Best Practices for Nonprofit Video Marketing

Quality Filming and Production

Video can be much more than a conveyor of information. And for video marketing to be effective, it must be. It has to tell a compelling story, create an interesting visual experience, and inspire people to action.

Video is a powerful medium, but don’t let today’s affordable equipment and freely available editing software fool you. Quality video still requires artistry and specialized expertise.

And video marketing is not just about producing beautiful videos. Filming and editing have to be guided by the campaign’s goals. And they must prepare you for success during distribution and promotion.

Support a Successful Filming

Even the very best video production company will need your help to have a successful filming. Support them in capturing the best footage possible to serve your video marketing strategy.


Your video production company will need access to the people who can best tell your story.

During pre-production, you and your production company will work together to identify these people. Depending on your goals and the story to be told, they might be people your nonprofit serves, people impacted by the problem you’re trying to address, or people working on the front lines of your cause. They might be volunteers, donors, or select personnel. You and your production company will figure this out together.

The production company will usually pre-interview the subjects, well before filming begins. This allows them to verify that each is a good fit for the video marketing campaign. It also gives the interviewees a chance to ask questions about what they should expect.

As production begins, the production company will need your help in coordinating access to the people they’ll be filming. And throughout the process, they’ll need your support in persuading people to give of their time and tell their story.

Help people understand why their participation, their story, is important. Encourage them to make themselves available when needed, and to give the filming process the time it will need. Explain to them the value of their story to your organization’s goals.

A quality film crew will also do their part to put people at ease, but their work will be much easier if you’ve already reassured them.


The film crew may also need access to your building, your service sites, partner sites, or other places that will serve as filming locations. Prepare well in advance to give them this access, with any reasonable accommodations they may need.

A good film crew equipped with today’s smaller, high-quality equipment will keep their footprint small and disrupt your organization’s work as little as possible. They want to be a fly on the wall: barely noticed. But your organization will likely have to adapt your normal routine in some small ways. Prepare everyone who will be affected by this, and be as flexible with the crew as you can.

Create a Visual Experience

Video is a visual medium. That may seem obvious, but think of how often you’ve seen videos in which a seated person delivered a spoken message. Or in which written text covered the screen. That’s a failure to use video’s potential, and it’s unlikely to deliver on the benefits of video marketing.

Make it Visual

Motion is one of the most powerful tools of video. Use it.

Motion is a medium of change over time… and change is at the heart of any nonprofit’s purpose.

Motion can connect contrasting or disparate ideas. A well-timed pan of the camera can show two different scenes on either side of the viewer and bring them together in their mind.

And motion replicates our lived experience. As we observe the world around us, that which moves is what we notice.

If viewers are scrolling through many online content options, it’s the visual motion that will first capture their attention. If it stands out from the text and images surrounding it, they may pause long enough to get engaged in your story. If it doesn’t, they’re more likely to scroll on by.

Video shared on social media is often viewed without sound. As many as 85% of Facebook video views are muted. And anecdotal evidence suggests that many people keep video muted when watching in public or in private, shared spaces.

Consider testing your video. Mute it and ignore any on-screen text. (We’ll talk about closed captioning below.) Is it still interesting? Does it still engage? Does it tell a compelling story?

“Most Shocking Second a Day” tells a powerful story visually, with very little dialogue.

Create an Experience

Video can take viewers to places and situations they couldn’t otherwise access. It can bring them inside your organization and the lives of the people you serve. It can tell viewers stories with a visceral emotional impact.

“Gnarly in Pink” takes viewers inside the lives of a trio of young skateboarders.

“In the span of a few minutes, videos can transport audiences to the front lines of an organization to experience compelling stories by sight and sound,” writes Natasha Giraudie in an article published by the Content Marketing Institute, “the sort of up-close-and-personal impact that’s usually reserved for in-person meetings.”

Don’t talk at viewers, telling them about the lives of the people whose stories you’re telling. Let them get inside and experience those stories for themselves.

Video can combine motion, visuals, sound, music, and language, all at once. It’s not quite a full simulation of real life, but it’s the closest we yet can get. Use video’s potential to bring your stories to life.

Include Closed Captioning

While visuals should carry the day of any video marketing campaign, closed captions are essential for any voiceovers or on-camera dialogue. This is for two reasons.

First, it makes your video accessible for anyone who is hearing impaired. That includes the approximately 15% of American adults who have some hearing loss, and the 5% of the global population with disabling hearing loss.

And second, as noted above, many viewers watch video with the sound off. A study by Discovery Digital Networks found that closed captions increased video views by 7.32%.

And an internal study by Facebook found that “captioned video ads increase video view time by an average of 12%.” With both view time and views influencing a video’s ranking, these increases can substantially improve search engine results.

Online closed captioning services make subtitles cheap and easy to add, so there’s really no excuse to skip them.

Capture and Keep Viewers’ Attention

Online video marketing rarely has the luxury of building slowly to an interesting revelation. Less than half of viewers who begin watching a video online will watch it to completion.

Captive audiences at viewing events may “watch” a video to the end... but check out from paying attention halfway through.

Video has to grab viewers’ attention immediately, then not let go. It should also build toward something meaningful: a turning point in the story you’re telling, an awakening revelation, an inspirational transformation. Reward their continued attention to the end, but know you must earn it with every scene along the way.

This is important both because you want your viewers to take in the whole of your story and message, and because completion rates impact your rankings and SEO. Facebook, for example, includes completion rates in its algorithm, and that influences which videos will appear on users’ News Feeds.

Optimize Video Lengths

There isn’t a magic length for all videos in a video marketing campaign. Many factors influence the “right” length for yours.

What platform is it for? An Instagram short clip? A longer YouTube video? An inspirational short for a fundraising event? A full-length Netflix documentary?

How complex is your message? Can you tell it in 15 seconds? 5 minutes? Does it genuinely need 30 minutes to an hour? If so, could you tell it in a series of shorter videos?

Online videos under 90 seconds long have the highest completion rates (59%), but completion rates remain strong for videos up to 5 minutes long (45%). Your videos need to be long enough to tell the story you’re trying to tell, but, to preserve engagement, don’t go any longer than you actually need.

Say It Again: Story

We’ve already discussed the importance of developing a compelling story, but it’s worth repeating here. Statistics are easier to disengage from than a story. If you can interest people in the story your video begins to tell, they’re more likely to stick around to see how it ends. They’re also more likely to check out the other videos in your campaign.

What Your Audience Wants to See

Think beyond what you want to show your audience. What do they want to see? Make sure it’s their interest driving the decision, not yours. There’s a good chance they care most about the stories of those you serve.

Figure out what else they want to see or know about your organization. What’s obvious or not very interesting to you, as an insider, but may be quite compelling to them? Where do their interests connect with the story you want to tell?

Pace and Rhythm Matter

Adapt to your particular audience, but know that most modern viewers prefer video that dives into the story quickly and keeps it moving to the end. But don’t rush it either. You’re not making an art house film, and you’re also not making a frantic used car dealer sales pitch. Find the right rhythm somewhere in between.

Call People to Action

An effective video marketing campaign connects people to your story and engages them in your important work.

Give them something to do with that. Inspire them. Call them to action.

That call to action doesn’t have to be in your videos, and often it shouldn’t be. You don’t want to dilute the power of the medium or take people out of the story you’re telling them.

But a call to action can live alongside the video. As text on your website. As a hotlink in a YouTube video. As a live speaker at an event who makes the ask before or after the video is shown.

In your call to action, you might ask viewers to:

  • Watch the next video in your campaign.
  • Subscribe to your YouTube channel.
  • Follow your organization on Instagram.
  • Sign-up for your email newsletter.
  • Attend a special event.
  • Contact you to take advantage of the services you offer.
  • Volunteer.
  • Donate.
  • Join you for a march or protest.
  • Tell their friends and colleagues about your work.
  • Contact their elected representatives to speak out on the issue you’ve raised.

What you ask of them will vary greatly depending on your goals. But even if your only goal is brand awareness, give them a way to further their engagement with your brand.

How can video marketing further your mission?

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