Christopher Davenport is the founder of 501 Videos, a company that makes videos exclusively for nonprofit clients. His experience includes years in Hollywood working on commercial films and, later, making documentaries. His website is home to Movie Mondays, a weekly series of short films featuring fundraising professionals in action. The interview was conducted by Don Akchin, a principal of and a frequent contributor to the MKCREATIVE blog.
MKC: Did you always know you wanted to make movies?
CHRISTOPHER: Not always. When I was 5 I wanted to be a fireman, and then when I was 5 and a half, that’s when I knew I wanted to make movies.
MKC: What prompted 501 Videos?
CHRISTOPHER: I worked in Hollywood for about eight years doing mostly films and some tv shows, and then I kind of fell backwards into doing documentaries, for all sorts of different industries, as well as my own documentaries. Then about four or five years ago, I thought, ‘What are the stories I like to tell?’ I realized I liked telling the stories that make people feel better about themselves or about the world. I had done that successfully in the past with nonprofits. So then I changed my company over to 501 Videos.
MKC: You bill yourself as a visual storyteller. How do you find the story?
CHRISTOPHER: Before I tell any story, or work with a client, there are two questions that I always ask. The first one is, ‘Who’s your audience?’ Because the audience and their values really determine what story you tell them. The other question is, ‘After the audience has seen your video and heard your story, what do you want them to think, feel or do?’ Because then and only then can I take the story and arrange it in such a way that it elicits the response you want. I have been really surprised at how often that second question will trip up organizations.
MKC: Are most of the organizations putting videos on their website?
CHRISTOPHER: Yes, though a few don’t for some reason. They need to post it on the website for all sorts of reasons, not just for fundraising. If your website has video on it, you’re more likely to rise in the rankings of the search engines. A lot of times people will put the video up on YouTube and then link it over to their website, but it’s actually better if you can place it on your website and then load it separately onto YouTube, because if you put a link to YouTube on your website, when people click they leave your site. You want to keep people on your website, looking around.
MKC: Are there some best practices you’ve seen about how organizations use videos?
CHRISTOPHER: One thing I see that I would recommend everybody do – and I’ve had some clients do this to tremendous effect – when clients have their big gala for the year, they’ll create the video ahead of time and use it to pre-sell the gala to certain donors. They’re able to use the video to get matching grants and to get table captains excited, so the gala raises even more money that night.
I hear all the time that board members are afraid to make an ask, or they don’t know what to say to people when they’re out in public. So another best practice is to give a copy of the video to each board member to take to meetings and presentations. That way, you’re getting your message out there to more people in a consistent manner. You’re making the video do the work rather than the volunteer or board member. It takes a lot of the stress out of that presentation for them.
MKC: Are videos affordable for small organizations as well as large?
CHRISTOPHER: Yeah. Not necessarily by hiring me, but it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. At this point you can make a video on an iPhone. It might not be the highest quality, but there are all sorts of ways to tell stories on video. Let’s say you had a donor meeting in the afternoon. You could go to the frontlines of your organization in the morning and get a client story, or show the impact of what you’re doing that morning. It could be a clip or several clips. Heck, you could even edit it on your iPhone or iPad if needed. In the afternoon at your donor meeting, you can show the impact their dollars are making today – not last week, not last year, but today.
At a gala, on the other hand, where it’s a high ticket item and you’re expecting to raise over $100,000, to put something up that a volunteer made on their iPhone probably is not the best way to raise money. You want something compelling for that audience, something that’s been thought out and prepared and that works well in that evening’s program – and then afterwards, that you can use in different ways for the whole year. That’s probably when you want a professional to come in.
The one thing people don’t understand, when they see high quality videos or shows on television, is the work that goes into making something look smooth and polished. It really does take an enormous amount of work. And that’s going to cost something.
MKC: How long have you been doing Movie Mondays?
CHRISTOPHER: I’ve been doing that for a little over three and a half years. This week we’re up to episode 175.
MKC: What inspired it?
CHRISTOPHER: It’s really funny. When I made the switch to 501 Videos, I thought, I really don’t know the different struggles and challenges people are dealing with in the nonprofit world, and I should know that if I’m making videos for them. So I raised money to do a documentary on development directors and other fundraising professionals. The documentary morphed into a five-week program on the web called Movie Mondays, and after the five weeks, 400 people had signed up from all over the world. At the end I sent out an email saying, OK I’m done, and in came emails saying, ‘No! No! We’re addicted to Movie Monday, it’s such a great way to start the week.’ I kind of went from there, and it’s grown very well. People love it!
Each Movie Monday episode says, here’s a development director who had a challenge and here’s how she overcame it. It’s really like a peer talking to a peer, trying to create a community within the community of development directors. It’s helping people overcome the hurdles they have in the nonprofit world, but also bringing them together so they feel they’re not all alone out there.
The comment I get most – ‘Thank you so much for Movie Mondays, because I was able to show this week’s episode at a board meeting, which created a great conversation around this idea. I have been trying to sell the idea to my board for some time, so the third party validation from Movie Monday got the conversation going and heading in the right direction.’ I think that’s great!
Guest blogger Don Akchin writes frequently about marketing and philanthropy at donakchin.com.