23 Jun 2023

How to make your charity campaign more impactful through film


Smart fundraisers know that a successful campaign requires multiple touchpoints. It’s about more than a mass door drop or phoning potential donors. Modern fundraising campaigns utilise all the tools available to really attract people and convert them to their cause. 

And film and video is one of those mediums that can be so powerful. We know that from other industries. 89% of video marketers say video gives them a good ROI and film content is shared 1200% more than any other content on social media. Films are the things that get spoken about – we all look forward to the John Lewis television ad every Christmas – whereas no print ad ever goes viral. 

So why should charities and third sector organisations consider film as part of their fundraising appeal? 

Film tells a story

Film is so powerful because it effectively tells a story. As the Chartered Institute of Public Relations put in their report Social Storytelling: Skills Guide: “people prefer brands with a story. The better you can tell your story, the more effective the power of your subsequent communications to engage, inspire and stand out from others.” Video offers the opportunity to share the stories of those with lived experience or who have been affected by the charity and its cause. It shows what the charity is doing, why it is doing it, and the outcomes it can get. It takes people on an emotional journey, and the result is that they feel compelled to take action.

Film can influence 

Research has shown that social norms play a big role in our giving propensity. We want to feel like we’re part of a tribe, doing the same or better than others. The power of social norms in legacy giving was illustrated by a research collaboration between the Cabinet Office, Remember a Charity and Co-Operative Legal Services. When asked  ‘would you like to leave a charitable gift in your will’ 11% . The final group were asked ‘Many of our customers like to leave a gift to charity in their will. Are there any charitable causes that you’re passionate about?’ In this final group, 15% of people chose to include a charitable gift in their will. The social norm prompt also increased the average gift from an average gift of £3300, to £6661. What does this have to do with films? Films that show people being part of community are much more likely to evoke a positive response. So if you show altruism in action, the likelihood of a response is much greater.

Film is emotional

If you work on getting an emotional response over an analytical one, you’re likely to see greater generosity. Film is a hugely powerful trigger for emotional responses as it uses so many senses – you see things, hear things, the immersive visuals make you feel like you can touch things…there are so many evocations that come with film. And we know that emotional reponses correlate with giving and volunteering. As much as many people might want to think that they are head over heart, the opposite is true. And that emotional response can come from both negative and positive triggers. What can be powerful is showing the case of why you need support (e.g. to address a humanitarian crisis, support people at the end of their life etc) and the resulting positivity that comes from donating (changed lives, a happy Christmas for children etc). 

Film can attract a broader demographic

The donor market is skewed to an older demographic. People aged over 65 are more likely to engage in charitable activities with around 65% donating money to charity. But it’s not only them, and around half the adult population across other age ranges also donate (49% of 16-24 years; 53% of 25 – 44 years; and 59% of 45 – 64 years). Young people in particular are values based, and are much more likely than other age groups to sign petitions, protest, or make the decision to shop with more ethical brands. If we want to keep engaging younger people, we need to meet them where they are. And it’s online and social media, consuming video content. 

Films can have longevity

Campaigns shouldn’t just be a moment in time, although they will often have focused peak periods. They are about building relationships that can result in long term change. Not only is film fantastic for building those relationships through the emotional bonds that it can evoke, but it is also a long lasting medium. Whereas a print ad gets seen once and thrown away, or a radio jingle is played for twenty seconds whilst people are chatting in the car, film and video content can be used across media – on the website, television, cinema, social media – and so has much more opportunity to be seen, which will result in better engagement and the message resonating. This repurposing also saves your charity money, that can be reinvested into doing great work for your community.

Films are more accessible to people

We all consume information in different ways. Some of us are auditory, some kinesthetic, some love words, some numbers. Films use a variety of different communication methods to convey their meaning and information, which means it’s accessible to a variety of people. You can reach people wherever they are – on their phone on the bus, scrolling websites on the internet, watching television, or at the cinema. Films can also be captioned, have audio description, live transcripts and other additional features, which mean they can be accessible through BSL or multi language, and able to be delivered to communities on a local, national and global scale. 

You can work with social enterprises

A great film will be impactful. But it can be even more impactful if you work with other non profit organisations to create it. There are lots of charity film production companies who also operate as social enterprises or community interest companies. Social Enterprise UK run a Buy Social Corporate Challenge – but this is something charities should also consider, keeping their investment within the third sector. 

Great charity films for inspiration

We know film works. 

WaterAid’s animation film The Girl who built a rocket launched early in 2021, and was pegged to the news that NASA was undertaking billion-pound missions to find water on Mars. The film centred around a young girl’s dreams of finding water for her own community in Madagascar and what a difference clear water could make. What was powerful here is that it connected to a topic that was current, created a contrast (no-one is thirsty on Mars, yet half of the world’s population does not have access to clean water). And the result? Donations increased to the highest response rate in over twelve months. 

Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity launched 2021 Christmas Appeal with an animated film about 4-year-old patient Henry’s journey from Great Ormond Street Hospital to his home in Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire.  Henry spent two Christmases at GOSH, being helped by magical stockings that represent donations from GOSH Charity supporters. This film was so powerful as it tapped into nostalgia. We associate animation with children and families, so it helped trigger that nostalgia that is so powerful, particularly at Christmas. Nostalgia has been shown to be hugely powerful when it comes to giving. The greater the nostalgia invoked, the greater the giving. It makes people feel connected, which in turn invokes positive associations of happy times (for those that had them). 

41% of disabled people didn’t feel supported by their local community during the Covid-19 pandemic. So Sense launched their Left Out Of Life campaign as a way to raise awareness and encourage people to think about inclusion. The film incorporates interviews with a number of people sharing what would make them feel more included. Reaching nearly 300,000 people on social media, as well as being on Sense’ website and playing a central role in their strategy, the film communicates what inclusion means to people with disabilities. By using voices of those with lived experience, it creates emotional relationships between the screen and the viewer, and as a result the viewer and the charity.

We’re lucky. In 2023 there are numerous different channels and resources available to charities to reach people and share their message. What video and film does so well is connect on an emotional level, display clearly a need and impact, and immerse people in a story they can get swept up in. Film works in a way that nothing else does. Is it time for you to give it a try?