Person with a donation jar with "Please Help" on it.

Videos for non-profits can be very similar any other type of corporate video, but they can also be very different. The first step is to answer three things: who they want to reach, what they want to say and what they want their audience to do.

Keep their goals in mind when designing the concept. A “welcome to our organization” video will have a strong online presence and a long shelf life, and will have different messaging and techniques than a video designed to fund the play structure on the church grounds.

It’s critical to work closely with your contact at the non-profit. Find out if they have old footage or slides they want to use, get a sense of who is important there and, if possible, try to gain a little understanding of their internal politics. There may be people there who your contact will want to please or acknowledge. If you’re prepared, you can make suggestions and look like a hero.


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If you’re prepared, you can make suggestions and look like a hero.

When the time comes to show them the cut, remind them about the goals of the piece that were established from the outset. Let them know that they have one opportunity to see it for the first time — the same way their target audience will see it, so they need to be most conscious of the success or failure of the message and emotional impact. They can use subsequent viewings to develop comments, but they’ll never get to see it for the first time again.

If the video will debut in front of an audience, for instance, at an annual fundraising gala, there are several important factors to keep in mind.

Will alcohol be served? This can put people in a more giving mood, but can shorten their attention span. It can also make an audience noisy, so consider making your video as visual as possible.

Try to find out what the room the video will play in is like. Take into account if it is large, small or has sparkle or echo. A brightly lit room will wash out the screen. In that case, someone needs to be on the lights.

It is important to know where and how the video will play in the program. If a speaker or a silent auction follows your video, let your music play a few seconds longer so the presenter can make a transition. Again, keep the goal in mind, whether it’s to honor someone, introduce the organization or a new program or fire people up to give, give, give.

People are often at an event to support a great cause and socialize. The last thing they want is to get bogged down watching a 10-minute video that tries to accomplish too much and has a soundtrack that puts them to sleep. If your client has several subjects that they want to cover and you need more than 4 minutes to do it, consider breaking a long video concept into 2 videos that play at different moments of the program, but always keep in mind the pacing of the event.

Draw Them In

The room goes dark. Your video is introduced. There’s lots of shushing. It begins, an establishing shot appears on screen and then the emotional sound of strings wells up —

Wait. Wait. Wait.

We’ve all seen it. In reality, we’ve all done it. Hasn’t it been done enough? This is your chance to really grab an audience with something they don’t expect and draw them in. There are lots of ways to get attention without cliché, and they can be directly related to the content of the video — not artificial.

Start with an image of a beloved member of the group or a previous accomplishment or someone served by the organization, even if only onscreen for a few seconds, to get attention. A close-up of a child’s face, slow motion action or in memoriam, are all effective and will be stronger in setting the tone than diving right into a talking head. Somewhere in your process you’ll see, find or create an image that speaks to you emotionally. Go with your instinct.

Video presentation at banquet.
Video presentation at banquet.

Sounds are one of the best ways to grab attention, keeping in mind that in large rooms, some frequencies can fade away. A heartbeat, a cat’s meow, children laughing and many, many more can get attention. Happy music works just as well, if not better, than gooey, sappy music. And don’t forget the power of simple silence.

Once you have their attention, lead them on a journey and tell them a story. Somewhere in there, turn up the heat. Use your music track to control emotion. There is no rule saying you have to only use one song, even in a short video. They’ll stay with you because you got them to make an investment of their time and interest from the first frame.

This is where the filmmaker’s art comes in. Think about what you’d like to see if you were in their shoes, then give it to them with as much emotional punch as you can muster.

Many nonprofits rely on volunteers or serve clients with families. Show as many of those people as makes sense in your video. The audience will look for themselves or their loved ones, and your video will strengthen their ties to the organization, make the goal more successful and increase the chances of online sharing. That also raises your success level and gets you more exposure.

You’ve stared at your subjects, heard them speak and listened to the music for hours, or days in post-production. You don’t need to watch it again. The big event is a great opportunity to get up front and look back on the audience as your film plays. See if they laugh when you wanted them to laugh, gasp, sniffle or smile. This is a perfect chance to get instant feedback and take satisfaction that your video has real impact.

Be on their side.

The big night came and went. Wallets opened; money fell out. Your work is now posted to their site, and they’re already talking about the next one. Bask in the glory because you‘ve done a great thing for a great cause. Non-profits are among the most grateful clients. They’ll consider you a part of their team, their go-to, another rower on the boat of Helping Others, and that’s not a bad thing. Making videos, and making the world a better place — not a bad thing at all.

Tim Wetzel has worked the gamut, from local news and sports to Hollywood features. He now owns and operates a video production company in Northern California.

Susan is the Art Director at Videomaker and YouTuber Magazines.


  1. The article has some good points. I don’t necessarily share the author’s view that: “Non-profits are among the most grateful clients.” It depends on the organization. For instance, I did an internship as a Video Production Intern in Vermont for a nonprofit that took the time and energy to raise money in order to pay me a stipend. Not all the nonprofit are like that. In fact, I have just edited a video for another nonprofit as a volunteer and I don’t even know whether those folks will post the video in their social networking sites or not. I don’t believe anymore that if you create a video for a nonprofit for free you will be rewarded with a lot of exposure. Right now I am dealing with another nonprofit that pays some professionals (like a web designer) and expect others to work for free. I think nonprofits should change their mindset and include video production or any other creative marketing services in their budgets.

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