How one nonprofit increased donations by 146%

It’s a question most nonprofits have asked themselves: How do we increase our visibility, engage a larger audience, and raise more money? For one Durham organization, the answer was found by tapping into the local food scene. Open Eye Creative helped with a series of videos screened at their fundraising events — and the result was a dramatic increase in donations.

Background

Families Moving Forward has provided temporary housing to homeless families for some 27 years — but their name is relatively unknown in the community. That’s because the organization was officially formed in 2016, after the merger of two nonprofits: Genesis Home and Durham Interfaith Hospitality Network. Facing hurdles common to many new nonprofits, Families Moving Forward knew they had to raise their profile, reach new audiences (particularly young people), and bring in more revenue to support programs. That’s when they got creative.

Chefs for Change collage
Photos by Bohío Fine Art Photography

In 2017, they created what they call a “fine dining experience with a purpose.” Chefs for Change is a bi-monthly ticketed dinner held at the beautiful Rickhouse near downtown Durham. At each dinner, a popular local chef serves three or more courses, with the proceeds benefiting Families Moving Forward. Chefs have included Billy Cotter from Toast and Dashi, John May from Piedmont, and Iron Chef Ricky Moore.

Challenge

Ticket sales ($75 for each Chefs for Change dinner or a series pass at 10% off) helped offset the expenses associated with the event, such as the venue, flowers, and printing. But if Families Moving Forward wanted to maximize the potential of the dinner and raise significant funds, they’d have to specifically ask attendees for their help.

This wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds: Many attendees felt that by buying a ticket to the dinner, they had already done their part. After all, they were supporting the nonprofit by attending the event.

Families Moving Forward wanted to make an emotional connection with their attendees by showing the impact of the work they were doing. They had created some videos in-house, which they screened at the dinners as a setup for their ask. At the first three dinners, however, they raised just a few thousand dollars in donations.

Our Solution

Families Moving Forward asked Open Eye Creative to create a series of videos to show at three Chefs for Change dinners. The goal was simple: To touch, inspire, and motivate attendees to make a donation at the dinner. We did this by:

  • Creating two videos that showed the organization’s undeniable impact
  • Creating one video that instilled a sense of collaboration and community

The result was a 146% increase in donations.

“We saw a tremendous impact in terms of the dollars we raised once we started to incorporate the Open Eye videos.”
Ryan Fehrman
Executive Director
Families Moving Forward

What We Did

In our first and second videos, shown at the August and October events respectively, we shared two personal stories of families that have been helped by the organization. (Families Moving Forward refers to their residents as “guests.”)

These “impact videos” served as an alternative to having the guests themselves speak at events. While having people speak in front of attendees can be effective, it comes with its own uncertainties, such as last-minute cancellations, the person’s level of public speaking comfort, and their ability to keep it short and on-point.

The impact videos were a way to build empathy, create a personal connection, and establish Families Moving Forward not just as a trusted resource for people experiencing homelessness but a vital force for good in the community.

In the first video, Aja shared how her life was transformed by the guidance and support she received at Families Moving Forward, and how their aftercare program has helped end her history of going in and out of shelters.

In the second video, Tia talked about the dark times she went through after her mother’s death — and how the unconditional love she received at Families Moving Forward finally gave her some hope.

Our third video took a different approach. It was being shown at the end-of-year dessert gala instead of a sit-down dinner. Attendees included many volunteers and other supporters. Our video sought to build on the feelings of goodwill among the Families Moving Forward community.

Our process

Before we started planning these videos, we held a brainstorming session with Development Director Shana Carignan. We talked about their overall goals, possible themes and subjects for the videos, and a timeline for planning, production, editing and delivery.

We also explored the question that should drive the creation of any type of marketing content: Who’s your audience? We wanted to learn more about the people who’d be watching these videos. It was only by understanding the audience that we could create videos that would that be resonant and relevant.

For the impact videos, we talked about potential subjects and weighed our criteria for story characters. Among our considerations: How well does this person’s story represent Families Moving Forward’s mission, vision, and capabilities? Is this person willing to share her story? Before we made any decisions, we scheduled phone calls with potentials subjects so we could learn more about their stories and get a sense of what they may be like on camera.

As always, we aimed to minimize the amount of work Families Moving Forward needed to do in order to launch the project. Once we decided on the story subjects and received approval on our story plan, we ran with it.

“I didn’t have to spend a whole lot of time holding hands and trying to make this happen. Open Eye Creative is familiar with how to tell a story. They’re professionals.”
Ryan Fehrman
Executive Director
Families Moving Forward

Filming consisted of an on-camera interview with the subject, roughly one hour, plus an addition half-day or full day of shooting B-roll (supplemental footage that adds depth, context, and meaning to the story).

The topics we covered — homelessness, domestic abuse — were weighty, and we knew that sensitivity and empathy were of paramount importance.

“Rachel and Liza treated all of our guests with such dignity and respect, and made them feel comfortable.”
Shana Carignan
Development Director
Families Moving Forward

The third video was a departure from the first two. First, it was being shown at the end-of-year dessert gala. Instead of an explicit ask, money was raised through a silent auction and raffles. We intentionally made it shorter than the others, as the attendees would be standing or stationed at high-top tables.

Rather than following one person’s story, we pulled together audio clips from interviews we conducted with Families Moving Forward staff and guests in their temporary home. We paired these clips with footage that helped paint a picture of a robust, thriving volunteer program.

The videos were well received, and attendees were touched by the stories.

“I’ve been to many fundraising events. Never have I been so moved or better understood the impact that an organization can have. This video reinforced my commitment to help.”

 

Tamara Rice
Chefs for Change attendee

Results

We accomplished what we set out to do: When our videos were shown at an event, total donations increased by about four times on average.

Note: We’re sticklers for detail! Because the sixth event was an auction and raffle, it may not accurately reflect the impact of our video. A more honest approach would be to compare money raised during the first three dinners (no Open Eye Creative videos shown) to money raised during the fourth and fifth dinners (Open Eye Creative videos shown). In this scenario, donations increased by 146%.

Beyond the events, Families Moving Forward maximized the use of the videos, sharing them in their newsletters and on their website. Their holiday card — a large year-end appeal — included a link to Tia’s story.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we would not have been able to raise nearly as much money without Open Eye Creative’s work.”
Shana Carignan
Development Director
Families Moving Forward

 


Interested in learning more?

Open Eye Creative specializes in documentary-style video storytelling for mission-driven organizations and businesses. We create versatile, timeless work for multiple uses and platforms. Interested in having us create a video for your campaign? Contact us now.