Media Experts Reveal Latest Trends in Nonprofit Storytelling

Guest post by Julie Ellman and Annette Minkalis

Volunteers are critical to the success of nonprofit organizations. In order to recruit and engage volunteers, your story needs to be told in a compelling, relatable, and meaningful way. However, this can prove to be a challenge, particularly in today’s fast-paced and ever-growing media landscape.

Recently, Connect360 Multimedia sponsored a breakfast seminar titled, “The Latest Trends in Nonprofit Storytelling and Public Service Announcement (PSA) Engagement”, which was developed to help nonprofits obtain new ideas and best practices for their marketing and communications efforts. Panelists featured at the event included the PSA manager at NBCUniversal TV, the founder of Out-of-Home for GOOD, and experts from the digital platforms Upworthy and Hulu.

All four speakers brought their unique perspectives to the table, and although they represented very different platforms, the panelists shared a common ground on these points:

  • To have compelling content, a nonprofit’s creative should start with a “story” versus “selling” the organization or cause.
  • The content should be relatable, rather than using “shock or awe”. It’s important to start with a positive message then tie it back to the core message.
  • The creative should show diversity. Since the media serves wide audiences, the creative should embrace multiculturalism if possible.

Each of the four experts also shared these key points and best practices for success, for nonprofits that have the means to work on large-scale media projects such as PSAs, paid advertising, video streaming, and social media marketing:


Vanessa Velez, Manager, Program & Production Administration (programs for USA Network and SyFy Channel) 

Vanessa discussed best practices for PSAs (public service announcements):

  • Awareness months — like LGBT Pride Month and National Volunteer Month —  are good angles for helping to put a PSA on the air, but it’s also critical to provide an evergreen version.
  • Vanessa recommends the PSA end with a quick call-to-action message (e.g. to learn more, for more information).
  • The PSA shouldn’t include any appeals for donations or use of corporate logos or for-profit entities.

Out of Home for GOOD

Leith El-Hassan, Founder

Leith discussed best practices for OOH (out-of-home) marketing.

  • The best OOH creative uses one strong image and is kept to seven words or less.
  • It’s recommended that the creative avoid dark themes or graphic images, particularly in airports where there needs to be sensitivity about potentially upsetting travelers as they board planes.
  • To obtain donated space, the nonprofit has to win over OOH gatekeepers at the media companies. Make sure the creative is as compelling to them as to the general public. As such, it’s a good idea to gather feedback on content from consultants or others outside of the nonprofit organization.
  • Since placements can stay up for very long periods of time, avoid using statistics that can date the creative and circumvent longer exposure.
  • Having multiple versions and creatives can be key to offer flexibility for OOH placements. Out-of-home companies may use one creative on bus shelters and to offer diversity, feature another creative on bus interiors.


Rithesh Menon, Director of NFP / Foundation Partnerships

Rithesh discussed best practices for social media, and for working with Upworthy.

  • Upworthy likes to collaborate with organizations on content development, versus receiving the finished product and trying to make it fit to their audience/guidelines.
  • Upworthy also likes to work with the nonprofit “from the ground up” by setting clear expectations and establishing a singular vision for a campaign.
  • The story is key — it’s important to generate empathy through storytelling.
  • It’s also important for organizations to be knowledgeable about the different online platforms — for example, YouTube vs. Facebook vs. Snapchat vs. Upworthy.
  • A call-to-action message is important and it should be subtle yet very clear. If possible, it’s a good idea to have different call-to-action message depending upon the goal of a campaign (e.g. volunteer, donate).


Tom O’Donnell, Account Executive

Tim discussed best practices for video streaming.

  • Younger audiences are migrating to streaming content, as American teenagers and young adults are living an “on-demand” life when it comes to media consumption.
  • Hulu offers more focused programming versus linear TV, which helps to best reach a particular target audience.
  • Video content for placement should match the shows which will resonate with your audience. For example, if watching a comedy, the audience does not want to watch something with a heavy tone.
  • Key elements for success include brief yet concise messaging and human-interest topics/stories.
  • The more personal the message, the better for greater impact.

There are many other ideas and best practices which can benefit nonprofits when planning for marketing campaigns or volunteer-oriented efforts. Are you leveraging any of these strategies in your upcoming PSAs? Share your ideas with us in the comments below!

For more information, please contact Julie Ellman or Annette Minkalis at Connect360 Multimedia.

Author Bio: Julie Ellman is a partner and senior vice president of Connect360 Multimedia — a cause-related production and media placement company that connects nonprofits to their audiences demographically and/or geographically. With 22 years of experience, Julie is a seasoned marketing, public and community relations, and patient advocacy expert. Annette Minkalis is a partner and executive vice president with over 30 years’ experience in public awareness/nonprofit marketing and communications.

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