Top Ten University Fundraising Promotional Videos

Raising tens of millions of dollars each year through fundraising is now a fiscal imperative for most universities.

As the demands on universities to expand their services and develop new programs continues, tapping into philanthropic giving by reaching out to alumni and other potential benefactors has become standard practice to fund the growth of universities.

Gala events, telemarketing programs and direct marketing are all successful methods employed to reach potential donors. Video is being used more frequently now by universities to support all types of these fundraising activities.

Video is effective because it provides one of the best combinations of both reach and effectiveness – it’s easy to share video with prospective donors and video, when done properly, has the ability to deliver a very powerful message.

University Fund Raising Promotional Videos
We’re looking at promotional videos used to support a fundraising initiative or campaign by a university.

The most effective use of video is to either showcase the reason for the fundraising activity or to highlight the outcomes of the fundraising activity. It’s not enough to say ‘we need your money.’ You have to present a compelling and specific reason why the money is required. Video is the perfect vehicle to tell this story.

Whether you’re communicating how important scholarships are in attracting the best students or how a new building is going to lead to the development of core research capabilities or even if you’re naming a new program or school after a donor, you have to deliver an engaging message to get the viewer to care.

Traditional fundraising videos used to consist mainly of a series short interviews of faculty members supported by generic b-roll clips of those people working. That’s beginning to change. Now we’re starting to see more creative approaches in the development of fundraising videos as it becomes harder to both acquire and keep your viewers attention.

Here are our Top Ten University Fundraising Promotional Videos:

Brand: IIT {Chicago, US}
Production Company: Unknown

Great delivery, great writing and great execution.

  • In the summer of 2016 the Illinois Institute of Technology raised a quarter of a billion dollars reaching over 15,000 donors as part of its “Fuelling Innovation” Fundraising Campaign.
  • This video benefits from an excellent delivery by the presenter who speaks with an earnest and engaging style making you feel like you’re watching something important.
  • The concept behind the video – using animation and orchestrated scenes to support what is being said on screen is very effective and makes the video interesting to watch. The writing is also very good and is supported well by a natural and engaging delivery.
  • The message delivered in this video is straightforward and effective: ‘We’ve delivered greatness in the past and we’re poised to deliver greatness in the future… but we need your help.” The final delivery of ‘Together, what can’t we do” is the unanswered question and implied call to action for the viewer to act.
  • A final burst of power images leads to the campaign slogan. Overall very well executed.

Brand: University of Melbourne, {Melbourne, Australia}
Production Company: Unknown

Excellent visual stories of three scholarship recipients.

  • I hate to start off with a gripe… but “Educating tomorrow’s leaders” is about as generic and cliche as it gets. Every school does this (uses cliche’s… and educates the ‘leaders of tomorrow.’) I think only “Education Matters” or “Your future starts here” would have been even less impactful. Having said that…
  • This video is a great way to showcase the importance and the value of scholarship endowments.
  • A very human, very comfortable, very natural style of storytelling and editing makes this video very easy to watch. How can you not be inspired by these stories and what the scholarships meant to the students.
  • Telling human stories is, to a large degree, the future of video marketing. Hype still works because it gets our attention and it’s often fun to watch, but our internal hype meters are becoming more desensitized to the messaging behind hype videos. We tend to believe (and internalize) stories told in a simple human voice.

Brand: Washington University  {St. Louis, Missouri, US}
Creative Agency: Unknown

A ‘standard’ format delivered very well.

    • Sometimes a video that supports a fundraising campaign is created simply to soften the audience for a later pitch. Other times the video contains the entire message – the positioning, the pitch and the ‘ask.’ This is a complete video that get’s to the point right away and then makes a strong argument to support the campaign.
    • The structure of this video follows the ‘standard’ fundraising video format – interviews of staff intercut with b-roll of those staff. While not original in style, the filming and editing is very good here – better than most.
    • At nine minutes there’s a lot to watch in this video, probably a bit too much because there are some who will look at the length of the video and chose not to invest that much time. (There’s lot’s of evidence to support this.) For those who do watch the video to the end the message is delivered very well and this video is very compelling.
    • All of the people chosen to speak in the video are excellent. If you want your video to be excellent, this is a great place to start.

Brand: Lewis University,  {Oakland, US}
Production Company: Unknown

Good concept and good delivery.

    • Lewis, a small Catholic University is punching above its weight in this promotion.
    • Similar to the IIT fundraising video this promotion benefits from the strength of an excellent presenter telling a story about the University’s past and how that past is linked to its future.
    • The video outlines strategic campus investments and the potential for progress that could be realized on the blank canvas of 400 acres that are just require the viewers  support.
    • The delivery by the presenter is both engaging and inspiring. The repeated phrase ‘wings in flight, the sun will rise’ provides an almost poetic countenance to the delivery and elevates this video beyond the ordinary.

Brand: UCLA {Los Angeles, California, USA}
Production Company:  Unknown

Being interesting is a good idea.

    • Some fundraising videos are inspiring and some are powerful but few are genuinely interesting.
    • If your school is doing something interesting talk about it (If you’re not doing anything interesting, perhaps you should make that a priority. ) Even better, get the people involved in your interesting stuff talking with the people who benefit from that interesting stuff. Give your potential donors a specific reason to care. (‘We want to change lives’ isn’t enough any more – you really have to be specific.)
    • There’s a lot of cool stuff going on at UCLA and there are some excellent stories being told here: A mother being able to kiss her baby for the first time, a researcher using nano diamonds to help cure cancer. It’s easy to be inspired to give after watching this video. This video tells relatable stories. Eliciting some type of human emotion should always be the goal. (Awe, hope, concern, excitement… something.)
    • If the narrators voice sounds familiar it should, it’s actor John Lithgow.

Brand: MUSC {Atlanta, Georgia, US}
Production Company: Unknown

Very powerful stories that deliver an obvious and important call-to-action.

    • The Medical University of South Carolina created this video to help raise money to build a new children’s hospital.
    • The video highlights heartfelt stories told by parents about the wonderful work being done at MUSC and how the hospital helped save or improve the lives of their children.
    • The best thing you can do in a promotional video is connect emotionally with your audience. If you do connect with your audience then your story is not just understood, it’s felt and remembered and it’s also more likely that you’re going to encourage your audience to take the action that you’d like them to.
    • The music and images all work to support the idea that MUSC is a place where miracles occur. How would you not want to contribute to that.

Brand: Purdue {Lafayette, Indiana, US}
Production Company: Unknown

Mannequin challenge meets traditional fundraising video.

  • Do you require a creative device to make your video interesting? No, but being interesting is a good thing. The creators of this video use a stop-action / ‘mannequin challenge’ set-up to freeze the action around the presenters. It definitely makes the video more engaging and doesn’t take away from the message or value of the video.
  • This video highlights the achievements of the ‘dreamers and doers’ who have attended the school and outlines where investment in programs and facilities will help to continue this impressive legacy.
  • The video is nicely shot, the stop-action concept is engaging and the key messages are delivered very well. (Not sure about that cliche last shot of girls all throwing their mortarboards into the air, however.)
  • Sort of fun that they include the boiler-maker statue in the sequence of mannequin poses. (That boiler-maker nailed it.)

Brand: Indiana University {Bloomington, Indiana, US}
Production Company: Unknown

Very nicely filmed and edited but…

  • Here’s the secret formula to creating a stand-out fundraising video: Great filming, great editing, great writing and get Meryl Streep to narrate it… and… you’re good to go.
  • I get why Indiana included the various black and white inserts of the ‘voice of the student/faculty’ in the video but I’m not sure that it worked – especially the first one at around 50 seconds. The bright-eyed boosterism competes with the ‘gravitas’ of Meryl Streep’s delivery and changes the pace and mood too abruptly (IMHO). When you have the power of great video footage being supported by the voice of one of the best actors… ever, you don’t need to cut away to the ‘reality of the people’. Every time Meryl gets going someone else is introduced to deliver a cliche sentence and bring the whole video back to earth.
  • That said, this video is still very strong. It covers all the bases and makes a powerful argument for why the funds are so important.
  • (Sorry, I can’t let this go…) Still, I would have preferred to take all of those black and white clips out, built towards a big finish and had one person deliver that final statement instead of cutting to everyone saying a couple words. It seemed contrived and we’ve seen this approach too many times by now.
  • This video is good. It could have been great.

Brand: University of Chicago {Chicago, Illinois, US}
Production Company: Unknown

A busy video with lots to see and say.

  • There are a lot of ideas, images and messages communicated in this video. Ten minutes worth.
  • Clearly the university has a lot it wants to talk about and a lot of impressive people to share their experiences, ideas and vision for the university.
  • I find this type of video a tad intimidating or overwhelming (I’m not sure which) to watch. It’s tough to understand and retain the main message, if there is one, as so much is happening in the video.
  • This video may be interesting to a fault.

Brand: Lund University {Lund, Sweden}
Production Company: Unknown

Good execution of the ‘standard model’ of university fundraising video creation.

  • This video is a good example of the easiest way to deliver the most value with the least amount of effort in a university fundraising video.
  • It goes like this: Write your script, pay for some good quality stock footage shots that support your message and intersperse the best university shots you have into the video. Add a background music track and ‘voila.’
  • Beyond a good execution of this format the video also delivers something very important – it ‘paints’ the vision for the campaign. It shows the campus with the two planned buildings that the fundraising will support in the video. That’s essential because without these shots the video would not have had the same impact.
  • There’s nothing wrong with taking this approach. It’s far better than a ‘creative’ video concept delivered poorly or a series of interviews of people that are just okay on camera.
Jimm Fox


Jimm has been working in video and marketing for the last 25 years agency side, client side and in video production.

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