Solar Ambassador Portal
Bring solar to your community
Lead a Solar Project & Help a Local Nonprofit Go Solar
RE-volv Solar Ambassador Fellows are college students and community members that have a passion for sustainability and renewable energy who volunteer with RE-volv to help bring clean solar energy to a local nonprofit in their community.
Our Solar Ambassador Portal has all the tools, training, and information you need to set you and your team up to successfully help a local nonprofit near you go solar! Take the course by clicking through the tabs at the top of the webpage to learn more about solar, how to bring solar to a nonprofit near you, and how to engage your community in your nonprofit solar project.
Sign-up to be a RE-volv Solar Ambassador Fellow
Looking to learn more about our Solar Ambassador Fellowship program? Head over to our volunteer webpage to learn more about the Solar Ambassador Fellowship, requirements to join, and more!
Ready to become a Solar Ambassador Fellow and help a community-serving nonprofit near your university go solar? Sign up today to become a Solar Ambassador Fellow and make a real impact on climate change in your community!Solar Ambassador Fellowship benefits include:
- Learn about solar energy technology, finance, and policy
- Gain practical skills spearheading a local solar energy project for a nonprofit
- Help a nonprofit that benefits your community save money on its electric bills
- Educate your community about the benefits of renewable energy
- Take action to solve climate change with your neighbors and friends
- Add valuable community engagement, project management, and leadership skills to your resume
- Connect with amazing Solar Ambassadors in your community and across the country!
- Earn college credits
- Basics of Solar
What do we mean by "solar energy"?
Technically speaking, solar energy is energy emitted from the sun in the form of radiant light and heat. Sunlight shines on the earth every day making it a renewable source of energy that will never run out. Therefore, technologies that capture this energy and allow us to use it in our lives - thereby replacing our current dependence on non-renewable resources - are highly valuable. In fact, if we could capture all the energy that falls on the earth during one hour of sunshine, we'd have enough energy to power the whole planet for an entire year!
There are many technologies that harness solar energy, but the two most widely used energy technologies are solar thermal and solar photovoltaics. Solar thermal uses solar energy to heat water, while solar photovoltaics use solar energy to generate electricity. RE-volv only works with solar photovoltaics (at least for now...), so anytime we use the term "solar energy", we're referring to solar photovoltaics.
Solar Photovoltaic (Solar PV)- The technology that turns sunshine ("photons") directly into electricity ("voltage"). Solar PV modules convert sunlight into DC (Direct Current) electricity.
Solar Panel- A solar panel is a rectangular unit containing an assembly of connected PV cells, usually made of silicon wafers, framed in glass and metal so they can be safely transported and installed. When solar panels are combined they form a solar array.
Inverter- Transforms electricity from DC (Direct Current) to AC (Alternating Current). AC electricity is what our homes and appliances use.
Check out the picture below for a better understanding of how a solar PV system works. Although there are many more parts that constitute a safe and fully-functioning solar system, the defining components of a solar system are: (1) the solar panels, (2) the inverter, (3) the electrical panel (which feeds power to your appliances), and (4) the electricity meter.
- Collecting the Sunshine
Solar panels are rated in Watts (W) which is a unit of power. A typical solar panel ranges from 180-360 W. In other words, if a 300 W panel is sitting directly in the sun, it will create 300 watts of power at that moment in time or about the amount of watts it takes to power a blender.
But we actually want to track energy production and the unit for energy production is Watt-hours (Wh). So a 300 W panel, if it was sitting in the sun producing power for one hour, would produce 300 Wh.
The most common unit for tracking electrical energy is kilowatt-hours (kWh). (1 kWh = 1,000 Wh)
The average American home gets four hours of full sunshine a day, so that's when the panels are producing at their maximum capacity.
So for example, a 300 W panel getting four hours of sunshine a day will produce 1200 Wh per day or 1.2 kWh. Multiply that by 365 days a year and each 300W panel will produce 438 kWh per year. If you have 10 panels on the roof that will produce roughly 4,380 kWh per year. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. residential customer uses approximately 909 kWh per month of energy, or around 10,909 kWh per year.
Measuring the Sunshine
There are a few things that affect how well solar systems can produce energy from the sun:
1. The time of year or time of day
2. Array Orientation
In the northern hemisphere, the sun is always in the southern sky - so it's ideal for solar panels to face south. Although most roof planes aren't facing due south, they can still have great potential for solar. The real takeaway here is that roof planes facing north aren't a good place to install solar.
The other factor related to roof planes is the pitch of the roof, which determines the tilt of the solar array. Tilt ranges from 0 to 90 degrees, where 0 degrees is laying flat, and 90 degrees is standing vertically. The ideal tilt for the system depends on geographic longitude, so there's no optimal tilt. The best tilt for a fixed array is generally the positioning which will yield the most direct radiation from the sun. Realistically, anything between 0-45 degree will generate plenty of solar energy. RE-volv only installs fixed array systems. However, there are solar tracking systems on the market that allow the panels to move with the sun but they can be expensive and require additional ongoing maintenance due to the moving pieces.
Lastly, the amount of sunlight that actually reaches the panels is a major factor in energy production. Clouds technically cast shade, but don't substantially block sunlight from reaching the solar panels. By contrast, a tree will cast nearly perfect shade on the area directly below it. When we're looking for potential sites for solar energy, we want to be aware of any trees or neighboring buildings that might cast a shadow on the solar system and reduce performance, often referred to as "shading."
Finding a Nonprofit Partner
- Why Nonprofits?
Why do we only work with nonprofits?
- There are 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S. with barriers to solar financing.
- Because nonprofits do not pay taxes, solar tax incentives like the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) do not apply to nonprofits making it difficult for nonprofits to go solar.
- We want to help nonprofits save money on their operating costs, so they can use the additional
income to better serve their communities and constituents.
- We also want the nonprofits to educate their communities on the benefits of clean energy, thereby promoting greater adoption of solar energy across the country.
Identifying the “Right” Nonprofit
Going solar can be a terrific deal for a nonprofit, and a win-win-win for them, your community, and the environment. So how do you identify the “right” nonprofit to solarize? There are a few key characteristics to look for:
Well-Established: Organizations should have a strong local presence, with a demonstrated commitment to the community. Ideally, they should have been operating at their current location for at least 5 years but we will accept the minimum requirement of 1 year.
Solid Finances: Since RE-volv will be financing solar equipment for a nonprofit for 20 years, we need to make sure that they are in good financial standing. To check, we'll have organizations submit financial statements as part of the application process.
Building Ownership (or Long-Term Lease): Solar panels are a long-term investment, so the nonprofit should have certainty that they’ll be at their current location for a long time. Ideally, they own their building, but a long-term lease (and a good relationship with their landlord) can also work.
A New(ish) Roof: Roofs typically need replacing every 15 to 30 years. Since solar panels will produce power for 25 years or more, it’s best to install them on a roof that’s less than 5 years old so we don't have to take the panels off and put them back on again in a few years if they need to replace the roof. One of the first questions you should ask your potential nonprofit is, "how old is your roof?" Sometimes they'll need to do some digging to find out. Anything older than 10 years is something we shouldn't do. Sometimes, if their roof is very old, say 25 or 30 years old, and they have plans to replace it anyway, we can have them replace it before we put solar panels on the roof.
Shading: Another thing to watch out for is shading. For example, if there are trees or tall buildings next to the nonprofit that cast shade on the roof, this will reduce the amount of energy the solar panels produce. Google has a tool called Project Sunroof, which shows the solar access of rooftops across the U.S. Not all roofs appear in Project Sunroof, but it's worth taking a look!
- Selling Solar
1st Step: Find a Nonprofit
1. Do you have an relationship already with a nonprofit in your area?
2. Does someone you know? Friends, professors, colleagues? Ask around to see if anyone in your network has an established connection with a nonprofit.
3. Contact local environmental clubs/organizations and see if they can connect you with any local nonprofits that might be interested in solar. Perhaps they can send out a message on social media or through their newsletter.
4. Call local solar installers to see if they know of any nonprofits already interested in solar. Sometimes an installer will want to install solar for a nonprofit but the nonprofit doesn't have a way of financing it. That's where you come in!
5. Google! You can always just Google local nonprofits and then cold call or email them but you will have the most success if you have some sort of personal connection.
6. Reach out to community foundations that support nonprofits in your area. They might be interested in connecting you to their grantees to help them go solar.
7. Find local non-profits through the local Chamber of Commerce in your area. Many nonprofits join local Chamber of Commerce organizations, which can help you in your search to find more nonprofits.
8. Post in your local city’s Facebook group explaining that you are a Solar Ambassador with RE-volv and asking if anyone knows of a local nonprofit that might be interested in learning more about going solar. This would be a great opportunity to ask people who reply with suggestions, if they might help you with an email introduction to the nonprofit.
2nd Step: Schedule a Meeting
When you identify a nonprofit that could be a good fit for a RE-volv solar project, you're going to reach out to the organization to schedule a discovery meeting with the right person. In this meeting, ask about the nonprofit's work and why they are interested in going solar. Explain to them the benefits of going solar with RE-volv and how you can help them achieve their goals.
Unfortunately, it isn't always easy to get the attention of a nonprofit. Most nonprofits are hyper-focused on their mission and the need at-hand, which means that longer-term projects and opportunities like going solar tend to be overlooked. If you are already involved with the nonprofit or know someone there who can help you find the right audience for the discovery meeting - that's fantastic! If not, don't fret! Here are some tips to schedule your discovery meeting:
- Keep it brief - if you're introducing yourself by email, try to keep it under 200 words; if you're calling, try to keep your initial conversation less than 10 minutes. Be mindful of their time and their priorities.
- Ask them about their interest in solar- the key to sales is to find out a potential customer's needs and see if you can help meet them. So before you start pitching all the great things about solar, ask them some questions. What are the nonprofits top priorities now? Have they ever looked into going solar before? Would they like to lower their electric bills? What could they do with savings from their electric bills? Are they looking for ways to reduce their environmental footprint? Would they like to increase their visibility in the community? That'll give you a better understanding of how going solar with RE-volv can help them meet their goals.
- Focus on the WHY- most people that are interested in
going solar are happy to be saving money...but the real reason they want to go solar is to do the
right thing. They want to help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, accelerate clean energy
adoption, and be a sustainability leader in their community. Talk to them about why you're a Solar
Ambassador and ask them why they think going solar is the right thing to
- Describe the benefits - in your initial communication, make sure to mention some of the high level benefits of going solar and partnering with RE-volv; use language that excites them about the opportunity you're presenting; listen to their needs and match them with the benefits we offer (use the RE-volv Solar One Pager as a guide.)
- No commitment required - remind them that the primary purpose of the discovery meeting is to explore partnering and discuss with them the benefits of going solar. There are no commitments required from them at this step in the process - RE-volv will not share their information with any other organization, and they can say no at any time during the discovery process.
- Ask for the right contact - don't settle for the general inbox or info@ handle! When you call, ask for the right person to speak to about this. Some examples might be the Facilities Manager, the head of Operations, the Executive Director, or a member of the Board. If they don't know who you should talk to, ask them who would be able to direct you to the right contact. Never settle for a quick no - always ask to speak to someone who is willing to chat with you about the opportunity!
- Vary your contact methods - if one contact method isn't yielding a response, try another. Alternate between emailing different contacts, calling different numbers, or visiting the nonprofit during certain times of the day. Don't leave voicemail after voicemail on the same person's phone - leave one voicemail, try other contact methods, then try leaving another after a few calls.
- Follow-up at least once per week - unless otherwise specified, keep up with the nonprofit at least once a week. Try to vary the time of day that you contact them, in case they have some sort of ongoing meeting or service at that time. And don't take silence to mean no! Nonprofits are almost always engaged in a long list of very important tasks, so they may be just unable to respond at that time or your contact info may have gotten lost in the fray. Send gentle, polite reminders that you're still there and interested in discussing this further with them.
Below are some example communications that you can use as a reference. Be sure to put this in your own words when you reach out to your nonprofit. Feel free to send the PDF RE-volv Solar One Pager as an attachment directly to the nonprofit.
To get you started, here's what a sample email might look like:
Subject Line: Partner with Coastal Carolina Students to Bring Solar to Your Nonprofit
RE-volv is a nonprofit organization that helps fellow nonprofits, like yours, go solar. RE-volv provides solar financing so that you can go solar without having to pay anything up front. In addition to reducing your environmental footprint, you'll be able to save up to 15% on electricity costs from day one, and even more over time.
We've been looking for a nonprofit in the area to help go solar and thought you might be interested in exploring this further.
Would you like to set up a meeting or a phone call soon to discuss?
Jane Smith, Coastal Carolina University RE-volv Solar Ambassador
As another example, here's a sample phone call:
Hello John! My name is Jane, and I’m an Environmental Studies student at San Francisco State University, volunteering with a nonprofit called RE-volv. RE-volv finances solar energy projects for community-serving nonprofits, and our team thought your nonprofit would be a great fit to go solar with RE-volv. Do you know who at your organization I should speak with about exploring solar energy for your building?
[John transfers you to Samantha, who is the Executive Director. After introducing yourself again, you explain RE-volv]
My name is Jane, and I’m an Environmental Studies student at San Francisco State University, volunteering with a nonprofit called RE-volv. RE-volv helps fellow nonprofit organizations go solar. I'd love to hear more about your organization and if you've ever considered going solar?
[Samantha explains the mission of her nonprofit, and any thoughts she has on solar energy. Perhaps she asks to hear more about how it works]
That's excellent! We think your organization would be a great fit for a RE-volv solar campaign!
To give you a bit more background, RE-volv provides a nonprofit tailored finance arrangement so that you can go solar without having to pay anything up front. In addition to reducing your environmental footprint, you'll be able to save up to 15% on electricity costs from day one, and even more over time.
[Hopefully, she wants to learn more.]
Great! All we need to get started is the last 12 months of utility bills. That will help us determine what size solar system would be the best fit for your building and how much money we can save you. Then we'll put together a proposal and sit down with you and your team to go over the details. There’s no commitment – so at the very least, you’ll get a free solar assessment. Do you know who could provide us with the last 12 months electric bills?
[Samantha transfers you back to Gregory, who promises to send you the utility info via email]
If you're able to confirm all the requirements for the RE-volv program, you've successfully completed a discovery meeting! Or, if Samantha was too busy to talk then, just ask for a good time to call back. It can really be that simple!
After you've spoken with them on the phone or had an initial email back expressing interest, you can send a follow up email with this flier to give them more information: RE-volv Solar One Pager
The ultimate tool: listening
Remember that your ultimate tool is the power of listening. Ask the nonprofit about their organization, what issues they're currently struggling with, and help them determine whether it's the right time for them to go solar.
3rd Step: Repeat
As you explore partnerships with more and more nonprofits, you'll quickly discover how much work is required for a nonprofit to decide to go solar. So, we always recommend that you reach out to as many nonprofits as possible, with the aim of engaging no less than 5 nonprofits in conversations about solar at the same time. Even if you've identified a great opportunity at your favorite nonprofit, there are many reasons that they may decide to not go solar right now, so it's best to have some back-up options. What happens if all five want to go solar? Great! We'll help them all go solar in the order they sign up!
- Closing the Deal
COLLECTING ELECTRIC BILLS
You have a nonprofit interested in solar. Great! Now what do we need to move forward?
In order to design a system that generates the appropriate amount of electricity, we'll need to know how much electricity they use throughout the year. That means we need to see 12 months of utility bills, to size the system.
The utility bills also show the customer's rate plan which indicates how much they're being charged for the energy they use. This will allow us to determine how much we can save the nonprofit by going solar.
We'll also need to know the name of their utility and their customer identification number/their account number.
To recap: the information we need to capture from the utility bills are:
- Utility name
- Utility account number
- Rate plan
- Monthly energy usage (in kWh) over last 12 months
- Monthly bill costs over last 12 months
Other information found on the bill - like their meter number or interval usage data - may be needed to complete the analysis. But more often than not, these 5 data points are the crucial pieces of information we'll need to move forward.
How do we find these 5 pieces of information?
Essentially, what we need are copies of 12 months of the nonprofit's electricity bills. However, rather than ask the nonprofit to photocopy 12 months of utility bill right away, there are some other routes we can explore.
Usually this information is available in an online tool or summary table that can show the nonprofit's energy usage over the last year. Ask the nonprofit to try logging into their account on their utility's website and exporting this data into an Excel table or PDF.
Utility API is an online service available to customers in specific utilities which authorizes solar companies like ours to access historic usage data in the nonprofit's account. It's usually much simpler than trying to extract the data from the utility's website, but it's only available for customers of these specific utilities.
Finally, if the utility doesn't have an online portal and UtilityAPI isn't available for that utility, you can ask the nonprofit to call their utility and request their last 12 months of electricity usage data be sent to them by email. And make sure to inform the nonprofit about the 5 data points listed above - it's best to request all the information from the utility at the same time to minimize the back and forth.
If all else fails, just ask the nonprofit to copy 12 months of their electricity bills. Whatever form the information comes in, we'll take care of compiling it all into a table and conducting the analysis in coordination with our installation partners.
RE-volv offers two forms of financing to nonprofits: a Solar Lease or a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). While a “solar lease" and “solar PPA” are very similar in practice, there is a key difference between the two. With a lease, you agree to pay a fixed monthly lease payment, which is calculated by estimating the amount of electricity the system will produce. With a PPA, you agree to purchase the power generated by the system at a set per-kWh price. There are a few factors that help RE-volv decide which type of financing a nonprofit will receive, but the primary determinant is geography. Since each state has different solar laws and regulations, and they're often changing, we have to determine each project on a case by case basis. More often than not, if your state allows PPAs, we'll use a PPA. If it doesn't, we'll use a lease. Any questions a nonprofit has about financing options should be referred to the RE-volv Solar Account Manager.
- Presenting the Proposal
PRESENTING THE PROPOSAL
The proposal walk-through
Once you've collected the last 12 months of utility bills and sent them to RE-volv's Project Management team, we'll send out a request-for-proposals, or RFP, to local solar installers near the nonprofit. After we receive a few bids for the project, we'll compare them and select one. Then we'll use that installer's quote and system design to put together the RE-volv solar proposal to present to the nonprofit. The next step is for RE-volv to set up a proposal walk-through meeting.
The RE-volv proposal is a 7-9 page document that explains the benefits of going solar with RE-volv, and provides detailed calculations about the solar system that we propose to install on the nonprofit's building. The proposal covers:
- The expected size of system (i.e. number of solar panels)
- The expected energy output of the system, and what percentage of their electricity consumption that will cover over 25 years
- The lease/PPA payments and how they compare to the current cost of energy from the local utility
- A short summary of their financing option and a timeline for the project
- The expected net savings of going solar over the next 25 years
- The environmental impact the solar system will have over the next 25 years
- A rough overhead sketch of where we expect to install the solar panels
- A page featuring your Solar Ambassador team and your community engagement and education efforts
- Some background information on RE-volv as well as the solar installer
RE-volv's Solar Account Manager will lead the proposal walk-through. We ask each Solar Ambassador team members to introduce themselves and explain their involvement with the project as a RE-volv Solar Ambassador during the meeting.
Here are a few charts that demonstrate how this information is presented in the proposal:
- Frequently Asked Questions and Follow-Ups
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS AND FOLLOW-UPS
Now that you've successfully educated the nonprofit on the benefits of going solar, the decision-making process is largely in their hands. It may take them weeks or even months to make a final decision on our proposal, so patience is key at this stage.
Our primary duty at this point is to equip our champion at the nonprofit with as much information as possible and let them know that we're here to help. Be available to answer any questions that they receive from other decision-makers, and if you receive any questions you don't know the answer to, reach out to the RE-volv Solar Account Manager.
The most important way to keep proactive is to schedule regular follow-ups with the nonprofit. Ask about their decision-making process:
- Who needs to approve the project before we can move forward?
- Does your Board of Directors meet regularly? If so, when?
- What are the next steps in the decision-making process?
- Is there any additional information you will need before making a decision?
Once you understand the decision-making process, scheduling regular follow-ups should be much easier. Try to follow-up with the nonprofit 1-3 days after the decision-makers meet. Keep following-up every 1-2 weeks to see how the discussion is going and if they need any additional support.
Undoubtedly, the nonprofit will have lots of questions about the proposal. Here are of the most common questions that we receive:
- What happens if the system isn't producing energy?
How will we know whether it is or not? -Part of the solar installation includes a monitoring system that
records how much energy is being produced by the solar system and posts it to a website in
real time that RE-volv and the nonprofit can see. It also lets us know if it's
under-producing, so we can send someone out to take a look.
- What happens if the nonprofit moves to a new building and sells their current building? -If the nonprofit moves and sells their building to someone else, the new property owner would have to continue the terms of the solar lease.
Signing the contract
Once we've presented the opportunity to the nonprofit, walked them through the proposal, and answered all their questions about going solar with RE-volv - it's time for them to sign! Once they decide that going solar with RE-volv is the best fit for their organization, the RE-volv Solar Account Manager will finalize the details and send out a contract for e-signature. Once they've signed the contract, you're ready to start engaging and educating the community about the project and the benefits of solar!
Community Engagement, Education, and Events
- Telling the Story
Telling the Story of Your Nonprofit Going Solar
To get someone excited about your project, you have to tell a story. What is the project about and why is it important? What about this would grab someone’s attention? The story should focus on why the members of your team are Solar Ambassadors. What drives you? What got you to this place? Sharing your personal story and passion about solar can inspire others to take action. You’ll also want to tie in how solar energy is good for the environment and by reducing the threat of climate change, is good for everyone everywhere.
You’re going to want to come up with a catchy title and then write a few paragraphs of copy that describes your team and what you're trying to accomplish, and we'll post it on the RE-volv website.
You will be using social media a lot during your fellowship to tell the story of your efforts and to highlight the nonprofit you're solarizing. We suggest you utilize Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, or wherever your network is most active.
Your team will set up its own social media page to post from that you all have access to, and you should take turns posting to it. Ideally, you're posting at least once a day if not multiple times a day across multiple platforms. You also want to share all of your social media on your personal accounts as well.
Keep in mind that when you and your followers like a post, comment on a post or share a post, the Facebook algorithm will decide that it is popular content and will show it to more people. Therefore make sure you, your teammates, and all your friends and family and supporters are actively liking, commenting, and sharing your posts.
The more we share success stories highlighting the benefits of solar energy, the better!
Prepare in Advance
Remember to always make life easier for yourself where you can. Before you announce your nonprofit decided to go solar, draft short and compelling Facebook posts and tweets tagging diverse groups and organizations whose audience would be interested in the mission of your nonprofit or in fighting climate change. You'll be sending these often to keep people informed on the stage of the project.
Here’s a template that you can use and customize for each social media channel:
Date for release: _/_/_
Make sure to draft a version of 280 characters or less for Twitter
Posting on social media regularly and often will help get people excited about solar energy and your project. Actively posting updates on when the contract was signed, when the install is going to happen, pictures and videos during the installation, and then details about the ribbon cutting event and other solar education events will give people more reason to want to get involved. Remember to ask your team and personal networks to like, comment, and share your posts. That will help the posts get higher visibility. Try to post to your social media accounts at least once a day. Try posting at different times of the day as well to experiment to see when your posts receive the highest levels of engagement. To help your posts get traction, consider posting during these times.
Social Media Resources
There are a number of free resources available that can help your team with social media planning.
Planoly is a great website that allows you to plan out your Instagram feed and has the capability to schedule posts to Instagram and Facebook, plus there's a free option as well. If your team has shared login information to Planoly, this can make it easy for multiple people to plan the social media content for the team.
Canva is another free resource that you can use to create free graphics for Facebook, Instagram posts, and Instagram stories. You can also use Canva to create fliers for upcoming events as well.
Unsplash is a website where you can find freely-usable images that you can post on your social media accounts. If you would like to make a post about solar, but don’t have a photo that you can use, check out Unsplash to see if there are any photos that you can use.
GET YOUR CAMPAIGN IN THE PRESS
Each team should have a goal of getting at least one news article published about your project if not multiple. This helps get the word out, which helps your nonprofit get more attention for its leadership and it also gets more people to see the benefits of solar in their community. You'll want to send out a press release and get a story published when your nonprofit signs the Solar PPA or Lease, and you'll also want to get coverage for your ribbon cutting event.
Press List - This is a spreadsheet you and your team use to compile a list of reporters that might cover the story. In it, you'll gather all the information you need about reporters, including what news outlet they work for, their email, phone number, what they typically write about, etc.
Press Release - A press release is a 1-2 page document you write that tells the story about your solar project and why it's newsworthy. You'll want to come up with a catchy headline that will get people's attention. Press releases follow a very specific format. Take a look at this example and try and use the same format.
Media Advisory - A media advisory is similar to a press release except rather than pitching a news story, you're pitching an event. It's a short document that lets the media know about an event you have coming up. For example, you're having a Solar Education event and the mayor of your town is speaking. You'll want to give the media all the information they need to show up and cover the event: who's speaking, where it's being held, what's it for, etc. Follow the format of this example.
Email pitch - Reporters get tons of press releases emailed to them every day. So you need to make sure that you're cutting through the noise. You'll need a catchy email subject line to get them to open the email. Then you'll need to summarize the press release in a few bullet points like this. Below the bullets, you copy and paste the press release in the body of the email.
Phone pitch - Right after you send the email pitch to reporters, you pick up the phone and call them. You say something like "Hi my name is Sue and I just sent you an email with a press release about our exciting new solar project, do you have a moment to talk about it?" Then dive in and tell them all about the nonprofit and your Solar Ambassador team and how this is benefiting the community. Have a short version you can pitch in a minute. Keep talking until they stop you.
Reporters love it if you show that you’ve read their work. They get pitched stories all the time. One way to get their attention is by relating your story to what they already write about. Look up what they’ve written recently, compliment them on a great article they wrote, and try to tie your story to it somehow.
In addition, here is a great resource guide with tips for getting press coverage.
Plan a Minimum of Three Events
RE-volv's ultimate goal is to help bring people together through solar energy. That means that every time we put solar on a nonprofit there is an opportunity to get people in the community together to learn about solar, to see how it's benefiting them, to help them explore going solar at home, and to realize that the solutions to climate change are in our hands.
That's why such an important part of your role as a Solar Ambassador is to host events and get people in your community as excited about solar as you are! We ask each Solar Ambassador team to host at least three solar education events during the year.
1. Ribbon cutting - This event will require the most prep and coordination. Once the installation is done, you’ll want to throw a ribbon-cutting party. At this event, you’ll invite local elected officials, the media, and of course the community! You'll have food, speeches, and fun to celebrate all your hard work!
2. Solar Education Week Event - Typically, the week leading up to Earth Day each year, we have each team put on a solar event to engage their community. If you have a nonprofit partner you could do an event there or have an event on your college campus or at any appropriate gathering place. Examples of events for Solar Education Week have included:
- Documentary Screening
- Solar Trivia Night
- 5k Run/Walk for solar
- Tabling at an Earth Day event
- Pizza Party with solar guest speaker
- What ever great idea you have!
3. The third event is up to you! This could be a recruitment event to get more members on your team, or to invite your neighbors to learn about how to go solar at home. It's up to you!
Pro Tip: The key to planning a great event is staying organized. We recommend using this nifty Event Planning Tracker to help you and your team keep track of important details and think through all the aspects of hosting a great event! Also, RE-volv reimburses up to $300 annually for each team for costs related to putting on events. Prior to spending this money, check with a RE-volv staff member to receive approval of the expense. Make sure to save the receipts of any purchases that you are getting reimbursed for, so that RE-volv staff can process your reimbursement.
PLANNING YOUR RIBBON-CUTTING EVENT
The hard work is all done, and now it's time to celebrate the new solar installation!
Here are some steps to plan your event:
Work with the nonprofit staff to find a good date and time to host the event
Create a list and budget for food and drinks
Create a speaker list and invite them to speak with as much advanced notice as possible
Create a plan to get the word out to the community
Here are some key players you’ll want to add to your invite list.
1. Local elected officials love events like this. Whether it’s someone from the mayor’s office, your state legislature, or even your federal representatives, politicians love opportunities to get in front of their constituents and talk about things they care about.
Inviting the official to speak is fairly easy. Typically there is a link on the official's website specifically to invite them to events like this. Otherwise, just call their staff and telling them the date and time of the event and see if they're available.
Pro Tip: Getting some high profile speakers will increase your visibility and get more people to come to your event! It will also get the local press to cover your event.
2. The press also love events like this. Once you have the date, time, and location confirmed, you can start reaching out to the press with a Media Advisory. You’ll want to make some phone calls as well in the days leading up to the event – and even the day of – to remind local news outlets of your event. They might be looking for something to cover at that time. If you have lined up politicians to speak at the event, the press is much more likely to come and write a story about the project.
3. The community will want to celebrate this local milestone, so make sure to publicize the event through all channels. Send out invitations through email, social media, flyers, posters, word of mouth – anything and everything that will circulate through the community. Have the nonprofit hang flyers, put out postcards, and email their constituents about the event.
4. The solar installer should be there too. Events like these drum up a lot of excitement around solar energy and people will be interested to learn more about how solar energy could benefit them. It’s a great opportunity for the solar installer to generate some leads.
- Creating a Video
CREATING A VIDEO
The thing about solar is, because it goes on the roof, oftentimes when a nonprofit goes solar, no one can see it! So that's why Solar Ambassadors make a short video to tell the story of each RE-volv solar project. Plus it's fun!
1: Find Inspiration!
Get together with your group and watch 3-5 impactful videos that you think are relevant to solving climate change, promoting clean energy, or are related to your nonprofit's mission. Write down what worked and what you would like to emulate in your video, use them as examples in your pre-production doc, and reference them liberally throughout your scriptwriting, shooting, and editing process.
Check out these RE-volv videos highlighting some of our past projects, to get a feel of what your video can look like!
- Hope United Goes Solar with RE-volv
- VFW Post 10804 Goes Solar with RE-volv and the Coastal Carolina University RE-volv Solar Ambassadors
- True Fellowship Baptist Church Goes Solar with RE-volv
2: It’s all about the pre-production
Chances are, at some point in the life you’ve heard about “the 5 Ps”: Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. It’s as true for filmmaking as it is for sports or musical performance, but here you can replace the 2 Ps of “prior preparation” with “Pre-Production.”
So, before you do anything else, put together a pre-production doc that will be your bible for scriptwriting, shooting, and editing your video. It should contain the following:
Length of video
Description of the video
List of existing footage from the nonprofit (if applicable)
Nonprofit interview shot list
Nonprofit b-roll shot list
Roles and responsibilities
Video lead (producer)
Spend some time on this - a good pre-production doc will make everything else much easier. And if you’re working with a team, be sure to share it with everyone (via Google Docs or otherwise) so that everyone’s on the same page.
3: Keep it snappy
One of the biggest mistakes people make when making a video is trying to squeeze in too much information. Studies show that you have 8 seconds to grab your audience's attention before they decide whether to watch more or move on to something more immediately entertaining. So make sure to start with a good hook!
Even after you nail the intro, remember that audiences today have lots of demands on their time and attention, whether it’s important work, valuable family time, or just scrolling through social media. So make sure you deliver your message as quickly and efficiently as possible. Your goal should be to produce a video that is no more than 1-2 minutes. With video, less is usually more.
It’s especially important to keep this rule in mind when you conduct interviews. If your interviewee gives an answer that goes on too long, tell them that that was a great answer, but ask if they can say it again in a way that is shorter and more succinct.
4: Clearly identify your problem and your solution
Even if your story is only 2 minutes long, it needs an arc that creates interest and drama. And, like a good Hollywood movie, that means having a villain and a hero!
Of course, in impact filmmaking, your villain isn’t (usually) going to be a moustache-twirling criminal mastermind - it’s going to be a social problem that your mission addresses, such as pollution from a coal-fired power plant resulting in kids getting asthma in your community.
Similarly, your hero isn’t going to be wearing a cape! Instead, it’s your solution - in this example, helping to support the spread of solar power to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Best of all, this framing lets you invite your audience to become the hero of your story by promoting it and getting involved.
5: Structure your video like a good school paper
Think back to high school or college. When you have to write a paper for class, what do you need to include to get an A+?
Introduction: We’ve already covered the intro in rule #2: deliver a good synopsis of your message in the first 10 seconds.
Hypothesis: Next, state your ‘hypothesis.’ What is your mission, and how will your campaign make the world a better place if you succeed?
Proof: Make your solution real for your audience by providing the details of what your mission is and how it will help make the world a better place. Can you show examples of projects like this succeeding in other cases? Can you interview people that would benefit from your mission?
Conclusion: Your conclusion should be a call to action. Now that your audience is motivated to help, tell them what they can do to help make solar a reality in their community.
If you know someone with video production experience and equipment who can help, great! If not, here are a few ways to maximize your production quality using something as simple as your phone.
If you’re using your phone to shoot video footage, always hold your phone horizontally in landscape mode. This is the way that video editing platforms are set up to edit footage.
Make sure there is even lighting. Filming on a cloudy day is ideal so there are no bright spots or dark shadows. If filming inside, use portable lamps to evenly light your subject.
Make sure you film in a quiet location with little or no background noise
If you don't have a wireless microphone, a boom mic, Lavalier mic, then make sure your camera is close to the subject (5ft maximum).
7: Shoot interviews that evoke emotion
A great video needs to help your audience understand why they should care about this nonprofit your helping to go solar. And there’s no better way to create that personal, emotional connection than by shooting good interviews with members of your nonprofit or community members served by their work.
Producing good interviews is an art form. The best interviews provide some of the basic details of your nonprofit and their solar project but also convey that information in a way that provokes an emotional response from your viewer.
There’s no magic formula for how to evoke the kind of responses that will make your video impactful, but here are some interview tips:
Before you begin shooting, give your interviewees a script of the points you want to cover and give them the option to follow it strictly or generally.
Make them feel comfortable - smile, nod when they are talking, tell them they are doing a great job. Be super friendly!
Warm up with some softball questions: Ask their name, their job, what they do in the community, etc.
Ask follow-up questions to go deeper on a subject or a feeling. For example, how does it make you feel when you hear that asthma rates are increasing in your area?
Always ask your interviewees to answer in a complete sentence and incorporate the question into the answer. So if you ask “How long have you worked at this nonprofit?” They would answer “I have worked at this nonprofit for three years” instead of answering “three years”.
8: Don’t forget the b-roll
Video is a visual medium. So, in addition to interviews, you need to make sure to have plenty of good images to show to make your video compelling.
That’s where your “b-roll” comes in. The b-roll is all the non-interview video footage that helps to tell the story. Examples include shots of the streets and neighborhood around a community organization or footage of the organization helping people. Also make sure to get a number of shots of the solar panels on the roof of the building, if possible.
To make things easy, plan your video interviews on days when you can shoot lots of good material for your b-roll as well.
9: Music makes the mood
Of course, the emotional power of video is all about the combination of image and sound, which is why music is an essential part of filmmaking. Can you imagine Jaws being half as scary without John Williams’s famous two-note theme?
That’s why even the most inspiring mission, driven by the most powerful personal stories, will benefit from well-chosen music. Do you want your audience to feel sad? Do you want your audience to get pumped up and ready to run a marathon? Find music that tells your story and takes viewers from the drama of the problem to the hopefulness and positivity of your solution.
An important part of the process is figuring out who is editing the video. Does anyone on your team have video editing skills? Do you know someone who does? You'll want to line someone up as quickly as possible so you don't end up waiting around with great footage but no one to edit it. (Most teams use the bulk of their RE-volv budget on hiring someone to shoot and edit their films.) For college students, try to find someone studying film at your school who's looking for projects to work on.
10: Have a clear call to action at the end of your video
The call to action (CTA) comes at the end of your video, but it might be the most crucial part other than your attention-grabbing intro. You need to ask people to support solar energy - and you need to do it clearly and directly.
Ask your audience to join your Solar Ambassador team if they're local, or start their own Solar Ambassador team wherever they are. They might also consider going solar at home and supporting solar policy initiatives. Point them to RE-volv.org where they can find all the information they need. Almost as importantly, you also want them to share the video on their social networks, which will help spread the word more effectively and credibly. Ask and you shall receive!
- Recap of The Solar Ambassador Fellowship Journey
Below is a quick recap of the steps that the Solar Ambassador teams will need to complete throughout their Fellowship.
Look for nonprofits in your area that are interested in going solar.
Collect electricity bills from at least five nonprofits.
Join the proposal walk-through meeting with RE-volv and the nonprofit.
After the nonprofit signs the Power Purchasing Agreement, send out a press release to local newspapers.
Take photos and videos at the installation.
Plan a Ribbon Cutting event with the nonprofit.
Get local politicians and elected officials to speak at the Ribbon Cutting event.
Send a Media Advisory to the press to cover the Ribbon Cutting event.
After the Ribbon Cutting, send out another Press Release recapping the event.
Make a short video telling the story of the nonprofit’s solar journey.
Partner with a local solar installer to help community members go solar at home.
Pattern with local policy organizations to help people advocate for clean energy and climate policy.
Host three events throughout the year.
Blog on the RE-volv website about the work that you and your team are doing and promote all activities on social media.
Attend the monthly Solar Ambassador webinars and monthly office hours with RE-volv staff to check in on your team's progress.