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Chapter 3: Activist Video: Expanding the Impact of Nonprofits

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Nonprofit organizations all have internal and external communications goals: to mobilize communities, gain media attention for an issue, increase donor support, and recruit volunteers. Across the country, environmental, health, housing, civil-rights and other community organizers recognize the power of video in our media-saturated society. However, in spite of cheaper equipment, the costs and skills to make quality video can be out of reach of nonprofits.

A field of activist video has developed over the years to meet this need. Working out of nonprofit production companies and media art centers, activist mediamakers join with nonprofit partners to conceptualize, produce and distribute video as an integral part of organizing campaigns.

In the Pacific Northwest, Green Fire Productions has won the trust of area nonprofits and the support of funders who rarely fund media. Green Fire's primary goal is to increase public awareness, citizen action, and media coverage on critical environmental issues.

According to Green Fire cofounder, Karen Anspacher Meyer, "Video increases environmentalists' ability to motivate people to get involved and to inspire people to care about an issue. As humans we listen to each other's stories." Green Fire uses the video to bring together the perspectives of community members, environmentalists, scientists, economists, and policymakers. "It's exciting because in a lot of ways we're connecting the dots, getting groups to link with someone who might be their adversary. They get to look at their issue in a new way. They end up with a new ally."

Using broadcast quality short format video programs and distributing raw footage called "b-roll" to broadcasters, Green Fire furthers understanding of complex issues and makes visible innovative solutions to environmental and social justice problems.
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Nonprofit partners use Green Fire tapes to mobilize audiences, gain media attention and change minds. Kathy Crist, who worked with Green Fire on a video about Snake River salmon says "More than any other resource, [the video] helped us nationalize the issue with the public, Congress, and the media."

For the Brainerd Foundation, both the quality of the video and how it is used to reach new people are important. The staff and board had become disillusioned from the many requests they received from activist groups whose videos were spotty, ineffective, and primarily preached to the choir.

Green Fire, on the other hand, provided "good product and good dissemination," getting the video in the right hands at the right time. Still, it wasn't easy for program officer Jim Owens to sell them initially to his board. What made the difference was the quality of the Green Fire's clips and the range of approaches, including providing b-roll footage to media sources ranging from the local news to 60 Minutes. Hearing from Green Fire's partners about how the video effectively supported their campaigns was also one of the most compelling arguments for support."

Denise Joines of the Wilberforce Foundation appreciates Green Fire's "ability to tell a story so people will pay attention and display images in a way that people will want to watch. It's not intuitive, you need a professional, Green Fire understands the media and helps organizations use it in the most effective way."

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