At a time when patrons are both hungry for and inundated by visual content, how do nonprofit organizations use video marketing in a way that stands out? And how do these companies without digital marketing staff in-house keep up with the demand for slick video content? I wanted to see what a pro had to say on the matter.

Michael Hemphill, the Creator of Buzz4Good, has spent close to twenty years in the nonprofit field, working for museums, charitable foundations, and volunteering his time as a board member for several organizations.

Buzz4Good is a TV show streaming on social channels, YouTube and Blue Ridge PBS that, as Buzz’s website states, “profiles nonprofit organizations and the marketing pros that help them do more, do better, by creating more buzz.” During each 20-30 minute episode, Michael introduces viewers to a local nonprofit, learns about the marketing needs they have, pairs them with marketing professionals, and then has a Fixer-Upper-style reveal at the end where the nonprofit leaders get to see the new logos, websites, and content that has been designed for them—free of charge!

As Buzz observes on their website, “nonprofits have salaries and bills to pay, a budget to balance. They require money. And if people don’t know about them, don’t believe in them, don’t support them — in short, if they lack buzz— they suffer.”

Rachel: First, can you tell me a little about Buzz4Good and how you got started?

A collage of 12 photos and images, including dancers, a movie theatre marquee, a wolf, a boy wearing a helmet, a man standing in front of a 'wordsprint' sign, a Blue Ridge PBS logo, an American Advertising Federation Roanoke logo

Michael: I’ve been in the nonprofit world for nearly 20 years, and what I have consistently noticed along the way is the value of and need for good marketing in the nonprofit sector. The nonprofit leaders I’ve encountered are really passionate and skilled at living the organization’s mission, but what they lack--either through time, expertise, or money--is the ability to promote the business and attract more donors and clients to their cause.

My goal with Buzz4Good is to give more visibility to both the marketing professionals donating their expertise as well as the nonprofits themselves. In a way, Buzz4Good wants to be the Extreme Makeover or the Fixer-Upper of the nonprofit world!

Rachel: Yes! I think the structure of your show is really effective--the audience begins to care about the organization and the people in it through the episode, and then we get that wonderful payoff at the end. Can you talk about your storytelling strategy in building the show this way?

Michael: Well, the stars of the show are obviously the nonprofits themselves, and I really wanted to introduce them and give them the red carpet treatment. These are passionate, talented, caring, big-hearted people who are out to address real needs in our community. But they obviously have needs as well, so instead of saying to audiences “hey, you can support them by making a contribution,” I felt like I wanted to help them not just in the short-term, but longer term as well, with some marketing help. A nonprofit could definitely use a flat $1,000, but in these shows we typically provide $10-25,000 of pro-bono marketing help.

Rachel: That is fantastic. Nonprofits in the episodes I watched have strong visual elements—Southwest Virginia Ballet, Mill Mountain Zoo, Healing Strides, etc. Do you think video content marketing is an equally strong tool for all types of nonprofit organizations?

Michael: As a TV show, Buzz gravitates towards organizations with a strong visual elements. RAM House (Roanoke Area Ministries) was one of the more challenging, because the connection was just telling people’s stories via face-to-face interviews, rather than having a lot of B-roll to incorporate. We’re asking people to come on camera and say yes, I’m homeless, yes, I’ve been in need of help. We had to work a little harder to get those stories told.

Four people wearing face masks in an industrial kitchen preparing food at a station with pots, pans, and cooking utensils overhead.

Rachel: I actually felt like the RAM house episode was a really effective use of visual storytelling, because our society often sidelines and hides people experiencing homelessness. So bearing in mind that a lot of the credit goes to your Director of Photography and Editing (Dan Mirolli), can you talk a bit about the artistry of how you shoot the show?

Four people in a room with a table. One man is knelling down to take a photo. The walls are colvered with framed drawings, and there is a computer display with a Zoom meeting on the screen.

Michael: We want to get viewers in as quickly as possible to caring about the work the nonprofits are doing. We try to focus less on the leaders of the nonprofit, and really focus on the people who are served. We pack the first part of the show with those stories, and then introduce the organization’s marketing needs. Part of my goal is not just to help the nonprofit we’re featuring, but also other nonprofit leaders who might be tuning in. Then, of course, we try to have a big reveal at the end. We like to give a payoff at the end for both the nonprofit we’re featuring, but then also for the audience.

Rachel: I found myself both laughing and tearing up as I watched your episode on Southwest Virginia Ballet. I especially loved the moment at the end where Pedro Szalay (SVB’s artistic director) gives you a ballet lesson! Can you discuss the role of humor and the unexpected in your visual storytelling?

Two men stand at a barre in a ballet studio, with three other people in the background near a piano, watching.

Michael: When I first conceived of Buzz4Good, We had planned to hire hosts for the show who knew what they were doing. When COVID hit and some funding opportunities dried up, I became the talent that I could afford to host the show! I decided then that whatever talent I lacked in being a TV show host, I had to make up for by being willing to make a fool of myself. I tried to find moments in the show where I could essentially be the viewer. When it came to the ballet, I sought to be a proxy for the middle-aged guy tuning in, wondering why he should care about ballet. Well, I obviously needed a ballet lesson! I wanted to show that this isn’t just some dainty thing young girls do. It’s a sport!

Rachel: Totally! I’d like to make a bit of a transition to talk about the elephant in the room: the challenges around COVID-19. Buzz was getting ready to put out its first episodes only a few months before everything shut down. What is it like shooting content with masks and social distancing in place, and how does this affect your visual storytelling?

Michael: For one thing, a lot of the nonprofits we were featuring were closed to the public, so we had to do a lot of one-on-one interviews with staff. And the mask-wearing was a challenge. You want to be able to see people’s whole faces when they’re telling a story. We tried to limit our time with people, do as many things outside as we could, and keep distance so the people being interviewed could safely keep their masks off.

An image of a YouTube video with a woman and two men walking outside on a pathway, with a building in the distance. One man is wearing a black shirt with a 'Buzz' logo.

With Healing Strides (a local equine therapy program), the reveal plan for the end was to have 100 of their supporters come see the new branding—which of course wasn’t possible--and we had to figure out how to make that reveal still feel big. We had to rely a lot on bringing people in by video conferencing, and then incorporating that footage into the show. It was a big challenge! We had to edit creatively and find the B-roll and cover material to make those moments interesting.

A photo of a Zoom meeting with three women and five men on the screen.

Rachel: Actually, I felt like it was humanizing to see you and the nonprofits acknowledging the ways we are needing to interact with each other in this time. I want to ask--we're all suddenly consuming so much more video content in the midst of the pandemic. Has this strengthened Buzz4Good's reach? Or do you feel that people are becoming screen-fatigued?

Michael: I think people are becoming screen-fatigued by on-screen interactions. But watching good video content that’s well-done, like a TV show---I think the numbers would suggest that it’s continuing to be in high demand.

Rachel: You’ll be filming the 45th season opener for Opera Roanoke this winter (Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, release date December 13). So many performing arts organizations are releasing digital performances right now out of necessity, but do you think this trend of professionally-filmed and streamed productions should continue post-COVID?

Michael: Absolutely! Not only for better access, but also to better engage with supporters who don’t live in the location where the nonprofit is. This moment seems like an opportunity for nonprofits to learn how to do these things out of necessity so that in the future they can offer them out of design. Especially if they can figure out a way to do this cost-effectively. I don’t know that there’s been a good model yet for how to make money off a virtual production. It’s going to require these arts groups to be even more creative than they’ve been in the past!

Rachel: What do you think about the various free video marketing tools out there like TikTok, SnapChat, Instagram stories, etc.? Where does this content fit in the landscape of video marketing?

Michael: they’re a great opportunity to incorporate video marketing in your overall marketing platform! And these platforms make good video content easier for nonprofits to distribute. There was a time not too long ago where creating the video was easy, and the challenging part was getting it out there for people to see. Now with all these social media apps, organizations have platforms to air the video that are so easy to use, and that allow the organization to segment and target the audience really effectively.

A young women in a white tutu sits on a stool facing a camera. Two men sit behind the camera on a bench, and another person stands nearby holding a boom microphone. There are a set of ballet barres in the background.

What is challenging about the social media landscape is that it’s so densely populated and fragmented. Organizations need to have a robust marketing plan, and ideally some professional digital marketing help.

Rachel: I wonder too if there might be some desire for video content to look more homemade and less polished in the nonprofit world? That this maybe creates some personability?

Michael: Absolutely. People may even be suspicious of the slicker, more professional-looking video pieces. If you’re a struggling nonprofit and you’re asking for money, but you have this great minute-long video, people might think, they don’t need my money. I think the opportunity is absolutely there to create some affordable and effective content with in-house talent.

Rachel: I want to close out with a couple of broader marketing questions. First, what is the number one marketing need for the nonprofits that you speak with?

Michael: speaking specifically in terms of tools, having a really good-looking website is something that nonprofits struggle with. A website that was good five years ago might not have the right feel anymore. It’s also so important to set the website up so the staff can easily maintain it. The other piece is having a strategic digital marketing plan. There are so many tools in this realm of digital and paid advertising that a nonprofit can’t always tap into effectively without help. Getting a digital marketing specialist involved is really advantageous. Especially since we aren’t doing as much in the way of billboards, tv, or radio, we really need to be putting energy and skill into the digital marketing realm.

Rachel: So, reflecting on all of this, how should students who are interested in specifically arts nonprofit marketing be preparing to help in that field?

 Michael: As someone who has had to figure out digital marketing trends over the last ten years post-school, I would love to see today’s students training in the effective use of these [social media and digital marketing] tools. Video production, website development, social media…like, what the heck do you do with a hashtag? I had to learn that on my own. Students right now have the time to really study these trends. I think also recognizing that nonprofits need to be able to maintain any digital marketing channels they introduce, and maintain them well. I’d also encourage young marketing students to enter into a relationship with a nonprofit with a sense of humility. Come in with a “how can I help” attitude.

Rachel: Absolutely. Thank you for your time!

In short, video content marketing has been a rising need for the nonprofit world even pre-pandemic, and can be a costly and time-consuming thing to maintain. TikTok, Instagram, and other social media platforms are useful platforms for expanding reach, but generating quality content to put there is of central importance. I really appreciated Michael’s reminder to keep the beneficiaries of the nonprofit front-and-center—this is about them, after all.

Michael’s observation about learning video content marketing out of necessity right now so that we can do it with design in the future also struck me. While many in arts marketing may feel like we’re learning as we go right now, the pandemic is forcing us to innovate quickly and effectively at a speed we might not have attained without the pandemic to spur us on.

I think we all have something to learn from Michael’s tenacity, adaptiveness, and willingness to don a pair of ballet tights or hold a snake for the greater good!

A man in a black jacket stands outdoors holding a large black and brown snake.

Learn more about Buzz4Good and the amazing nonprofits they feature at They have featured nonprofits all over Southwest Virginia, including Mill Mountain Zoo, Southwest Virginia Ballet, RAM House, and (coming soon) Opera Roanoke. For a quick overview of what they’re all about, check out this 80-second video. You can also hear this interview as a podcast episode on Buzz’s Inside the Hive podcast!

Rachel Nunn is a graduate student in the MFA in Theatre in Arts Leadership program at Virginia Tech.

All images and screenshots are used with permission from Buzz4Good’s website and episodes.