The pomposity of web video (and its creators)

Credit: pursuethepassion

Pompous*: (adjective)

  • affectedly and irritatingly grand, solemn or self-important
  • characterized by pomp or splendor (archaic use)

*according to my Macbook Dashboard dictionary

Attending Net Tuesday Vancouver’s event last week on the use of video on the web left me with two impressions.

  1. Web video can be a highly valuable and splendid way for nonprofits to engage with their audience and spread their messages.
  2. People that create video for the web can be irritatingly self-important (see “HOWEVER” below)

The experienced panel offered great practical tips, the highlights being:

  • if you’re not a pro, free tools such as iMovie and Windows Movie Maker are fine (Final Cut Pro was the choice for the pros)
  • assuming you have a good story, video/editing quality doesn’t have to be great for a video to go viral, but sound quality is much more important
  • things going viral is hit or miss; quantity of output is as important as what you think quality is
  • other tools include Jamendo (free music), Mobygratis (free Moby music), freesound (free music), other Creative Commons audio sites, Tech Soup Canada (free or discounted software for nonprofits), (a free, web-based alternative to Photoshop for non-pros), qik (webstreaming tool), Craigslist (finding people willing to work on your project as a volunteer or for an honourarium)
  • Pull Focus Film School is a great Vancouver-based resource, as it  “partners aspiring film makers with non-profit organizations that are in need of film content”

For a great summary of Net Tuesday Toronto’s recent event on video, with even more specific tips, click here.


One story told by a panelist was of a video that was peddled to and turned down by two related advocacy groups because the video didn’t fit their values. Which means that the video makers either:

  1. made assumptions of what was needed and made a video without consultation and didn’t choose the right audience; OR
  2. consulted the client and yet somehow still subverted some of the values core to the client.

Don’t get me wrong. I thought the video quality itself was great. Well edited, good story line, emotional tension. I laughed, I cringed. The people behind the video production are obviously technically and creatively talented…

…but completely off the mark when it came to the core principles of the group the video was “made for”. And yet, the reaction was that of disbelief. They wanted cred for something they were trying to give away for free. The phrase “biting the hand that feeds you” was used. You’ve got to be kidding me. This is just a new age bourgeois version of pat-on-your-back charity.

The thing is, you’re not of service if you’re not wanted.

What’s in your message to donors? Technology to assess communications

I was really excited to attend Net Tuesday last week, and I wasn’t disappointed. Ben Johnson (currently with Union Gospel Mission) was one of two presenters giving a talk on data for social change. While he had tonnes of great points re: data analysis, what excited me most was the visualization of text data using (I used Wordle last year to demonstrate what my blog was about, and it was right on target!)

Question 1: What message are you sending out?

What message does your board chair’s message in the annual report send?
What message does your vision and vision statements send?
What message does your newsletter send?

While we obviously write these items with very specific intents, sometimes our language, when we dig down deep, doesn’t actually reflect our intentions.

Copy and paste your text (or an rss feed) into Wordle, and voila! (See below for an example). You may be surprised. At UGM, Ben found that some of the language actually focused on programs, when really what they wanted to focus on was people.

Question 2: What messages do your donors respond to?

On UGM’s online donor form, an open box question asks “What inspired you to give today?”. Ben then took all the responses and threw them into World, and voila!

Many at UGM (a faith-based social services organization) might assume that faith and God would be reasons behind giving. These words were present, but even more so were words that indicated a connection to family (brother, father, sister, etc.) and times of year (eg Christmas).

If you analyze what is inspiring donors to give, you can update (and assess!) your communications accordingly to match donors’ interests.

Example: UBC Vision and Mission

UBC is my alma mater, and I have always loved and identified with their vision and mission. I would have done SFU’s but alas, we DON’T HAVE THEM (ridiculous and uninspiring, I know).

UBC vision and mission by Wordle
Image Credit:

I can see easily now why I connect with UBC’s vision and mission. Beyond the obvious university words like “research” and “students”, the next most prominent words are “society”, “sustainable”, “global” and “citizens”. I’m surprised that “learning” isn’t more prominent though.

Try it! You might like it! What results did you get?

Balancing paper and prospects

This rant on paper waste is a part of
Blog Action Day 2009 | Climate Change

Image Credit: striatic

Many people that I work with know me to be obsessive about using less paper. First I reduce, then I reuse, then, at last, I recycle.

This carries over beyond my work life and into my personal life. I’m one of those people that calls my service providers to be removed from solicitation lists (did you know you can even get the paper inserts taken out of your credit card statements, even if you can’t get bills online?). I’d love to get zero mail (confession: birthday cards are still OK;).

This carries over beyond my work life and into my philanthropic life. I donate online.

I’ve worked in fund development before. I know that it’s important to meet donor preferences.

But this rule seems to breakdown when it comes to reducing paper.

Exhibit A

  • I donated to at least 5 different organizations last year. All of them I donated online with.
  • Of those five, four of them followed up with print material – direct mail, invitations, newsletters, etc.
  • Of those four, I emailed each of them asking them to remove me from their (paper) mail lists, though I added that I was happy to receive any information by email.
  • Of those four, NONE have sent me any email. I actually had to email two of them after getting paper mail an additional time. I have received no further solicitations from any of them otherwise.
  • Of those original five, only one continues to connect with me via email. Very intermittently – nothing to be considered spam. I also have found out about their campaigns via Twitter and Facebook. I have followed their campaigns’ success online.  And surprise, they’re the one I donate the most to and have begun to donate most regularly to.

It (figuratively) breaks my heart to see nonprofits not getting it. Traditional ways of communicating with donors (ie mail) are still important for connecting with traditional donors. But “new” ways of communicating with donors (though “new” is debatable – the web has been used commonly for over a decade) are important to connect with and retain new donors AND cut down on paper.

Reduce and prosper?

Nonprofits should play their part in reducing waste (in both paper and the cost for stamps) by – at the very least – respecting the methods donors have gone out of their way to request to be solicited.

Read on:

Trina’s Nonprofit Blog – word cloud by Wordle.

Wordle cloud - Sept 14
Image by

Love playing with this tool at

Based on this image you can quickly determine my favourite topics.

What’s this blog about?

  • nonprofit sector
  • people
  • work
  • organizations
  • volunteers
  • staff
  • ideas
  • programs

Shock Doctrine: Changing tech practices after an emergency

Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine discusses the idea of disaster capitalism – how “big business” takes advantage of disasters and emergencies such as hurricanes and wars to introduce broad policy changes while “the people” are too shocked to notice. Now my emergencies take place on a much smaller scale, and I’m no transnational corporation, but…well, I guess the analogy is weak, but it’s a catchy title.

Here’s the context. I like information. Love it. I enjoy learning new things, reading about ideas, storing resources for future use. I read Tom Rath’s Strengthsfinder 2.0 and did the test — two of my strengths are Learning and Input. I joke about having read results from the first time I completed the MBTI and not agreeing with what my profile said about liking to gather lots of information before reaching a decision. So what did I do? I read all other 15 MBTI profiles, circling and crossing off characteristics, before I reached a decision about my profile.

So needless to say, when it comes to storing information available electronically, I’m a saver. I download files in a variety of hierarchical folders, and save bookmarks of interesting websites similarly.

And then my harddrive crashed. Kaput.

All the files and journal articles I had downloaded for a literature review of promoting volunteerism to the Millennial generation – poof. All the bookmarks I had saved on websites relating to a project on social marketing of engaged citizenship – gone. My favourite guitar tabs – not in my head, that’s for sure.

Why did I not embrace Delicious earlier? Delicious, “the world’s leading social bookmarking service.” I would consider myself a fairly early adopter, but I guess I didn’t really understand Delicious’ value – I thought it was about promoting and sharing good websites (which it is, I list my recently tagged websites on this blog). More importantly, Delicious means when your hard drive crashes, your bookmarks still exist. All you need to do is log in. If you don’t currently use Delicious or a similar web-based bookmarking tool, get on board. If you’re a small nonprofit without a server, do it now. Embrace the change before the disaster.

Have you had a tech emergency that caused you to change practices? Share!