Q&A on Video Production for Nonprofits

Lately, nonprofit organizations are turning more and more towards video production to tell their stories in the digital age. This can be a boon as well as a limiter. Laura Hanson and Alex Wagner, two media lab interns for spring 2014, discuss the merits and drawbacks of producing video content for nonprofit organizations.

Q: Why video?

Alex Wagner: Video today is more prevalent than it ever has been, and it’s becoming increasingly easier and more convenient to produce, even in spite of a tight budget.

Laura Hanson: It’s an incredibly powerful way to communicate. Video allows us to share information quickly and concisely. It’s visual storytelling at its best, meaning you, as a storyteller, actively construct a story structure and select the images you need to tell a particular story. This is very different than simply reacting to what’s happening around you when your camera is on.

Q: What are the benefits of a nonprofit using video?

AW: Well, it’s so easy now—especially with the Internet—to promote and share stories told through video. This is incredibly advantageous for a nonprofit because they can engage an even wider audience base than they normally would with more traditional forms of communication like a newsletter or email.

LH: You are also able to engage people’s emotions much more directly than through any other form of communication. It’s also becoming more of the default for the way people expect information to be presented: in a quick, targeted, thoughtful, even entertaining package of information. This makes it such a crucial fundraising tool for nonprofits. It can drive traffic to your website and keep followers updated on your program updates and fundraising events.

Q: What are the limits to using video in a nonprofit setting?

AW: The key to any good video is having a visually stimulating subject. Without that characteristic, your video is going to be flat, and I think nonprofits that might not have as visual of a story shouldn’t try to force themselves to adopt the video approach. Now, just because you don’t use video doesn’t make the nonprofit any less impressive. Rather, realizing what storytelling strategies work for you can often translate into an even more effective communication of your message.

LH: Length is also a big issue. We have a tendency to try to explain everything about what our non-profit does and why it matters in one 10 min video. But unfortunately, with today’s viewers, we are much less likely to watch a 10-minute video, than we are three or four-minute videos, so this limits us to producing very direct, sometimes fragmented, video content. It is still possible to make short and effective videos, but it is difficult if you have a lot to say. This is why it’s important, before you start any video project, to have a clear, concise message. You may find that a longer video can be broken up into stand-alone sections, making them more watchable and shareable.

Q: Are there any alternatives that can tell stories in a similarly impactful way?

LH: Photos can be an equally effective way to share information and tell a story using photo essay. In general, a photo essay is not a gallery of photos but rather a selected group of maybe five and ten photos intentionally chosen and arranged to tell a predetermined story. Not unlike a video, it requires planning and brainstorming for what visuals will help you best communicate your story idea. A short overview paragraph and short sentence, one to two sentence captions help to tie the story together and provide important background information that isn’t shown visually.

AW: Audio slideshows are a great middle ground between photo essays and video. You combine the visually engaging powers of a series of selected photos with some sound bites of interviews, natural ambient sound, or even just the founders talking about the mission of the nonprofit. I really like to use these as an alternative to video because you can combine brief moments from otherwise mundane situations and edit them together in a way that is visually compelling. Combining those selections with audio selections really attracts an audience in much the same way as a video piece.

Watch out for a follow up post on how to create effective photo essays and audio slide shows.

For an easy-to-read resource to execute a short video for your nonprofit, check out this downloadable file called “Video Strategy for Nonprofits: Creating Short, Effective Videos on a Budget.”