The Engaging Power of Video

I’ve written before about how video is king. More and more that’s true. But for many — especially in non-profits — it’s also intimidating.

For one, nonprofits often don’t have the in-house expertise to concept, shoot, and edit video. They also often operate from a belief that they don’t have the budget. Prior to my arrival at Concord Academy, that certainly was the case: video had only been used sparingly, and without much success.

I’m a big believer in the engaging power of video. After some experimenting, some video projects at my old gig with CLF, and after watching a bunch of the video produced by Wistia (an awesome company if you don’t know it already!), I’ve either made or overseen the production of a few videos that have performed well.

This is true of the videos we produced for this admissions season at Concord Academy. Our thinking was simple: once we’ve admitted students, we want to convert them as quickly as possible into enrolled students, so we decided on sending them two videos: 1) an in-house upbeat video montage of people from CA congratulating them on their acceptance and 2) a higher end profile of the values and spirit of the school. Here are those videos.

Congratulations video:

Welcome to Concord Academy


“This is the Place” CA promotional video:

CA: This Is the Place

When we released these videos, I was proud of the work. I also knew we were sharing content with them at an important moment in their lives: which high school to attend is a big decision for a lot of students and parents. But we were sharing with them the right kind of content? This was my first year through the process; I didn’t know.

And so I was eager to see the engagement stats. They were better than I expected: the first video performed at about an 84% engagement rate, and the other at about 87%. That was much higher than any other video I had produced to date. I was stoked!

“Congratulations” video stats:“This is the Place” video stats:



In the end, I think we hit them with the right kind of content at the right moment. They were emotionally primed to receive this message, this way.

I have to thank Wistia, for all of their awesome Learning Center videos, and Michelle Mizner of Field Work Media, for making the awesome “This is the Place” video.

I’m attending a conference at Wistia later this year, and am looking forward to learning a lot, as we plan to do a lot more video here at CA. Stay tuned for more!



Infographic: For Cod's Sake

While I was at CLF, I worked on this infographic showing the decline of atlantic cod stocks. The problem with declining marine fish stocks is that they’re out of sight, out of mind — even more so than freshwater fish. I was proud of this piece, and happy it came together.



natural gas leaks infographic

Infographic: Natural Gas Leaks

One of the themes of working in communications at an environmental nonprofit is the need to make visible what is otherwise hidden: climate change, species decline and, in this case, natural gas leaks.

Below is the infographic I developed for CLF’s energy team about natural gas leaks. I knew nothing about the subject beforehand, but was amazed by the amount of gas lost through old, leaky pipes.


natural gas leaks infographic

Concord Academy

concord academy logo

I am so pleased to be returning to Concord Academy to serve on their senior administrative team as the Director of Marketing and Communications. Attending CA was a transformational experience for me. It was a truly incredible education — surpassing, at times, both Brown and Oxford in its rigor — and a truly wonderful community. I am truly delighted to be back.


When Did You Last Say "Thank You"?

Anyone who knows me knows I am a big advocate of saying “Thank you.”

I say it to bus drivers. I say it to friends. I say it in cards, in words, in texts and status updates. I say it compulsively — but I also say it with a purpose.

When it comes to nonprofit organizations, my conviction is simple: the competition for people’s donations is larger than simply other people in your narrow field. Environmental organizations are not just competing against other environmental organizations, but against all other mission-driven organizations. This is true in tough times and in bad: people could easily go out to dinner, subscribe to a new magazine, or buy a new toy for their dog, instead of giving to your organization. You can’t take any donation for granted. And, more to the point, you shouldn’t.

It seems to simple to me, and yet so many organizations fail to say “thank you” at the right time and in the right way. Many send letters, days or weeks after your gift was made. A few display beautiful thank you pages after an online donation. Fewer still send “thank   you” emails. And fewer still reach out and immediately say “Thank you” in a way that is personal, direct and sincere.

This was the idea behind this video I made for CLF. It features our President, John Kassel, and is presented to every donor after every gift that is made online. There’s no way around it: we’re going to thank our donors, and thank them quickly.

And while we’re on it, thanks for reading this post. While you could have been reading that ever-growing stack of New Yorkers next to your bed, you chose to read my writing instead. I sincerely appreciate it.

For The Sake of Cod: Advocacy Video Success

Content, as the saying goes, is king. But these days, it might be more accurate to say that video is king. Google has promoted it in their search results. Stats show that people engage with and share video widely. Meanwhile, it seems like almost every company, organization or devoted hobbyist is producing video, hoping for that content moonshot: a truly viral video. If your grandparents can make a great video, why can’t you?

In my current role at CLF, I am tasked with one challenge: how can we achieve our goals with content marketing? The goal may be fundraising for an appeal cycle, or it may be an advocacy goal around a specific issue. I try to think of engaging solutions across platforms, in a way that would engage people but also be an efficient and effective use of resources.

Most recently, the issue at hand was Atlantic cod. Due to decades overfishing and habitat destruction, they’re in collapse. The collapse of this fish — so iconic to New England’s way of life — threatens coastal towns, economies and people. It’s a simple, tragic story. But the question presented to me was: how to tell this story?

One of the solutions we agreed to was to do a video. It was a simple idea, and one I had been advocating for a long time. Why? Because if you approach it with discipline, and with creativity, video is a great way to translate otherwise wonky, complex issues into simple, compelling content. When it comes to cod at CLF, we had the right advocate, and the right issue. So we set to it.

We jerry-rigged a lighting set up, following Wistia’s great advice. We filmed it ourselves on a terrible camera in a small conference room. And we edited it in a rush, fixing issues along the way.


The results? Fantastic. It’s been picked up organically by a few places — including my favorite fly fishing blog! — and has been shared widely. In the end, the advocacy push yielded hundreds and hundreds of letters to John Bullard at NOAA. It was, I’m pleased to say, one of the most successful advocacy alerts we’ve ever implemented.

What were the ingredients to this success? This is speculative, of course, but I would point to three things:

Keep it simple. Maggie Williams’s fantastic drawing of the cod in decline is both compelling — how can you not love that cod drawing? — and simple. It’s my belief that people appreciate and seek out simple guides to complex issues.

Use charisma. There’s no doubt that Peter Shelley is a compelling advocate. He’s a seasoned pro: Peter filed the first lawsuit that led to the cleanup of Boston Harbor, and has been an ocean advocate for decades. Putting personality front and center in these sorts of videos is essential. In establishing a connection, the messenger is as important as a message.

Be creative. I’ve already touched on this, but people have loved Maggie’s drawings — and rightly so. They’re great. She’s done a bunch of fantastic work for Bowdoin on sustainability and for their alumni office. These sorts of creative approaches are fun, are visually engaging, and totally unique to each video. They sustain attention by maintaining a focus not just on the issue, but on the art, without sacrificing the message. In fact, by reaching a broader audience, the engaging drawings broadcast your message further than the issue alone would have carried it.

Buikding on the success of this video, we’ll be producing more video soon. I look forward to it: it’s a product that delivers results, and a product that everyone enjoys produces.

New Blog: New England on the Fly

Those who know me well, know I love fly fishing. They also know that I like to communicate: it’s what I do professionally, in part because the tasks involved — writing, creating images, engaging with people — are all things I derive great satisfaction from. And so it is that, after much prodding from friends, I’ve started a blog about fly fishing in New England. The title? New England on the Fly.

I’m still developing the look and feel of the site, and so I’d welcome any and all feedback! Add it to your RSS feed, or follow it via the button on the upper right.

Again, that link is:



First Wistia video: CLF Promo

At CLF I’ve been working on more and more video. It’s been great, for many reasons. Not only do I love working in video, but it’s satisfying to work in a medium that can so powerfully convey our messages. With environmental issues so often being long-term, diffuse and uncertain, video helps make our issues close, concrete and clear. And so I’m excited to finally share this video, produced in time for our calendar year end e-appeal, but to be used in many different ways and places across CLF’s communications. And so, without further ado, enjoy the show!

Many thanks to Michelle Mizner at Field Work Media for dong such great work on this, and for being such a pleasure to work with!

My thanks, too, to the folks at Wistia for offering such a great product. I’ve gotten to know a few of them over the past couple of weeks — they’re great people, running a solid business, and having lots of fun doing it. Don’t take my word for it — just check out their Megaplex for some of their best, and most entertaining, videos.

New England Rambler

A trail marking on the AT near Flagstaff Lake, Maine, pointing the way home.

I’ve been fortunate, early in life, to have lived in a lot of the world’s great cities: New York, DC, London, and Oxford, England. I have enjoyed all of them, but when asked I’ve always said that I would return to New England to live. And so it has been affirming to find, upon returning here, that that feeling proved true.

That is in part true because Boston is a gateway to the rest of New England. As many of you know, Sarah and I do a lot of traveling around New England: ski trips, beach trips, food trips, beer tours, antique stores, book stores — we try to take it all in, nearly every weekend. We talk about it often. And, we (or, Sarah) often write about it. The result is a blog: “New England Rambler |Day trips, road trips and head trips throughout the northeast.”

Though the project is a joint one, Sarah has been doing most of the writing, while I have helped. My favorite is our recent post on New England’s best road food. We got more comments, and more suggestions, for this post than any other. (Fodder for an app idea I’ve had for a long time. Ask me about it if you’re curious.)

For me, each trip has reminded me of why I’m grateful to be back in New England. And so we’re always looking for more suggestions on where to go, where to eat, where to stay.  Do you have a suggestion? Let us know!

Find the blog here:
And our Twitter feed here:

Guest post for the Barr Foundation

Note: Stefan Lanfer at The Barr Foundation was kind enough to invite me to contribute to their News & Knowledge blog. Below is a copy of that post. The original lives here.

In the beginning was the word. But now, word and image (if you want to give your words a chance).

A picture is worth a thousand words, sure. But what if those thousand words are shedding light on IMPORTANT issues? And what if they are carefully chosen, masterfully crafted words? Well, yes, even then – at least, that is, if you want to give your words a chance, or to see, as one nonprofit saw, a 7,000% increase in its social media reach.

In July, I participated in a meeting of the Transportation for Massachusetts Coalition. The focus was social media and how coalition members might support each other and their collective efforts more effectively. Ben Carmichael, Conservation Law Foundation(CLF)’s new Senior Communications Manager, shared about a recent experience that completely took CLF by surprise. After completing a new report, rather than issue the usual press release, posting it to CLF’s website, and sending a blast email to their distribution list, Ben and his colleagues decided to try something new. They created a simple, elegant infographic that distilled the report’s key findings. And they put that out front of their communications. The results? For one, they saw a 7,000% increase in CLF’s social media reach. I asked Ben to talk more about the experience and what they learned – which he does in this post.


Following months of research we at CLF and CLF Ventures were ready to release a report showing the huge potential for sustainable urban agriculture in Boston. The economic and environmental possibilities by converting just 50 acres are significant. And yet, on the eve of the release, we wondered: how best to communicate these findings to the public in a way that would make them not only resonate, but be shared widely – and, dare we dream, maybe even go viral.

CLF, like other nonprofits, has faced this problem before. We work very hard on long-term issues with diffuse risk and reward, and have taken to informing the public of our work primarily through words: we write blogs, press releases, and reports regularly – all the time competing for mindshare in an increasingly competitive, crowded, and noisy online environment.

And so we decided to take a risk and try something we’d never done before: translate our findings into an infographic. Most of my colleagues are lawyers. They have a deep and abiding faith the power of the written word. This was something new for all of us.

Here’s what we came up with:

The results were better than we ever anticipated. Once posted to Facebook, the infographic was shared, liked and commented on so many times it quickly became our most successful post ever – increasing our Facebook reach by more than a 7,000% after a week (and this before Facebook rewrote its definition of reach).

In an effort to translate some of this into relationships, we created a landing page for the report. By requiring people to enter some of their basic information before downloading the report, we were able to track who was downloading the report and why. When combined with a traditional PR push, as well as a blog post and promotion across social media outlets (TwitterFlickr,Pinterest, etc) that landing page has been very popular.

The Growing Green report, and particularly all the traction it got through social media, made for a very successful launch of CLF’s new Farm & Food initiative. As we think about how to translate this experience into future communications campaigns, here are our three key takeaways:

  • Great words deserve great images: In the beginning was the word. But now there is word and image – at least if you want to give words a chance. Social media rewards graphics and imagery that simplify otherwise complex ideas. Words can’t be replaced for nuance and complexity and for those already initiated to a cause or issue. But for those on the peripheries looking in – the potential allies and supporters – imagery can be a far more powerful hook, especially in social media.
  • Keep it simple. Really. When designing infographics, keep them as simple as possible. (Hat-tip to our designer, Kyric Avery, for helping us with that!)
  • Translate interest into relationships. Likes and shares are a nice affirmation – especially to those of us at nonprofit communications desks – but the case for impact is thin unless those likes and shares translate into more meaningful and lasting connections.

Ben Carmichael is Senior Communications Manager at CLF. Follow him on twitter at


– Posted by Stefan Lanfer, Knowledge Officer –