Streams of Thought: Give!

Editor's note: This Streams of Thought column appears in the December/January issue of Streaming Media magazine. Click here for your free subscription.

In times of economic uncertainty, it’s often easy to step back and disengage from giving. But during the holidays, it's worth reflecting on ways that you can give that go beyond simply writing a check and are unique to those in the online video industry.

This is not a column about the value of giving financially. Instead, I want to challenge you, here at the end of one year and the beginning of another, to consider giving time. Many of you may know that I write a column for Streaming Media magazine’s sister publication, EventDV. The column, Amen Corner, came about because of the number of corporate, industrial, and wedding-graduation-mitzvah event videographers who mentioned that they also volunteered their talents in their local houses of worship. This cuts across religious lines—from Islamic to Jewish to Christian faiths—and represents a "who’s who" of relatively high-paid specialists in their fields.

I wondered whether these volunteers would be willing to get a bit uncomfortable, so I wrote a column for EventDV about a particular volunteer opportunity that has produced the most feedback I’ve ever received on a column (yes, even more than from On2 stockholders). The column challenged readers to help fulfill the vision of a graphic designer from the Washington, D.C., area whom I met at an orphanage in Mexico as she traveled to far-flung parts of the globe to document specific needs that U.S. volunteers could fill.

Let’s take it back to the streaming media industry. Regardless of your religious or political affiliation, or lack thereof, each of you has a talent that some not-for-profit organization is looking for. Your volunteerism may never land that not-for-profit as a client, even though a few of them do have communications budgets that might eventually be reallocated to streaming. However, by being part of a larger cause that can use your talent to put content in front of a global community, you just might. Let me make a few suggestions:

Introduce a not-for-profit to YouTube or Facebook—Given the fact that we work on the cutting edge of technology, we tend to take it for granted that everyone around us knows about enabling or community-based technologies. You’d be surprised, though, how few not-for-profits even have an updated website—or a website at all—and many of them aren’t aware of the value of YouTube and other video-centric social media sites.

Webcast an event—Better yet, videotape and webcast the event. It doesn’t have to be a large event, and it could even be as simple as an awards banquet or volunteer appreciation dinner, but the fact that it’s streamed live (and is then available on-demand for a few months) will bring exposure to the not-for-profit and might provide a way for someone from another part of the country who is unable to attend to be part of the event virtually.

Think big—Maybe the not-for-profit you get involved with is focused on local issues, but you can help them see how their response to these issues can create an example in a world where information is accessible on a global scale. Your giving might help push forward an agenda to bring clean drinking water to parts of the Third World or connect a volunteer in Africa with a volunteer group in the United States, driving home the need to send supplies to a famine-ravaged area.

Provide hosting/CDN services—This is the easiest one to do, and if it’s all you have time for, it’s better than not volunteering. Still, even if you webcast an event or help with videotaping an event for a not-for-profit group, it’s always better if the group can put up content in a customized, branded player that helps enhance the group’s impact. You may even find they have a stack of tapes or DVDs they’ve created and haven’t had the funds to distribute them widely, so CDN services can provide a much-needed boost to getting their message out.

Find a replacement—One of the biggest fears in volunteering is the danger of getting collared and forced to do the same thing time and time again. One lesson I’ve learned is that you can help drive the vision, but only if you find a replacement for each step in the process. For instance, if you start by webcasting one or two events, that becomes part of the baseline for the not-for-profit’s future events, which is a step in the right direction. But if you take the time to expand the vision after the initial success and train a replacement to handle the task of webcasting, you’ll be able to move on to the next step in your vision for the not-for-profit’s communications. I can attest that it works, but it takes a bit of planning and expounding on your part.

That’s it. I’m getting off my soapbox now and looking forward to starting 2009.

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