watchable, but I’m just as sure that there are some incredibly boring videos that nobody but the organizations’ staff want to see. So, the question again is whether anyone is watching this channel but nonprofit industry people. I would love to know. I have heard that professional producers will be creating programming specifically for the Starfish Network, so hopefully that will help.

When it comes down to it, as much as people might care about a particular cause, they are not going to sit through a boring video when they could be doing something more entertaining. For social marketers who are considering creating a video for distribution online, Ad Age just ran a great article about ten lessons for creating a viral video (which the author, top YouTube producer Kevin Nalts, aptly points out is not a viral video if nobody wants to share it).

Nonprofits should be exploiting this medium for all it’s worth, given that it costs relatively little to hire some of the most-watched Youtubers to produce a piece for you, and expectations for production values (read: budgets) are much lower than for broadcast television. In the end, though, it all boils down to whether you have something that people enjoy watching — though it may have a message embedded, the top three criteria for viral success are: entertainment, entertainment, entertainment.

UPDATE: I just came across this story from the Agitator highlighting an excellent report on nonprofits’ use of online video from the Chronicle of Philanthropy with several great examples of nonprofits that are doing just what I was talking about!

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  1. Nedra- nice to discover you via this post. Your timing is interesting. I get bombarded by random social-cause requests on YouTube on a daily basis. But I’ve yet to see a legitimate charity approach a series of known online-video personalities (weblebrities) for a good blitz. If, for example, the National Center for Missing & Exploiting Children asked the top 25 YouTubers to run photos at the end/beginning of their videos for a month- most would do it (as long as someone was clever and appropriately aggressive and persistent about reaching them- as they get loads of junk mail daily).

  2. Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for stopping by! I hadn’t even thought about the possibilities for the equivalent of PSAs embedded into other people’s content. What a great idea! It’s a brave new world of media and the savvy nonprofits that come up with creative ways of partnering with the content producers will be the most successful. I appreciate your input.

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