Say Thanks Like You Mean It

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by on October 27, 2015 Advancement, Featured, Lessons

Thank you, Sacca Family! from charity: water (special donors) on Vimeo.

I was in a creative rut after my most recent project wrapped. The assignment was to produce a video that expressed gratitude to everyone who made a FY15 gift to Northeastern’s annual fund. My idea for the concept came from a highlight video (shot and edited by William & Mary’s new video producer Evan Kutsko) that played on the jumbotron at Northeastern’s commencement ceremony in Boston’s TD Garden.

There was a moment in the middle of the video when the pulsing soundtrack stopped and the onscreen action cuts to black. The montage of happy students and staged research shots was suddenly interrupted by footage of students trudging through a Boston blizzard. The crowd came alive for the first time all morning. It was a moment on screen that united students, parents, and alumni. I twirled my imaginary mustache as I plotted how to work the theme into my next video assignment.

I used social media to identify three more moments from the academic year that Northeastern’s online audience digitally applauded. I wrote a script that tied them all together in a way that aligned with the project’s objectives — to express gratitude and demonstrate impact. A few weeks later, an email went out to 25,000 alumni with the video thumbnail front and center. I sat back to watch the real time view count climb on the YouTube Analytics page.

But it didn’t climb. Not like I had hoped.

What’s going on here? These story subjects had already tested well with our audiences — groundbreaking research that will save millions of lives, the hoops team’s first March Madness appearance in 24 years. There are even fancy motion graphics and a Game of Thrones reference. I thought this was going to be a slam dunk.

People still want to be acknowledged for their generosity, right? Maybe video is not the right vehicle for saying thanks. Should I cross “expressing gratitude” off my power of video master list?

Nope. Video can definitely do that. It didn’t take long for me to find proof

CharityWaterTweetCharity Water is an amazing non-profit organization with an equally impressive website, social media and video presence. They are often my go-to source for creative inspiration. At the top of their Twitter feed, I spotted a retweeted message from one of their more recent donors, venture investor Chris Sacca. He was so appreciative of Charity Water’s stewardship video that he shared it with his 1.62M followers.

Chris Sacca didn’t need to see the well at work to know what his gift had accomplished. That information was provided to him in the proposal. He makes calculated investments for a living and doesn’t give so generously to Charity Water, especially in his daughter’s name, unless he’s certain it will pay off.

Is there a marketing element to the Sacca Family’s video? Absolutely. It wouldn’t be on a public channel unless it was meant to inspire others to follow Chris’s example. But it feels more like a personal message than a commercial. It wasn’t recorded on a professional camera (probably an iPhone and DSLR combo), the speaker’s message is full of imperfections, his audio is competing against intermittent gusts of wind. Despite these technical flaws- actually BECAUSE of these technical flaws, there’s no doubt in my mind that Chris Sacca watched this video and felt appreciated. Here are the key ingredients:

[Personalization] “I’m standing here at Circa Luna’s well in Northern Ethiopia that was funded in honor of her birth.” + [Impact] A few shots of the well in use. + [Expression of gratitude] “Thank you.” 

This video is successful because it was created for Chris. It could not be repurposed in an email blast directed at the hundreds of thousands of Charity Water donors (they’ve done well with those, too). Think about the last time you attended a wedding. Did the bride and groom come around to your table and personally thank you for showing up? Even though it takes more effort on the part of the newly married couple, this approach is more meaningful than an address to the crowd. As the single recipient of their momentary attention, you can’t help but feel special.

So if showing gratitude is really the primary charge of your next project, find a way to make it personal. Take the time to record an unscripted and unrehearsed message. It could be from someone on staff, like in the Charity Water example, or from the student or faculty beneficiary. Demonstrating impact is nice, but not always necessary, especially when results will be slow to develop.

I’m not suggesting you record a personal shoutout to everyone who gives. Depending on your bandwidth, set the bar at a donation level that’s sustainable throughout the year. You could also create videos for groups whose gifts were directed to specific designations, like a sports team, student group, or scholarship fund. On occasion, surprise someone who made a small, general gift with a personal message. You can record and edit it on your smartphone.

But be warned. Your audiences are savvy enough to detect even the most subtle appeal for more cash. So don’t do it because there’s a secret hope that the message of thanks inspires even more generosity. Find someone who truly understands and appreciates what the gift will help accomplish, show them their mark, and hit record.

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