Q&A With Giving100 Video Artist Marc Strong

Earlier this week, Independent Sector launched Giving100, a new grassroots advocacy campaign for a universal charitable deduction. Approximately 100 million American taxpayer currently lack access the charitable deduction of 122 million total.

Nobody would call tax reform a sexy topic, so a major challenge in mounting Giving100 was to make it engaging and entertaining rather than dry and dull.

We decided the best way to explain the charitable deduction and make it memorable was through video. Ultimately, we chose to work with Wienot Films, a video production company in Austin, Texas. The team at Wienot did an amazing job with our Giving100 video, so I asked CEO Marc Strong to answer a few questions about the creative process and the power of whiteboard animation:

RJ: You make videos about bike racing, photography, travel … the list goes on and on. So be honest: When we approached you about the topic of tax reform, was your first thought, “Ugh, that sounds dull”?

MS: No, not at all. It was the opposite actually. I studied international relations and economics in grad school because I’m passionate about public policy and trying to make the world a better place. I also think charities do a critical work for our country and world, so when given a chance to help promote a policy that can help to expand their capabilities, I was happy for the opportunity to help.

RJ: What did you know about the charitable deduction before you started on this video?

MS: I knew that it was something you could take if you itemized taxes, but I had no idea how many people actually took the deduction or when it was introduced. It was definitely an educational experience for us too.

RJ: Was there any one concept in the script that seemed especially hard to illustrate? How did you resolve that?

MS: There is a section in the script that talks about only 30 percent of taxpayers being able to take advantage of the charitable deduction. I think our original concept for that was more straightforward with an animated pie chart that moved. With some great client feedback, however, we were able to move it in a more creative direction. We ended up depicting a classic high striker game that you would see at a carnival and were able to incorporate a drawn hammer with a real hand. I personally love this solution because it brings in a classic all-American feel and depicts a potentially dry statistic in a fun and engaging way.

RJ: What is it about whiteboard animation that makes it so good for communicating difficult subject matter?

MS: Like any medium, some whiteboard approaches are more effective than others. That said, I think one of the strengths of using a whiteboard to help convey an idea is also its weakness. With a whiteboard, you are somewhat limited in what you can draw and animate. It’s a difficult medium to draw on and whiteboard markers can be finicky. Because of these limitations, it helps force us to keep from getting overly complex with our illustrations. From an explanation and understanding perspective, I think that simplicity allows the brain to focus more on the meaning of the explanation instead of getting bogged down in all of the visuals details. It’s a classic example of “less is more.”

RJ: And finally, this video takes just 90 seconds to get viewers up to speed on the issue of the charitable deduction. But how much work did you guys put in behind the scenes to create that 90-second film?

MS: That’s a great question. A lot of people assume that because the final result is relatively simple and easy to understand, it was quick to make. We use an entire team of people to deliver the final result for our explainer videos. On this project, the script was already written when we came on board, but we still had to develop visual concepts, illustrate and film them on a real whiteboard, animate and color correct them using animation and editing software, add sound effects, and then compose a custom score to match the video. I don’t have the exact number of hours for everyone involved, but it’s not unusual to spend 100-200 man hours on a project, depending on its length. It’s a lot of work, but it’s always satisfying to see the finished project in the end.

Check out the finished product at Giving100.org, and please share using the hashtag #Giving100.

Robert Jones is the vice president of engagement and communications at Independent Sector.

Types: Blog
Global Topics: Congress, IS Staff, Nonprofit Capital, Public Policy
Policy Issues: Charitable Deduction, Charitable Giving, Tax & Fiscal Policy