Using Video to Strengthen Donor Relationships

A Conversation Between Deborah Kaplan Polivy, Ph.D. and Josh Gold

An Introduction by Deborah

In my first book, Donor Cultivation and the Donor Lifecycle Map: A New Framework for Fundraising (Wiley, 2014), I listed a number of tools that could be used to retain donors and move them along the Donor Lifecycle Map from first gift to “ultimate” or endowment. I placed these tools in two categories: personal, to be used with a prospect or donor one-on-one, and impersonal, for a group. My point was that the cogent application of cultivation tools was not only an important part of strategic planning for fundraising but also a mechanism for using available resources efficiently and effectively and not wasting time and money in the process.

I wrote in the book that my lists of the respective tools were “inclusive” but not “exhaustive.” Recently I read Josh Gold’s articles on eJewish Philanthropy and realized that his focus – the creation of videos for nonprofit fundraising – fit nicely into my framework. I recognized that video could be used as either a personal or impersonal tool depending on how it was deployed and wanted to pursue this idea. Josh and I spoke over Skype and below is a summary of our conversation.

DKP: The most common use of a video, at least from my experience, which seems to coincide with a series of articles you wrote on the subject, is at a gala or other fundraising event. Why do you think video “works” at such functions?

JG: Video is exciting. It brings together many elements – visuals, dialogue, music, pacing, and more – that combine to create a powerful message or story for a particular purpose, in this case fundraising. Notwithstanding that a video is created for an entire audience – an impersonal tool as you describe it, Debby – it can also be considered a “personal tool” since its objective is to produce an emotional response on the part of the viewer. In other words, a video tells a story that has mass appeal and simultaneously elicits individualized reactions.

DKP: From my perspective, the interesting use of video as a tool at a fundraising event is how it helps change one-time event goers into ongoing supporters of an organization, and, in the case of the long-term donors in attendance, increases their enthusiasm and commitment to an organization. How does it do that?

JG: Video isn’t a lecture describing how valuable an organization’s services or product might be. Video is an action-oriented production that is designed specifically to excite and inspire through appeals to emotion. If done well, it can generate interest that, given the opportunity for follow-up, may contribute to prospects becoming first-time donors. For those who are regular contributors, a video can make them proud to be supporters and reinforce their commitment for the future.

DKP: I understand how video is an impersonal tool at a fundraising event because notwithstanding that each person reacts to it differently, it still is being used with some kind of mass audience. Are there other ways that video “works” as an impersonal tool to attract and maintain donors?

JG: Video works well in email blasts and website content. A sustained marketing campaign can use video updates and video thank-yous to help ensure that viewers feel involved in whatever the effort may be.

DKP: Now let’s move to video as a personal cultivation tool. How do you recommend that video be used one-on-one with a prospect or donor?

JG: There are lots of choices for integrating videos into personal interactions. For example, a video could be included with print background materials that are mailed before a face-to-face meeting with someone. A personalized message could be added to a video and then sent to an ongoing and/or major supporter who misses an event where it was originally shown.

I especially like the idea of tailoring a video – even one that already exists – to the interests of a single donor. If there is someone, for example, who has a particular area of concern or even prior investment, a video can be custom-made or simply adjusted for the individual. I once created a video that was used in this way to persuade a donor to expand an educational summer program.

What is important is that this use of video is recognized in the planning stage so that it can be constructed with the future possibilities in mind. For example, title cards can be “swapped out,” a few tweaks added and suddenly the video now emphasizes key points in which the supporter has interest in a medium that is vivid as well as persuasive.

DKP: So what you are saying is that video can lead to a positive response from the viewer and, hopefully, a connection to the organization that will result in an active and ongoing relationship. Video can result in a stronger bond than, let’s say, other tools. It tells a story that, if done well, could even have a visceral impact on the viewer. Why is video so powerful?

JG: It has been well documented that pictures have a greater impact on individuals than both hearing “a piece of information” or reading text. (See for example this article by developmental molecular biologist John Medina.) This finding supports the strength of video as a medium for communication.

DKP: On the other hand, there are some things, particularly when it comes to communicating didactic information, for which I think video really is not appropriate. For example, in my opinion, it is not the right vehicle to describe different ways to make a gift – let’s say like a brochure might. It doesn’t replace an annual report, especially one in which donor names are listed and budgets are included. It doesn’t allow for the kind of study that a printed piece might. So, in conclusion, can we say that video tells a story and invites viewers to experience an organization in a personal way?

JG: That seems to make sense. Although, while I agree that video can’t replace more in-depth materials, I have certainly seen video used to enhance annual reports and other presentations of that nature. See for example this post from Community Organizer about reports in the “age of social.”

DKP: I think I now understand how video can be used effectively. If I were writing my first book today, I would add video to my lists of both personal and impersonal tools. When used cogently, it is a great descriptor of the mission and story of an organization – more inspiring than words alone when it comes to strengthening the emotional bonds in donor relationships. That is powerful.

Let me note again that the underpinning of the Donor Lifecycle Map is based on a process of recruitment, retention, increasing gift size over time and obtaining that ultimate gift. The potential I see here is that video provides a tool for keeping the donor relationship active and ongoing – no different than the intent behind a one-on-one telephone call or meeting – in a uniquely exciting way but maybe with less use of personal resources when implemented on a larger scale. Thus, in the long run, it may be cost efficient, too, an important consideration in the creation and deployment of any cultivation tool, personal or impersonal.

Deborah Kaplan Polivy, Ph.D., is a fund development consultant and the author of The Donor Lifecycle Map: A Model for Fundraising Success (Charity Press, 2017) and Donor Cultivation and the Donor Lifecycle Map: A New Framework for Fundraising, (Wiley, 2014). Her website is

Josh Gold, owner of Serio Films, has spent the past eight years working with nonprofits to grow their brands and has helped raise millions of dollars through video-based marketing. You can follow Josh and his team over at and