Most nonprofits understand the importance of storytelling. After all, using written stories to inspire support through direct mail appeals and blog posts is the norm. But let’s consider a “show, don’t tell” approach. 

Studies reveal that people retain 95% of a video message, but only 10% of a written message. If your nonprofit relies solely on written content, then you’re missing out a valuable opportunity to engage and mobilize donors. 

Video storytelling allows you to raise awareness for your cause and connect with your supporters on a deeper level and in a way they’ll be sure to remember. So, how do you effectively tell your nonprofit’s story through video?

In this guide, we’ll walk through video storytelling best practices to help you create effective videos that build trust, empathy, and support. These include: 

  1. Determine your goals 
  2. Film for a target audience
  3. Keep the basics of storytelling in mind
  4. Pay attention to visuals 

With compelling videos on hand and a process to create more, you can make a deeper impact over emails, social media, and other outreach. 

1. Determine your goals

The first step of video storytelling is strategically planning how your content will align with your larger goals. For instance, are you looking to introduce your nonprofit to the world, ask for donations, or explain an important issue? Narrow down your focus so that your audience understands the purpose of each video and feels drawn to take the appropriate next steps. 

Consider how these types of nonprofit videos can help you reach your goals:

  • Organizational videos: An organizational video helps to promote brand awareness as it provides an overview of your nonprofit’s mission, values, and history. 
  • Fundraising videos: Fundraising videos encourage current and prospective donors to give to a specific campaign, allowing you to build your case for support and drive donations. 
  • Testimonial videos: Testimonial videos evoke an emotional response in viewers by providing your supporters with an opportunity to affirm your nonprofit’s impact in their own words. 
  • Explainer videos: Explainer videos establish your nonprofit as an expert in the field by explaining complex issues, such as how the cancer treatments that your nonprofit helped discover saves lives.

Keep in mind that your organization isn’t tied to just one type of video story. Instead, you should develop various types of content to keep viewers engaged. For instance, you could film an explainer video that takes a deep dive into a particular service that your organization offers. Then, roll out a series of testimonial videos to show how that service is helping real people.

2. Film for a target audience 

For the most effective video storytelling, you should know who your intended audience is and how to tailor your content to their preferences and interests.

To ensure your video stories are relevant, sift through your donor database for information like: 

  • Donor demographics: The general age range, geographical location, and employment status of your audience can help you make informed decisions about their preferred video content. For instance, if you have a large number of Millennial and Gen Z donors, you can make a case for creating shorter videos that are optimized for social media, since short-form content is popular among these generations.
  • Engagement history: Consider how supporters have interacted with your cause in the past, including how recent, frequent, and large their gifts were. Do you have a growing number of first-time donors? Introduce them to your mission with an organizational video, then ask for support with a fundraising video. 
  • Marketing preferences: Review your marketing data to determine how best to deliver your nonprofit video stories. NXUnite’s marketing guide suggests embedding your video on your website, sharing it with your email list, and posting a teaser to it on social media to ensure it’s seen and considered by the most people. 

You can also send out a survey to better understand your supporters. Be clear about your intentions by asking questions like, “What types of video stories do you want to see from our organization?” Then, script and film your videos with these responses in mind. It will show your audience that you value their opinions and improve your chances of winning their support. 

3. Keep the basics of storytelling in mind

Written stories take readers on a journey from beginning, middle, to end, providing excitement and intrigue along the way. Video stories are no different. 

For engaging content, include these narrative storytelling techniques in your nonprofit videos:

  • Find a compelling hero. Nonprofit video stories should focus on a real person or group of people impacted by your organization. For instance, if you provide scholarships to help send low-income children to school, your hero might be a parent who relies on your services. 
  • Introduce the problem: Now that you have a main hero, introduce a challenge that they’re facing, such as food insecurity, then show how your nonprofit is working to solve the problem. For instance, you could show volunteers participating in a food drive or beneficiaries being served a warm meal. 
  • Propose a solution: As the video draws to a close, position viewers as the solution and encourage them to take action on behalf of your mission, whether that be donating, volunteering, or sharing the video with their own personal networks. For instance, you might include a donation button after a fundraising video or include a link to your petition in an organizational video.

These elements, along with compelling visuals, will help you demonstrate your nonprofit’s impact and make a compelling case for support.

4. Pay attention to the visuals 

According to Tectonic Video’s guide to nonprofit videos, the best video stories rely on visuals to convey their message. This point is made clear when you consider that nearly all video content on social media is watched with the sound off. 

As our attention spans continue to decline and the amount of information we receive grows, it’s important to compose videos so that viewers know exactly where to focus, even without sound. 

To start, film using the rule of thirds. This composition guideline places your subject in the left or right third of the frame, leaving the other two-thirds with more blank space. While there are other forms of composition, the rule of thirds generally leads to a compelling shot that draws the viewer’s attention into the video. 

You should also keep the principles of visual design in mind as you shoot your scenes and edit your final product. This includes using a cohesive color scheme, maintaining visual hierarchy, and creating seamless transitions between your scenes. In the end, these elements should come together to create a beautiful, inspiring story. 

While anyone can take out their phone and record a video story, partnering with experienced video professionals will provide you with high-quality content that’s guaranteed to spark change and inspire meaningful action. A nonprofit video production company handles everything from scripting to editing so that you can focus on what matters most: driving your mission forward. 

About the Author

Doug Scott, Founder & CEO of Tectonic Video

Doug has more than 20 years of nonprofit communications experience as a filmmaker, communications director, chief marketing officer and leader of two creative agencies for nonprofits. Doug is a global citizen having traveled to more than 50 countries. He earned his B.A. in Strategic Communications from DePaul University, and he’s a frequent guest lecturer at Stanford University on topics related to nonprofit storytelling and storytelling ethics.

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