Increase Your Fundraising Video ROI With These 4 Tips

I’ve been especially passionate about this topic ever since I failed at it.

A couple years ago, my school put together a cinematographically stunning appeal for the annual fund. Check it out, it’s beautiful… like Mercedes-Benz-commercial-meets-Ryan-Gosling gorgeous:

We rolled out this film a couple weeks before the end of the fiscal year, positive that alumni and parents would be overwhelmed by its sheer magnificence—so much that their wallets would spring open and rain down dollars across campus. That dream never materialized. We got a lot of views (at the time it was our most-watched video), but it didn’t provide the boost we wanted. Ever since that piece, we’ve worked to improve our fundraising videos at Exeter, testing to see what works and talking with other schools to see what’s working for them. It’s an ongoing process, but here are four simple tips any advancement office can use to make their video appeals more effective.

1. Don’t use video in a vacuum.

We mistakenly did this with the crew video at Exeter: It was launched in a vacuum… and it sucked. We missed the mark by not connecting the video to anything our audience cared about—it was just tied to our internal deadline. Mercersburg Academy has enjoyed success with its “Did You Know” video, which educates potential donors on the importance of the annual fund:

Instead of going the vacuum route, Mercersburg paired the launch of the video with class agent phone calls and follow-up emails to drive results. They didn’t treat video as a silver bullet; they used it as just one of many tools in their annual giving toolbox, generating greater ROI in the process.

2. Make it shareable.

The brilliance of last year’s Ice Bucket Challenge and the University of California’s “Promise for Education” campaign was the way each capitalized on the power of social sharing. Facebook’s news feed algorithm loves video, making it a perfect platform for launching and sharing videos and providing the added bonus of feeding your social donor management platform with new data. Bonus tip: Make them authentic. It’s nice to make beautiful videos, but we’ve found that authentic appeals (like this one from last June) are nearly 4x as effective as scripted videos in terms of generating views and social shares. Without the sometimes-freezing, always-inspirational authenticity, neither the Ice Bucket Challenge or the University of California campaign would have been nearly as effective.

3. Use it for stewardship.

Donor relations guru Penelope Burk recommends as many as 12 touches between a school and a donor in between solicitations. Video is tailored for stewardship. Princeton realized this early. For years, the “Princeton Pause”—videos of campus events that are “sponsored” by the annual fund—have engaged and inspired donors. Videos like these are easy ways to show impact, give your audience warm fuzzies, and keep the annual fund top-of-mind without sticking your hand out.

4. Double down on the value.

Bringing in an outside video crew can be an expensive undertaking, so make sure to squeeze every last bit out of the final product. Organizations that do it best, like charity: water, create pieces that can be used as appeals, stewardship updates, and informative cases for giving—all at the same time.

C’mon… how can you watch that and not be inspired to give? Or be excited that you’re already a supporter? When you create a video, think about other ways to use it, whether for admissions, stewardship, or as permanent content for your website. (Right now, in my head Sir Mix-a-Lot is singing, “Uh… Double up, uh uh!”)

To demonstrate these four points, we’ll look at Exeter’s most effective video to-date:

We launched this on Facebook the final day of a five-day young alumni giving challenge against our rival school, and it helped propel 500 gifts in the last five hours of the challenge. Why’d it work?

  1. It was authentic and unscripted (literally the only part we made sure to include was the link to give).
  2. We didn’t launch it in a vacuum—it was part of a larger overall campaign and key social ambassadors knew it was coming and could promote it.
  3. Since it was on Facebook, it was that much easier to share.
  4. And even though it contained an outright ask, it was a decent piece of stewardship and engagement with alumni beyond our target audience, as hearing from two beloved figures on campus inspired warm Exeter memories. (Just read the comments.)


Video needs to be part of your office’s marketing strategy, but you need to approach using video in a way that delivers ROI. Here are some stats to help you sound smart in your next meeting:

My final thought? Measure. Your. Results. Too many shops churn out creative pieces but stop short of measuring their effect. (I’ll admit that I’ve been guilty of doing the same thing.) But if we don’t know the return, how do we know that the investment was sound? Look at the results. If they fall short of your goal, so be it—at least you learned something for next time. Because, honestly, your video is only a failure if you failed to learn something from it.

Want to learn more about the value of video? See how the U.S. Naval Academy used video to achieve their fundraising goals in this blog post by EverTrue CEO Brent Grinna!


Mike Nagel is the Associate Director for Advancement Communications at Phillips Exeter Academy. He spends his time managing and creating stories for PEA’s social media, alumni website, email marketing campaigns, and other mostly-digital play spaces. Say hi on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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