Video Storytelling for a Multimillion Dollar Event
This article is adapted from a 2019 AHP Webinar Series event presented by Lori Johnson, Director of Donor Relations & Events, John Muir Health Foundation, and Lynnea Golding, Senior Director of Creative Services, Advancement Resources.
The most difficult and worrisome part of planning an annual event is keeping attendee retention rates high and growing. Setting an example for the industry, the John Muir Health Foundation has sold out their gala every year since its start in 2014, raising over $8 million along the way.
Successful events are not lucky coincidences. They require the intense dedication of staff and volunteers. In 2013, nine volunteers and a JMHF staff member came together to reinvigorate a gala event that hadn’t been held since 1999. They approached the foundation board with two objectives – to raise money for the foundation and to raise awareness about the programs and services the hospital provided. While these goals are fairly universal to health care event planning, creating a game plan for an event that touches the local community while fulfilling these goals is not an easy task. With the help of a powerful video story, an event can be elevated from an ordinary outing to an extraordinary memory that will stay with guests for years to come.
What is a video story?
At any fundraising event, one of the major goals is to humanize patients and physicians so attendees may better connect with their stories and potentially join the organizations as donors or ambassadors of the mission. Traditionally, this is done by having a top-ranking official from the hospital or foundation stand at the front of the room and recount years of stories from their prospective.
With video storytelling, a foundation can better represent the beneficiaries of a particular philanthropic goal, putting faces and voices to stories otherwise told in the third person. Using an event video allows the foundation to control every element of the intended story — from the timing and the stylistic choices to the emotional responses elicited from the presentation.
Creating the Base
Like any good book, a successful video story requires an order that will tell the story with the most success, beginning with a thoughtful introduction. This could be to highlight the service line featured at the event, or an introduction to the foundation and hospital in their entirety. Next would come the rising action — this is when the patients and donors begin their stories, setting up the moment for their interaction with the foundation. After the rising action comes the climax of the story. At this point in the video, the foundation staff is introduced to the story, connecting their line of work to the story of the donor or patient. As the action falls, the aspirations for the featured service line is elucidated. The video resolves with a call to action, asking its viewers to have their story become another piece in the mosaic of a successful philanthropic story.
Selecting Partners, Patients and Physicians
With a basic understanding of a video story and an idea of what you want the video to convey, it is time to select a video partner. Ask other foundations in your area for recommendations, taking into consideration the benefits of using a local videography company if one is available. If you are financially able, avoid using in-house videography and editing. The skills and insights provided by an outside company with previous experience is often with the price, ensuring a quality of video that will keep the audience captivated.
Once your video partner is selected, work with the company to create a timeline of expectations for editing and filming. Draft out the questions you would want to ask the patients, donors and physicians featured in the video to answer. Rather than asking questions that would elicit a sentence-long response, opt for an unscripted interview approach that allows the interviewee to tell the story as they remember it. Let them know the event you’d like them to speak about, inviting them to include as many details as they are comfortable sharing. Remember that a medically negative outcome — like the death of a family member or a terminal diagnosis — can still create positive experiences with the foundation if the quality of care received in the patient’s time of need was superb and held to the highest standard.
Select patients who are not only willing to share these stories and embrace conflict, but who are articulate, natural storytellers. When selecting physicians, find two or three who are involved in the video’s featured service line and have a passion for the organization. The physicians should not only be excited about philanthropy, but excited for the future of the hospital and the ways it can improve the community.
For both patients and physicians, request short biographies and a bit of background information on their affiliation with the hospital or foundation prior to the interview. Let the interviewer get a handle on where the story of the patient or physician may lead, giving them the opportunity to ask questions with the intention of bringing out certain aspects of their experience. The interview will still seem like a conversation — keeping the interviewee at ease — but the interviewer will have the end result of the video and its needs in mind at all times. Outside of the interviews, gather authentic b-roll film that will enhance the transitions in your video, also creating the opportunity to feature clinical staff who were not interviewed for the video story.
The Big Day: Debuting Your Video
After all the splicing has concluded, music has been added and the video is done, you are ready to present it at your event. While you may have a fun theme for the event (JMHF has come up with themes like old Hollywood glam, the Wizard of Oz, space and more), do your best to exclude any time-stamped ideas from the video story. You want your video to outlast the event and styling it to the philanthropic goal rather than to the specific event can foster this longevity.
At the debuting event, present the video right before an auction or the main fundraising feature of the event. A successful video will quiet the audience and grab attention so when the video concludes, the audience will wait for the next directions. If possible, have those who were interviewed for the video take the stage at its conclusion, bringing what was just on the screen back into reality, and more importantly back into the event space.
Your video story is about more than collecting dollars. You are featuring the hard work of your clinical staff and leaders, giving the community a glimpse into the daily life of the hospital and foundation. Find a video partner who understands the importance of this. The patients and physicians with the most relevant stories will be those close to the hearts of hospital staff, making them very easy to pull out of a crowd. Even after your event, post the video on your website and social media so attendees can share it with friends and family, expanding the impact of your video. Take opportunities to reuse clips and b-roll footage when applicable for other campaigns, remembering that your main priorities are upholding the integrity of the stories shared and promoting the philanthropic goals of the foundation toward building a better community.