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

In the age of YouTube, everyone knows there’s nothing like online 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. It’s nonprofit communications 101 in 2010.

So I thought I should put together a list of key steps to consider when you’re thinking about 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 more effective your video will be.

3 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 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 a sense of “being there” to your nonprofit communications mix to strengthen overall impact.  Well-crafted online videos can emotionally engage your audiences in a way that reading can’t.


  • Generate a response that’s both intellectual AND emotional.
  • Inspire action. The right combination of storytelling, imagery (through photos and video) and personal appeals is most 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

Check out our Great Nonprofit Taglines Video on Vimeo.

Our Goal
We wanted to build our video skills by producing a video announcement of the 2009 winners of our annual Nonprofit Tagline Awards program. We were confident that a video featuring the finalists and winners would be a compelling and complementary addition to our outreach on the program and an effective way to build awareness of and interest in the award program and Nonprofit Tagline Report publication.

Our Mistakes
Eager to get our feet wet but 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 first clarify the goal of the video!

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 (for Mac, you can also use PowerPoint for PC) and exported into a movie file format.  Once editing was complete, we uploaded the video to Vimeo and YouTube.

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, begin by drafting a plan incorporating pre-production, production and post-production aspects of your video project.

This is really no different than other nonprofit marketing endeavors you’ve worked on. You don’t start writing or designing a brochure, annual report, website, fundraising campaign or advocacy campaign,  without some thinking through.

2.  Test Your Video Idea Against Your Communications Goals
Don’t produce a video just for the sake of doing a video.

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 you4 budget and the level of production value 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.

Whatever approach you have in mind, the concept for your video must take into account at least these basic items: the video team—on camera and off; the location(s) where it will be shot; the equipment needed for the shoot (cameras, lighting, editing suites, etc.); graphics  (still photos, logos, other imagery you integrate into your marketing materials); and other elements 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 marketing strategy and messaging. Before you head down the path of video production, summarize the goals and core messages of the video in a single paragraph to share with the production team and other colleagues. When you run into the inevitable twists and editing challenges, this blueprint will guide your decisions.

5.  Decide on Your Video’s Format
In general, the easiest format is a short-message video doesn’t involve live people. This format features 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.— with the backdrop of a compelling voiceover and music.

Other formats to consider are the ones you’re  familiar with through a life-time of TV: The talking head ( a tight shot of someone speaking into the camera); the standard interview with two people; the documentary; the story approach with a rehearsed script; and the video magazine approach, featuring an in-studio host who introduces the topic, serves up transitions from various “in the field” reports and wraps up the program.

6.   Choose a Style and Tone that Will Sit Well with Your Base
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 will connect with your audience and support 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. 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 completed shooting and most editing—preview it to colleagues, representatives of your target audience and family and friends.  Objective opinions are a must. Collect the feedback (“it’s too long is what you’ll hear most often), review it and revise.

8.   Make Sure Your Video Gets Seen
We’re in the midst of a video-Cambrian explosion. So don’t go to the trouble of producing your nonprofit video just to post it on your organization’s website.

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

  • Posting it on YouTube and other video venues
  • Embedding it in your org’s Facebook page and linking to it from your LinkedIn page
  • Tweeting about it
  • Embedding the video in your blog and website
  • Featuring the video in your e-news via a screen shot linked to the video with an invitation to view, share and comment.

9.   Emphasize the Call to Action and Track Results
As you map out your video, be sure you end with a clear call to action and a unique and trackable URL. Tracking click-throughs is the best measure possible of video success and these results will inform your next video project and other communications strategies.

Using video in your nonprofit’s marketing mix is becoming essential. Follow these steps and let me know how you’re doing in a comment below. I’d like to feature examples of your organization’s work in the future. Thank you!