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A foray into Online Film Clubs – a peek into the future of community building

28 July 2020

From virtual pub quizzes, to WhatsApp groups, to Instagram Lives with your yoga instructor – communities in digital form have never been more important. In uncertain times, we crave simple comforts. We gain an appreciation for small things we once took for granted – like face-to-face meetings, after work meet-ups and trips to the cinema.

As digital leaders, we have a unique opportunity to create this sense of community for our supporters.

At Women for Women International creating and nurturing connections around the world has always been a part of our DNA. Now we are having to find ways to do this in the digital space. Previously, the simple act of letter writing was something we championed as a way of community building with sponsors and sponsor sisters – women survivors of war who we serve in eight conflict-affected countries – exchanging messages throughout the course of a one-year vocational skills based training programme. As the world we are living in has changed our challenge is now to make sure we keep these connections going in the online space.

Seeing the opportunity

The current situation encourages us – pushes us – to flex our digital muscles and bring people together from the comfort and safety of their homes.

Digital has created the potential to make fundraising events more inclusive, with geographic restrictions and venue costs no longer an issue. For international charities, this offers a powerful opportunity to engage in-country staff as expert speakers – something which is usually complicated by steep airfare costs and travel logistics.  

But more than that, it enables us all to engage supporters across the country, as well as tap into global audiences. With the ticket price as a one-off cost, there’s no need to factor in the time and money spent on a commute. One Zoom add-on later, and you can have hundreds of people, from anywhere in the world, attending your events.

Adapting live to virtual: Planning our first Online Film Club

As part of our drive to keep community building going during lockdown we recently launched our Online Film Club with a showing of Sweet Dreams. A documentary which tells the story of women entrepreneurs in Rwanda, one of the countries where we work, the screening was followed by a 30-minute panel discussion for ticketholders. Being an online event we were able to secure two members of our global team – Shivonne Graham, our Managing Director; Antoinette Uwimana, our Country Director in Rwanda; as well as Lisa Fruchtman, the co-director of the film, for the panel as physical location was not an obstacle.

To get the conversation going before the event, we asked ticket-buyers to reply to the confirmation email with any questions they wanted to ask as well as using the poll feature on Instagram Stories. By doing this we were able to make people feel involved in the process and create an interactive feel. Then on the day itself, because the platform we used – ScreeningRoom – doesn’t have a video conferencing add-on, we hosted the panel discussion on Zoom with a smooth transition between the two platforms thanks to a link listed under the film for quick access. 

But how did we get people signed up in the first place? Well, tickets were sold via Universe – an easy-to-use platform which offers charity rates. Then we paid a flat rate licensing fee for two weeks for the film and screened it on ScreeningRoom, which is specifically built for filmmakers and offers very affordable memberships starting at £2/month. A top tip from our wonderful Digital Trustee, Abi Calver is to use a tiered pay-what-you-can approach to ticket prices. We offered tickets at £3, £7 and £12 and were very happy to see that 47% of the tickets sold were for the £12 price point!

The challenges of going online

Of course, there was a learning curve. When you are figuring out things as you go along there are bound to be hiccups. With live events, especially when you’re relying heavily on technology, you need to manage expectations (and the comment section) closely.

If you are using new platforms – or are not yet a Zoom whiz – taking time to get familiar with the backend before the event is key. In the case of the Online Film Club, it was making sure the three platforms we were using (Universe, ScreeningRoom and Zoom) were set up correctly – there was a fair bit of manual work involved linking the three. We knew the basic steps for troubleshooting problems, and also agreed with the ScreeningRoom team that they would be on standby for the first half-hour of the screening in case there were any technical blips. 

This is a simple tip but also make sure you check – then double-check – the time zones if you’re having speakers from across the world; here’s a handy tool for this.

It’s also important to gauge your leadership team’s appetite for going with the flow and knowing that execution may be good but not pitch-perfect off the bat. Luckily, it’s a time when an unprecedented number of people are grappling with slow Internet connections and unexpected interruptions, so there is an accepted margin of error. In a way, you can even argue that these slight slip-ups make the virtual experience more human.

The response

Our first screening with met with a very enthusiastic response – we sold more than 100 tickets in one week resulting in a 288% ROI in terms of income raised.

While, physically, we were not gathered in the same room for the panel there was an intimacy to the event that was unique to the setting. It was fascinating to see how people interact in digital events versus IRL. With nerves about speaking in public gone, the comments section was buzzing with reflections on the film and responses to the panel. Supporters shared moments that made them cry with joy and scenes that filled them with curiosity. In an in-person screening, you definitely wouldn’t have this side chatter without being asked to keep your voices down!

Our next step will be to think about scale. How do we turn a small idea into a big idea and get even more of our supporters involved? Watch this space by following @womenforwomenUK to join our future online events – we hope to see you there!

You may also like Why you should keep investing in participation teams and Digital campaigning in the time of Covid.


Image: Yulia Khlebnikova on Unsplash


Paulina Stachnik

Head of communications, Women for Women International - UK

Paulina Stachnik is the head of communications at Women for Women International – UK, a charity that supports women survivors of war. Having lived in eight countries, she is passionate about the power of storytelling in bringing communities together. She’s a digital trustee at Settle Stories, an arts charity in the Yorkshire Dales, and a mentor at Solidarity Sports, a children’s charity in London. In her free time, Paulina enjoys reading, gardening and exploring with her Cairn terrier, Freya.