Best Practices for Nonprofit Video Marketing

Careful Planning and Development

Before you begin filming, take the time to plan your production and develop your story. It will save you time and money in the long run, and it will lead to a more effective video marketing campaign.

The cost of videography and editing equipment has dropped in recent years. However, costs will add up if you miss important footage the first time and have to plan an additional shoot. Or if you have to reshoot because you substantially change the story you want to tell. Or if you realize belatedly that you need another round of editing to optimize for your distribution platforms.

Good planning keeps you focused on your goals, develops a compelling story, and prepares you for success during distribution and promotion.

Plan Ahead with a Sufficient Timeline

When you’re capturing a quick, candid clip for your Instagram feed, you can afford to be spontaneous. But a well conceived video marketing strategy, complete with high-quality video, is going to take some time. Plan ahead, and leave enough time to do it right.

While the time required can adjust some with your goals, ambitions and availability, as a general rule you should plan on:

  • One month to plan your strategy and develop the story your video marketing campaign will tell.
  • Several days to several weeks to film, though longer if you’re telling a story arc that follows your subjects over an extended period of time.
  • Two weeks to one month to edit, though potentially faster when there’s a tight deadline.
  • Three to six months to distribute and promote, though this can vary greatly depending on your goals and the timing of any associated events.

So your timeline should generally begin about three months before you want your video marketing campaign to go live. And to get the most out of your campaign, you should plan on actively promoting it for several months after it goes live.

If the campaign is built around a targeted event, such as a fundraising gala, center your timeline on that. But plan for distribution and promotion to continue well after the event. This helps you build on the excitement of the gala and keeps people thinking about the issues you’ve raised.

That much of your timeline is simple enough to plan. But then you have to consider several important logistical questions.

Will the people whose stories you want to tell be available?

If you’re telling the story of the teenagers in your summer enrichment program, filming probably has to start in June, even if your annual fundraising gala isn’t until the following April. Or the artist-in-residence whose work you’re highlighting may not arrive for two more months, and you’ll have to figure out how to adjust production to accommodate her schedule.

Consider who you’ll want to appear on camera, and make sure your timeline plans around their availability.

For quality video that tells a compelling story, the production company will need lots of time with the people in the video. For example, a half-hour, seated interview with an artist isn’t enough to bring an audience into the artist’s world. The production company will need to spend the day with the artist in their studio, capturing them at work. Of if you’re highlighting how teens grow through your summer enrichment program, the production company will return several times, following their progress over the summer.

Will decision makers and subject matter experts be available?

If you work with a professional video production and distribution company, your organization’s input, expertise, feedback, and approval will still be needed at several steps in the process. Delays in getting any of these can throw the whole campaign off-schedule.

The production company will need time early in the process to get to know your organization and mission. They’ll probably need a site visit in order to see your work in action.

Will your executive director need to sign off on a story concept? Will your volunteer coordinator need to find volunteers who are willing to appear on camera? Who will offer feedback on early cuts of your videos?

Plan your timeline around their availability and realistic turnaround times.

Will the video marketing campaign lead to a key targeted event?

Some video marketing campaigns are open-ended. You can build your brand with a video campaign for as long as the material is current and fresh. Other campaigns may culminate in a day of service, a march, a signature public event, a sponsorship proposal, or an election.

If you are targeting a key event, don’t just plan for the time needed to produce the video content. Get the full benefit of your video marketing campaign by planning in time to distribute and promote it. Depending on your goals, you might promote the video marketing campaign for a few months leading up the main event, such as a coordinated day of action or a volunteer appreciation night. Or you might promote it for a few months following the event, such as the announcement of a new capital campaign. Or you might do both.

Optimize Your Budget

A quality video marketing campaign with a strategic plan for distribution and promotion will deliver more impact than a series of one-off videos. And it will be far more effective than a video produced and posted but not well promoted.

Such a campaign may cost more to produce than a single video. You’ll be investing in the production of several videos at once, but you’ll produce them cost-effectively and strategically. Each will reinforce the same story and advance the same goals.


Depending on your goals, deliverables in a video marketing campaign might include:

  • Several 15-30 second video shorts for use on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other social media.
  • One or more 15-second ads for YouTube pre-roll advertising.
  • A few 2-5 minute videos to post on YouTube and your homepage, and to share through your email newsletter.
  • A 5-minute video to show at meetings with sponsors, foundations, and government grantors.
  • A 5-15 minute video to show at a gala or major event.
  • A 30-second ad for television.
  • A full-length documentary for mainstream distribution, with a trailer to help promote it.

Unlike an ongoing collection of videos produced ad hoc, these will all tell a consistent story, often reusing some of the same footage, differently edited. In coordination, all will support your organization’s targeted goals.

Balance the Budgets for Planning, Production, and Promotion

Producing videos is only one part of your video marketing campaign. Remember to budget also for planning and development, and for distribution and promotion.

A poorly planned video marketing campaign with high-quality video production won’t serve your goals well. Better to invest in development and planning first before you start spending on filming and editing.

Professionally produced videos won’t do your organization any good if no one ever watches them. And you won’t even know if you’ve succeeded if you don’t have a robust plan for tracking your results.

Plan on a distribution and promotion budget that at least equals, if not surpasses, your production budget. A 1:1 ratio of production spend to promotion spend should be your baseline, and in many cases it makes sense to budget 1:2.

If you don’t think you can afford good distribution and promotion, consider scaling back your production budget to free up resources for promotion.

Be aware of your analytics, and be prepared to adjust your plan. If you aren’t getting the completion rates that you want, or viewers aren’t following through on your call to action, you may need to consider retargeting your audience, or possibly re-editing your video to keep viewers engaged.

Cost Ranges

Budget can vary greatly depending on your goals, ambitions, and available resources. A Hollywood-quality full-length documentary will obviously cost a lot more than a series of short YouTube vignettes.

Any high-quality video production company or video marketing company will help you optimize your budget. But for an idea of the typical ranges, consider:

Planning and Development : $2,000-$20,000+

Filming and Production : $10,000-$100,000+

Distribution and Promotion : $10,000-$100,000+

Develop a Moving Story to Tell

There’s an iconic ad often discussed in advertising agency circles. It was an ad for the first Apple Macintosh computer, released in 1984 and also titled “1984.” It depicted an athletic woman sprinting through a room. The room was full of gray-clad people staring at a giant screen. A Big Brother figure spoke to them of conformity. The woman threw a sledgehammer at the screen, destroying it. And a voiceover assured us that, with the release of the Macintosh, 1984 wouldn’t be like “1984.”

Apple’s iconic “1984” advertisement for the Macintosh

Computer ads prior to this focused on features and benefits. A smart-looking (or, in some cases, an attractive) person would address the camera and tell you what was good about the computer being advertised.

“1984” didn’t name a single feature and only vaguely suggested a benefit. Instead it told a story, an emotional story that spoke to our fears and hopes for the future.

The ad–broadcast nationally only once, during the Super Bowl–was an instant sensation, and the launch of the Macintosh was a major success.

Story is More Effective Than Information

Video’s potential is wasted when it’s only a medium for communicating information. Video is most effective when it tells a story that moves the heart. And a video marketing campaign, while it may tell many particular stories, should be developed around one central narrative.

When that story is compelling and well told–fully employing the visual and auditory storytelling tools of video–people are more likely to connect with it, more likely to share it, and more likely to act on it in the ways that you want.

“Mia’s Story” shows the challenges and eventually success of one student.

Nonprofits Have an Advantage Over For-Profits

For-profit companies have lately come to understand the advantages of committing themselves to meaningful, socially beneficial work. Business, they’re learning, cannot be purely transactional.

Customers want to align themselves with companies that share their values. Employees want their work to be meaningful. And “social entrepreneurs” are creating startups with the express purpose of solving intractable social and environmental problems.

This has led to more and more “purpose-driven” companies. And these companies are telling stories that demonstrate their values and the meaning of the work they do.

Nonprofits, by their very nature, have always done meaningful, socially and environmentally beneficial work. It’s their reason for existence. And nonprofits are surrounded, every day, by stories that demonstrate their values and the meaning of the work they do.

“When it comes to content marketing,” says Russell Sparkman of FusionSpark Media, as reported by Ann Gynn through the Content Marketing Institute, “many nonprofits have truly meaningful stories to tell.”

As a nonprofit, you have a built-in purpose that for-profits have to work at to find. It’s what you’ve always been. And, both in-person and through various media, you’ve probably been telling stories about your work all along.

Fully Develop Your Story Before Production Begins

You should not, however, let your nonprofit advantage leave you complacent about the story of your video marketing campaign. It’s important to fully develop a story that strategically serves your goals. And it’s far easier and more efficient to revise that story when it’s still words on a page and conversations in a conference room.

Stories always evolve some, organically, during the production process. Someone your organization has helped says something unexpected and magical on-camera, and the story changes its shape a little. A featured volunteer reveals a story from their past that explains why their work means so much to them, and suddenly you have a story thread that wasn’t there before.

Changes like these are really just the emergence of the story you knew you wanted to tell. But once filming begins, once editing is underway, every substantive change to the central narrative is going to cost more time and money.

Put in the time and resources during the planning phase to get the story right. The production process will go much more smoothly, and your campaign will better serve your goals.

How Can Video Marketing Further Your Mission?

To learn more about planning an effective video marketing campaign to support your nonprofit’s success, contact Civic Matters for a consultation.


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