Five Tips for Creating a Compelling Nonprofit Video

by Rob Dalton, Creative Director at Wire Stone Seattle

Cecil DeMille made epic films with less technology than you have in your pocket. The playing field has been leveled, and if you follow a few simple rules, you can stitch together a compelling video about your nonprofit that employs that old Hemingway maxim: show don’t tell.

1. Write it out. No matter how clear the story is in your head, you must first transcribe the bones. Start with the most succinct summation of what makes your organization unique. Then create a script that brings that story to life in a brief, cinematic vignette. Start with broad strokes (mission, principles), then get to the particulars (who we are, what we’re doing in the world). 

2. Know your gear. Whether you’re shooting video with your phone or the latest DSLR, make sure you’re comfortable with the gear. Spend an afternoon capturing footage in different lighting situations so you know the parameters of your camera—most phones need a lot of light. Review the basics of lighting and photography (avoid back lighting, hold the camera still, get clean sound, etc.). Here’s a quick tutorial on lighting and here are some shooting tips.

3. Shoot shoot shoot. Digital makes it possible to shoot loads of footage without cost, so shoot until your card is full. You’ll be amazed at the gems you’ll capture when you keep the camera rolling; it often takes “non actors” a while to forget the camera, so do your best to be unobtrusive, and keep shooting until you get the Good Stuff: people being absolutely who they are.

4. Pick the right song. Nothing pulls the heartstrings like the right music to evoke the spirit of your endeavor. Even if your footage feels hand-held and homespun, if it’s juxtaposed with a song that embodies the soul of the scene, your viewers will forgive any technical failures. Pick a track that makes your audience feel exactly what you want them to feel. 

5. Keep it short and sweet. We live in the age of information overload, so honor your audience and keep your video as short as you can, while still telling your essential story. Under two minutes is a good rule of thumb. When editing, only choose the best clips that portray genuine human emotion, and err on the side of brevity—it’s better to leave them wanting more than to lose their wandering eyes to the next talking goat video. 

Good luck, and enjoy the process; joy makes for better art!