Whiteboards: The Thinking Person’s Cat Video

August 18, 2017

Here’s the ever-present challenge: How do you boil down a wonky issue in a catchy way that hooks viewers online and on social media? One handy tool is the “whiteboard” or “explainer” video.


Whiteboard videos let you control the message and deliver it directly to the people most likely to care. They are visual, and people naturally process most of their information through their eyes. Finally, they’re fun. Or they should be anyway. It’s a format for whimsy and creativity.

Here are a couple of whiteboard videos we helped create and some lessons we learned along the way.

This one is for a small nonprofit lake protection group in Montana, the Flathead Lakers. Their goal was to educate and inspire boaters in western Montana to be alert for and take steps to prevent an invasion of nasty little organisms called “aquatic invasive species.” These are little mussels that latch on to boats and go from lake-to-lake, leaving environmental havoc behind. (Wonky, right?) Well, watch the video and you’ll get the idea.

The second video we produced jointly with Appalachian Voices is about an energy efficiency program called Pay As You Save®. The goal is to help members of rural electric co-ops learn about an amazing – but hard to explain – opportunity to get energy-saving improvements like new HVAC and insulation without paying a penny up front or taking on debt, and still lowering their electric bills right away. Hard to believe? Give the video a watch to see how it works. Two rural electric co-ops that offer this program, Ouachita Electric in Arkansas and Roanoke Electric in North Carolina are using their own versions of the video to reach out to residents in their areas.

YouTube is full of serious mini-documentaries featuring solemn-faced experts issuing grim predictions about various problems. But doom-and-gloom inspires no one. And frankly, mussels and energy policies don’t naturally lend themselves to video without a little artistic license.

Here are tips if you want to create whiteboard videos for your organization:

  • Boil your issue down to its essential story, with a beginning, middle and end. Colorful characters and a surprise ending ads the spark.
  • Create a storyboard. Graph out your script alongside a description of the picture you want in every frame. Tighten it until it fits comfortably in 60-90 seconds and 15 or so frames. Images need to be simple, so the viewer can quickly interpret them.
  • Work with a skilled artist to bring those pictures to life. (Our artists used a digital sketch pad, adding in the special effects and voiceover on the laptop.)
  • Either hire voice talent or record the voiceover on a digital microphone. (Hint, surround yourself with pillows or put a blanket over your head to soften your voice and create a more professional tone.)
  • Once complete, post the video on your organization’s website. Use Facebook and other social media to deliver the video to your intended audience.
  • Consider boosting your Facebook post + video with Facebook ad. (Extra tidbit: FB wants you to post videos natively to their platform, so they will reward it and make sure more eyes see it than normal)
  • Track the results. Learn as you go to maximize your success.

Ben Long and Jeff Cappella