8 Steps for Stronger Nonprofit Video Production

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Click here to read on Chronicle of Philanthropy

by Eden Stiffman

Video can be a great medium to bring your nonprofit’s story to life.

It may be daunting at first, but if you take the time — and maybe spend a little extra money — video can enable you to reach people and excite them about your organization, says Chris Tyree, multimedia director of Journey Group, an editorial design agency that has worked with nonprofit clients including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Salvation Army.

Here, Mr. Tyree shares his basic framework for planning and producing a video.

1. Define your purpose and audience.

Make sure you clearly define your goal in making a video and why you want to tell your story using the medium. Maybe you’re looking to build organizational capacity, boost awareness about an issue, educate your client base, or raise the profile of your nonprofit’s brand.

Along those lines, understanding the video’s target audience is key to developing the message. Is the video intended for clients, donors, advisers, board members, legislators, the media, or all of the above? How will you deliver the video to its viewers? Will they be a captive audience, such as at an event? Will they be watching this mostly on their mobile devices, or with another device?

2. Set your budget.

Doing video well often requires an investment of both time and money. Whether you produce it in-house or collaborate with an agency or production company depends on your budget, staffing, and familiarity with and access to the right equipment and computer software.

If you choose to hire an agency, find a group with proven storytelling skills that will do a considerable amount of research before getting started, Mr. Tyree suggests.

Costs will vary widely. Many agencies charge a day rate, which depends on the size of the crew involved in a shoot. As with most things, he says, you get what you pay for. Hiring a Hollywood star director and crew is going to cost at least six figures; hiring a volunteer may not get you the desired outcome.

3. Know your story.

All stories should have five basic but important elements, says Mr. Tyree: the characters, the setting, the plot, the conflict, and the resolution. These essential components allow the story to run smoothly and the action to develop in a logical way that the reader can follow.

In order to develop all of these elements, cover all your bases with research, and see where any relevant data leads you. To look at the story with fresh eyes, it helps to get many perspectives, so talk with your clients and board. Watch for related issues in the news to find a hook for your video.

Another Chronicle checklist offers specific tips to help strengthen your storytelling.

4. Select strong characters.

When you know what story you want to tell, you need to cast the characters.

For example, who specifically has been strongly affected by the organization’s work, and how are they an example of the successes of others? Showing how the organization is carrying out its mission through the eyes of its clients is often an effective way to tell its story. But this must be done with the utmost respect, says Mr. Tyree. There is always a fine line between telling a client’s story and the sense of exploitation.

Determine the subjects’ ability to articulate their story and their willingness to open their lives to others. This may involve pre-interviewing subjects to determine how comfortable they are with being on camera.

Consider adding in the voice of an expert to help frame the issue or the reason for the organization’s existence.

5. Cover your bases in pre-production.

Pre-production includes all the hard work that comes before you even pick up the camera, and it’s key to making a successful video, says Mr. Tyree.

If your nonprofit is working with an agency, this should be a collaborative process. Once a client has defined the video’s purpose, the agency will send back some ideas to help get the ball rolling. In developing the content of the video, Mr. Tyree begins by creating a detailed storyboard or script to outline what the video will look like.

Even if you’re doing the project in-house, it may help to get outside feedback.

“Sometimes a nonprofit is so close to what they’re doing that they need somebody with a more objective eye to help them frame it,” says Mr. Tyree.

6. Don’t ignore audio.

Video is led by the ear, says Mr. Tyree. If you have good audio, then if even you have a less-than-perfect picture, the audience will forgive it and keep watching. The moment that the audio quality declines, the audience tunes out.

You can work to achieve high-quality audio by keeping microphones close to subjects’ mouths and making sure the space you use for interviews is quiet. Listen to all the ambient, background sounds and determine if they will overwhelm your audio.

7. Put it all together.

Editing is actually where you can finally tell the story and create the video’s look and feel. This process includes combining your interview footage, often called A-roll, and companion footage to illustrate key parts of an interview or voiceover, called B-roll. Use the B-roll visuals to cover the spots in the A-roll you had to cut and to show what the interview subject or narrator is talking about.

If you’re working with an agency, this should again be a collaborative process based on feedback from both parties. Make sure the images are reflecting what you really want to say. After all of the final editing is locked down, your nonprofit should have final approval.

8. Distribute the finished product widely.

If you want your video to be seen, you have to be proactive in getting it to your audience. “You can’t just expect people to flock to it online,” Mr. Tyree says.

Here are a few ways to broaden your video’s reach:

  • Share it on social media.
  • If it’s being shown to a captive audience, consider how you can still use it to generate views and shares.
  • Tie the video release around upcoming legislation, news, or a part of your fundraising campaign.
  • Look for events, even small film festivals, that align with your organization’s mission and ask the planners if they will show it to their audiences.
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