I’ve been playing with an idea lately, and even though it’s not fully formed, I’d love to throw it out there for some feedback.

I think it has a lot of potential, but I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel here, so feel free to let me know if this is ground that’s been well-covered elsewhere in the nonprofit world. In that case, I’ll be happy to benefit from someone else’s wisdom.

Benefit how? Well, it’s like this: When I advise my clients on how to use video for a given project, the reasons to go with one or the other are many and varied. I’ve always tended to judge each case individually. Each time, I’ve had to articulate why this particular organization should use X video or Y video; whether their film should be heavy on fast-paced visuals, or whether it should feature a slower, more personal tone, etc.

Recently, I stumbled onto an insight that I believe gives shape to the underlying rationale for many of these recommendations.

It was a realization that I hope will make my advice stronger and better-defined going forward. And my gut tells me that it isn’t just useful for me—this may well be a way of thinking about nonprofit work that could be transformative for many of my readers and clients in their own contexts, as well.

The idea was this. There are two kinds of nonprofits out there: those that are devoted to communities and those that are devoted to causes.

The first one is exemplified in, for example, a local school, the second in an organization that develops or promotes an educational model whose beneficiaries aren’t limited by location.

The marketing needs and goals of these two are highly distinct from one another. It seems to me that the approach to video, and even the approach to marketing in general, would be far more effective if they were informed by this divide.

Community

A nonprofit that serves a community is plugged into the local ecosystem. It gains an advantage from understanding the culture, the people and politics. It’s engaged with and reactive to their needs in a very nuanced way. Marketing for a community nonprofit can benefit from an innate foundation of familiarity and trust. There may be more recognizable faces in any ads; viewers may feel more of a personal stake and obligation, and they may respond particularly well to expressions of appreciation that recognize their individual value to the organization.

Cause

A nonprofit that serves a cause has a great capacity for growth. It may start small, but it has the potential to be applied globally. In pursuit of this goal, its marketing will need to really make a splash in order to stand out on a national or international scale. This kind of organization will get a lot more use out of catchy videos that can be easily shared and have the power to go viral. Furthermore, when interested viewers check out the website, the content there will need to persuade them that their initial interest was justified and that it’s worth sticking around for more.

Understanding which kind of organization you are can help illuminate which marketing choices are right for you.

It’s new for me to be thinking about nonprofits in these terms, and I’m still taking in the implications. For one thing, I now realize that a good chunk of my blog has been directed at cause-based NPOs, and I’m going to make an effort to be clearer about that going forward, as well as more balanced in general.

If you have any thoughts on this paradigm, or any examples from your own experience, I’d love to hear from you.

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