Thursday, February 25, 2010

Nonprofit Video: 9 Steps to Success, Plus Our Mistakes to Avoid

I really do enjoy Nancy Schwartz's insights for nonprofit marketing.  This is a great read if you are considering producing a video to tell your nonprofit's story and it's an even better read if you haven't considered it, because you should.  In the interest of full disclosure, one part of my business is getting government and nonprofit videos distributed to local Public, Educational and Government access television channels.  We now have the Subtance Abuse and Mental Health Administration's video series "Road to Recovery" on 500 television channels nationwide and Mercy Medical Airlift's video "Compassion Takes Flight" on 230 channels.  One of the advantages of getting your video out to the television channels is they will air the video repeatedly.  We recently found that 48% of the stations have run Compassion Takes Flight over 20 times!  Go to my website at Riedel Communications  to find out more about video distribution.  Bunnie

Nonprofit Video: 9 Steps to Success, Plus Our Mistakes to Avoid
by Nancy Schwartz, Getting Attention

In the age of YouTube, everyone knows there’s nothing like great video to grab someone’s attention. In the past two years, we’ve seen more and more for-profit and nonprofit organizations putting online video to work to reach out and engage their networks to build loyalty and motivate action.

So I thought I should put together a list of key things to think about, if you are considering a video production. I’m putting this together for our clients, but I think it can be useful for anyone thinking about making a video. The more you consider these issues before beginning, the smoother your project will advance.

Three Reasons Why You Should Use Video Now

1. Video production, once complicated and expensive, is now doable by anyone with a video camera and access to the internet. Brief, on-the-fly videos provide authenticity and compelling visuals via a short production cycle. This is great news for nonprofit organizations looking to connect with their networks in a way that’s reaches beyond narrative and photos.

2. There’s a growing expectation that video will be integrated in every communications mix.

3. Video, when done right, contributes immediacy and excitement to your organization’s communications mix, and strengthens overall impact. Well-crafted online videos can emotionally engage your audiences in a way that reading can’t. It’s almost like being there in person and sometimes even better, with the ability to provide the human element (e.g. an online site visit) that’s unmatched for building interest, creating trust and driving action.

Videos are shown to:

• Generate a response that’s both intellectual AND emotional.

• Inspire action. The right combination of storytelling, imagery (through photos and video) and personal appeals can be more effective in moving people to act.

• Significantly expand audience reach through online distribution. An engaging video is easy (and likely) to be passed on by your viewers, representing an exponential growth in reach.

What We Did Wrong, So You Don’t Do It

Our Goal

We wanted to build our video skills and decided to start by producing a video announcement of the 2009 winners of our annual Nonprofit Tagline Awards program. We were confident a video featuring the finalists and winners would be a compelling and complementary addition to the marketing mix (mostly narrative, online and offline) and an effective way to build awareness of award winners and the Nonprofit Tagline Report publication.

Our Mistakes

Eager to get our feet wet in the online video world and with limited video production experience, we dove right in with little more than a concept outline in hand. As a result, our initial end product was a seven-minute video featuring tagline award winners and finalists. It took over 30 hours to produce.

When we shared the video with colleagues, the main response was “it’s too long,” and we agreed. We went back to the drawing board and cut the video to less than two minutes, transforming it into a “trailer” for the Report.

In hindsight, we realized we did not do the proper initial planning for the video. We didn’t ask ourselves the simple questions — “What is the goal of this video?” or “How long should it be”?

In particular, our most significant mistake was that we did not storyboard the movie or concept before beginning the production. We began production before we had a clear vision of what we wanted to produce. Don’t forget the storyboard!

We did do some things right, like beginning with a fairly simple production strategy. Our video movie is a simple slide presentation with text animations, created in Keynote (you can also use PowerPoint) and exported into a movie file format. Once editing was complete, we uploaded the video to Vimeo, a free video-hosting website.

Next Time: The Right Way to Do It

Despite our mistakes, our first experience in producing online video was a valuable one. We flexed our creative muscles and learned useful lessons about planning and production that we can pass on to you. We are excited to get our next production rolling and have a much clearer sense of the right production process.

So, upon further reflection and research, here’s our new, expanded take on how to succeed:

9 Steps to Launching a Successful Video for Your Nonprofit

1. Develop a Simple Plan to Guide Your Project

Whether you’re shooting a 30-second PSA or an hour-long documentary, you must start out by creating a plan that includes the pre-production, production and post-production aspects of your video project. It’s a critical first step.

This is really no different than other nonprofit marketing endeavors you’ve worked on. You don’t start the development of a brochure, annual report, website, fundraising campaign, advocacy campaign, etc., without some upfront planning.

2. Test Your Video Idea Against Your Communications Goals

You’re not going to do a video just for the sake of doing a video. (Though, you certainly may choose to produce a low-risk, low-budget video as your first effort using this medium.)

Review your organization’s communications goals and evaluate if video is a relevant channel. Key questions include:

• What’s the purpose of the video?

• Who is the target audience?

• What actions do we need to motivate?

• Whom do we need to reach to make that happen?

• What are the best channels to reach them?

3. Evaluate Your Resources to Ensure They Match Your Concept

There’s always a connection between the degree of complexity and the size of your resources when shooting a video. However, advances in software and hardware technology and a growing number of people trained to work in video production, means quality video is within reach of the typical nonprofit budget.

No matter the complexity you have in mind, the concept for your video must take into account at least these basic items: the people who work on the video — on camera and off; the location or locations where it will be shot; the equipment needed for the shoot (cameras, lighting, editing suites, etc.); the graphics needed for the video (still photos, logos, other typical artwork you encounter in your marketing materials); other effects including music, props, costumes, etc.

4. Make Sure the Video Has a Clear, Relevant Message

Remember, your video has to be clearly linked to your overall messaging. So, as you head down the path of video production, be sure you first summarize your video’s chief message and goals in one simple paragraph that you can have on-hand and share with everyone involved in its production. When you run into the inevitable twists and editing challenges, you’ll have this clear statement of your video’s goals to guide your decisions.

5. Decide on Your Video’s Format

In general, the format most easily achieved for nonprofits producing a short-message video doesn’t involve live people. Instead, the video’s format includes a series of still images — photos and text artfully arranged with various, subtle movements and transitions on the screen — a zoom, a page turn, a dissolve, etc.— done to the backdrop of a compelling voiceover and music.

Other formats to consider are the ones you’re probably more familiar with through a life-time of seeing video and television: The talking head (generally a simple, tight shot of someone speaking into the camera); the standard interview with two people usually either sitting across from each other or standing up; the documentary (which can involve a wide range of formats); the story approach with a completely written and rehearsed script; and the video magazine approach, which typically includes an in-studio host who introduces the topic and serves up transitions from various “in the field” reports, and then wraps up the program.

6. Choose a Style that Matches Your Goals

This is an easy concept but one you have to get right. Will a silly or serious video be more effective? Formal or informal? Be sure your selection of style matches your goals.

Some web video pros believe a successful video must move at least two emotions (i.e., sympathy, outrage, fear, joy, laughter, awe, wonder, etc.); tell a bit of story (dramatic tension, heroes and villains and victims, etc.); and provide a spectacle (the viewer is wowed in some manner, often in a way that ultimately causes her to respond to the call to action).

Caution: Silly certainly has its place. But you’ll want to be sure that the silliness-factor is properly tempered for your video. It can be done right and make sense — but getting it right can be a real challenge when you consider serious nature of most nonprofits’ messages.

7. Get Feedback from Colleagues and Members of Your Target Audience

Once you’ve got a rough cut of your video — meaning you’ve done all your shooting and most of your editing — be sure to show it to people whose opinions you respect. It’s critical to get some more objective opinions. It’s very common to hear “It’s too long” and you’ll have a good sense of what parts you love but need to go. Collect the feedback, review it and revise.

8. Make Sure It Gets Seen

We’re in the midst of a video-Cambrian explosion. There have never been more outlets for delivering a video to your target audiences, with more appearing every day. So you don’t want to go to the trouble of producing your nonprofit video and just to post it on your website.

Once you have the finished product in hand, be sure to maximize your video’s exposure by:

• Posting it on YouTube

• Linking to it from your org’s Facebook and LinkedIn pages

• Tweeting about it through your Twitter account

• Embedding the video in your blog and website

• Sending out an email (in your e-news, if you have one) to your base with an invitation to view, share and comment.

9. Emphasize the Call to Action and Track Results

Don’t overlook this one. As you map out your video, be sure you set it up with a clear call to action and a trackable URL, email address and/or phone number. This way you’ll get the best measure possible of its success. These results will inform your next video project and other communications strategies


  1. Thanks for this great post! I am a project manager contracted to help a group of non-profits put together a video course and these are some great tips. Very timely. I'll have to circulate this to the executive committee so they have some additional reference.

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  3. Excellent post! I work for a Manchester video production company and I produce non-profit videos for a living. It's so great to help companies with such great causes! One of the companies we recently shot a video for produces wholesale yoga mats for non-profits to use.

    - J.O.