How to inspire action with your non-profit’s commercial

By Tracy Trost

When using the visual medium of television we have a daunting task ahead of us. How do we get our audience to pay attention to our commercial? In today’s world this is becoming much harder as the days go by.  With the advent of “on demand” or “streaming” viewing, we are losing our “captive” audience.  Gone are the days of picking the top performing television show and purchasing time around it.  Today our audience has the ability to hit that cute little Fast Forward button and skip right over that commercial that you poured your heart and soul into. With the push of a button they are gone and your commercial is not viewed.

Here, I’m going to share with you some examples of my direct marketing work performed in the non-profit fundraising arena, but the information is applicable across the board in many different forms of advertising.

Back to the question at hand, “In today’s digital world, how do I get my audience to watch my commercial?” I have a few tips that I would like to share with you to help you keep the attention of the viewing audience and hopefully get them to respond to your message.

The first is to realise that, “Story is King”.  We must all understand that facts and figures do not cause an audience to respond, it goes right through the brain without touching on the emotion of your spot and you lose them from the start.  It is imperative that you have a story that runs through the foundation of your spot.

When creating spots, we want to keep our audience on the right side of their brain, the emotional side.  We want to stay away from the left side, the intellectual. Telling a story helps us accomplish this.

For example: which would motivate you more.  “Last year we were able to feed 1,000,000 children for a cost of  $3,345,000.  That is down 7% over last year.  Will you help us keep the cost down today?  Or; This is Mary Ann.  At 7 years old she is the caretaker of her younger brother Jonathan. Every day she must walk 4 miles just to get a bowl of rice for her brother. With your help, we can feed Mary Ann, her brother and many more children just like her today.

In both cases the facts are true, but one will more likely inspire the viewer to take action.

The story draws us in. The facts confuse us.

There are three key elements that you want to incorporate in your spots

Number one is a compelling or intriguing visual image.  This can be anything that ties into your message. For example, Shriner’s Hospitals for Children is a leading hospital in burn care.  If I hit my audience right out of the gate with a shot of a severely burned child, I take the risk of turning off the audience since it is such a stark image.  We took the approach of showing a young boy running through a field with a super hero cape on.  Our VO stated – “At 2 years old, most children are running, jumping and pretending to be super heroes.  But not all children are that lucky…”

By showing the image a young boy playing like a super hero at the onset, we got the attention of the audience.  To them it was a relatable story in which they could identify and did not turn them off emotionally.  Once we got them sucked into the story with the visual image, then we introduced them to the meat of the story and ask them to take part in this organisations mission.

Shriners Hospital superhero2

Number two is, have a compelling story.  I touched on this just a bit in the previous paragraph, but it is as important as the images you use.  Many times organisations want to present the facts while the story will get them take action.  For example; Shriners Hospitals for Children has been helping children for over 90 years in the areas of orthopedics and burns.  Those are important facts, but the facts alone do not motivate a viewing audience.

We introduced a series of spots that did motivate the audience.  We told the story from the child’s point of view.  We open with a close up on a little boy’s face. He says; “Imagine you are born with a disability and are told that your life will be a struggle. Now imagine a place where you are told you can do anything.”  As he is talking we are pulling back to see that he is sitting in a wheel chair. He continues; “I don’t have to imagine, because the child is me, and that place is Shriner’s Hospitals for Children.”

Shriners Hospital2

I do understand that there is a point where you do need to share some facts with your viewing audience. With this story telling format, we capture the audience’s attention from the begging by the little boy telling you the story.  Once we have the audience’s attention, we can give them some information that is relevant and supported by the story. After we share the facts, then we go back to the story.  In this case the story is “Before and After”. You can see and hear it as the different children tell you about what they can do now because of Shriner’s Hospitals for Children.

The third factor is to give your audience a sense of scarcity.  Let them know that what you are offering is for a limited time, or in the case of fundraising, if they don’t act now it may be too late for the subject in the spot or for the audience to make a difference.

You can weave this in to your dialog and story.

The things you need to remember:

  1. Story is king – discover what the story of your organisation or product is and tell it to your audience in a story that they can relate to
  2. Visual images must be intriguing or compelling – find images that draw your audience in to the story
  3. Create a sense of scarcity in your story.  Leave the audience with the feeling that they must act now or miss out.
  4. Don’t focus on facts.  Focus on story and weave the facts in as part of the story.
  5. Most importantly: Call your mother and tell her you lover her.



Tracy Trost
With more than 30 years of experience in the television, film, and video production industries, Tracy Trost has become recognised as an award-winning director, producer, and writer. He is currently applying that experience and making waves in the Direct Response Television space. His work with clients such as Shriners Hospitals for Children and The American Legion has garnered several industry awards. Tracy’s fresh approach on fundraising, through storytelling and neuroscience, is being recognised by the industry and more importantly, the viewing audience.