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Video Production for Non-Profit Organizations

As the facilitator of a community television channel I'm often asked how to make videos, and I'm frequently approached by non-profit organizations asking if I can help them make a cheap or free video. This is a special case as the organization wants a reasonably professional video but they don't usually have the skills or budget to produce one. So I decided to make this page to provide some guidelines on how someone with no video experience can approach a video project.

The key is that the (usually inexperienced) volunteers will be doing most of the planning, shooting and editing themselves.

For this page I'm going to use the common format of a video that features a voiceover telling an organization's story. Of course there are other ways to tell a story or promote an idea, but this one seems to work well for a wide variety of non-profits and is relatively easy to understand and implement.

(1) Equipment & Skills

It's not a bad idea to ask around to see if you can find any experienced people to help shoot and/or edit the video. Educational institutions and community TV/radio are good places to start. let's assume, though, that you're doing this all with inexperienced volunteers.

You'll obviously need a camera and some way to edit the footage. Although we don't need these things until step 4, it makes sense to organize them as soon as possible. Most modern video cameras are good enough for basic work but I strongly recommend having a tripod too. For editing software see this page for some suggestions. Feel free to ask in our forum for specific recommendations or comments on your equipment choices.

Have a look through our camera tutorials to get some shooting tips. Practice with the camera and review your practice shots before you start the actual shooting.

(2) The Script

I usually suggest beginning with a "script" which is slightly different to how the professionals do it. In the case of someone with no experience, I tell them to write a speech as if it was to be delivered with no visuals at all (for example, a talk on the radio). This approach ensures that you're focusing on the story and not getting sidetracked with one of the most common newbie mistakes:

Common mistake: "I have some great ideas for shots we can use in the video."

Almost everyone does this. They start brainstorming ideas for shots before they actually know what shots they need. This is the wrong way around—you need to understand your story thoroughly before you start thinking about which shots to use. This is critically important and yet it's a constant struggle to pull people away from their intuitive way of thinking. People seem hard-wired to want to imagine all the cool shots they can do rather than what shots will be required by the script.

For this reason I refuse to even talk about shots until there's a finished script. I tell them to go away and come back to me when they've finished their speech/script. I also ask them to read out their script and time it to make sure it's the correct length.

(3) The Storyboard / Shot list

Once the script is done, we can talk about shots. It's actually surprising how easy it is to come up with shot ideas once you have a script to work with. We take the script and break it down into sentences and phrases, assigning one or more shot to each. A very simple shot plan goes something like the example below (note: you can see this video on YouTube).

Voiceover Shot
"Te Awamutu Safer Community Charitable Charitable Trust" is all about our people. Logo
Based in Kihikihi Community House, Community house exterior
the trust is administered by volunteer trustees Trustees around the board meeting table
who oversee a variety of projects. Volunteers working on different projects
The trust has identified community needs in terms of (contd)
safety, health and the environment. Title: "Safety, Health, Environment"


Once you have a shot list you can start shooting.

(4) Shooting & Editing

Shooting the footage (production) and editing (post-production) is where most of the hard work happens. I'm not going to cover them here as they are both huge topics in themselves. I'll instead refer you to our camera work and video editing tutorials.

With inexperienced people, all you can really do is read up and practice as much as you can before you begin.

Important note: The process of editing the footage begins with the voiceover. You put the voiceover on an an audio track in your editing software, then add the shots to match. In practice you may need to create gaps and other tweaks in the voiceover track to make it all work together and flow nicely, but the principle is to make the shots match the voiceover—not the other way round. This applies especially in shorter videos where you don't usually have much time for silent pretty shots, so the voiceover is happening for most of the video's duration (as opposed to, say, nature documentaries that have lots of shots with no voiceover).

(5) The Voiceover

The first question is "who will do the voiceover?" I strongly recommend trying to find a professional voiceover artist who will do it for cheap or free. In my experience the best chance of finding one is to approach a local radio station and ask if one of their announcers can do it. Radio stations are often willing to help out in return for some public gratitude on your part.

Whether or not you have a professional on board, I recommend starting with a draft or "guide" voiceover track which can be recorded by anyone. This is a voiceover that you use for the first version of your edit. You'll probably find that as your editing progresses you want to tweak the voiceover script a bit, so it makes sense to be prepared to re-record the voiceover later. This is especially important if you recruit a professional voiceover artist, as you don't want to be asking them for a re-record.

Once you're confident that your edit is nearly perfect, then record the final voiceover and replace the guide track with the real one. You'll then probably need to make lots of minor editing adjustments to keep the timing right, but this should be easy enough.

It's amazing how often people are quite happy with the amateur guide voiceover track and question the need for a professional, but are then amazed at what a difference the professional makes. Honestly, it's one of the simplest ways to dramatically improve the overall quality of your video.

(5) The Delivery

With the final edit finished, you need to render off a master file and distribute it.

(6) More Tips

It's a good idea to save your entire editing project with all the raw footage and everything, in case you want to update the video later.