“A Girl Story is a uniquethat brings to life the experience of many underprivileged girls in India. This particular story is told through the eyes of Tarla, a young girl who simply wants to go to school and receive an education. Our project’s goals are to raise awareness about the challenges that girls like Tarla face, and to drive donations for the nonprofit group Project Nanhi Kali.”
Not only is the effort unique, it has caused a bit of a stir among both the online non-profit and blogging communities, as well as among web/video designers. The idea is that as donations flow to the Nanhi Kali project to encourage education among poor girls of India, the video(s) change to relate the story of the composite character, Tarla. The question at hand is some form of “Will it work?”
An early contributor to the debate was posted by Katya Andresen on her blog ‘Getting to the Point.’ She began with the good points of the campaign: “Here’s what I like about the campaign: It’s based in storytelling, it’s focused on impact and it encourages donor engagement. We need more of all of those things in our sector. Bonus points for the fact it’s also unusual.” We would add that the seamless integration and narration of a series of animated shorts via YouTube is quite a design and technology feat (and one that will surely be lost on older computers or slow internet connections). The story is told at the website via a number of self-sequencing YouTube embedded windows – nice.
But Ms. Andresen points out some pitfalls to the outreach and fundraising strategy as well: “Tarla is an animated figure, not real, and I can’t really help her. She’s a stand-in for other girls I might help, but her story lacks the immediacy of real people for me. Fundraisers often use composites, but adding a cartoon on top of a composite and making the interaction game-like (donate to see more) seems to add further abstraction to the human impact of a gift.” Her suspicions are supported by her peer, Jeff Brooks (FutureFundraisingNow.com): “I’ll be surprised if this works. The problem is, it’s NOT REAL. You can sponsor a real child through any number of excellent child sponsorship organizations, and they’ll give you a real story of a real child whose life you helped transform. Given that, why would a cartoon story be compelling?”
We would suggest another potential pitfall to the campaign (realizing, of course, that educating poor children, especially girls, on the Indian subcontinent is of vital importance, and we encourage you to get involved!). The technical and design efforts to get the site to behave as it does and tell the story as it does seems a case of the tail wagging the dog. Websites (and email blasts and print materials and photo galleries and …) for nonprofits and charities should certainly be polished and professional. These organizations are striving to raise funds from well educated and sophisticated audiences, and their communications to these audiences should not look hurried or ‘on-the-cheap’ (for some great examples, click here). That said, Tarla’s ‘A Girl Story’ puts all the emphasis on the media (web animation, YouTube, stylized cartooning, seamless comic-strip series of videos…) and the message gets buried in the last 15 seconds of what is now almost two minutes of video. Two minutes of a story that, frankly, you already know about, which is why you are at the website in the first place.
The cause is a wonderful one, and we hope you willto learn more. But the effort to develop buzz around the videos seems not so much ill placed as over emphasized. The human touch can be so important to inspire participation, whereas impressing us with technology can be, in fact, only impressive.