Storytelling for Nonprofits: Using video to tell your story

After exploring the rich world of social media and graphic design, today we’re thrilled to launch a new series on storytelling to help your nonprofit bring its social messages to life in creative and compelling ways! First up, we’re going to look at how to tell your story using video.


The Power of Video


For nonprofits, there are many reasons to get familiar with video-based storytelling. If it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, then imagine the power of a message when presented through a video! Whether you’re looking to produce a trailer, an animation, or a mini-documentary, mastering the elements of storytelling through this medium can open up many valuable opportunities for your organization. In addition to being a cost-effective and dynamic way of building community and engagement, a well-produced video can go a long way in helping your audience learn more about your work, understand complex issues, and be stirred to action in tangible, immediate ways. After all, as the folks at Animoto remind us, “you’ve got lots of expert information to share—and people out there that’d love to learn from you!”

Producing a video may seem daunting at first, especially if you’re new to this format. Luckily, the technology has evolved by leaps and bounds lately and shooting, uploading and editing video is not only more streamlined than ever but also lots of fun! In the sections that follow, we’re going to look at the architecture of successful storytelling then move on to trusted tech tips to help you get started producing your very own video.


The Elements of Effective Storytelling


Rather than thinking of your video as an ‘end product’, seeing it through the lens of a story will give it greater purpose and meaning. In fact, many veteran communicators recommend setting yourself up for success by taking some time to identify the core elements of the message you want to convey. This goes beyond a simple ‘call to action’ to a focus on overarching themes and guiding emotions that create a memorable and intuitive entry point for your audience.


Here is how the team at Vidyard sees it:

“The biggest lesson in content marketing is that the story shouldn’t be about you, but instead, what you do for others. Look beyond the basics to find the “why” behind what your organization does, and market that. If you sell solar panel software, your video message should be focused on saving the earth and the fight against climate change. If you sell telecommunications software, tell a story about connections and real people.”


According to the Visual Storytelling Institute, there are 10 story archetypes that you can draw from to build your own narrative. These include origin stories, backstage stories, how-to stories, and more.

Image credit: Visual Storytelling Institute.


If your organization has already developed a brand narrative, thinking in terms of your brand’s values and personality will be an excellent starting point to help you hone in on the types of feelings and takeaways you want your audience to associate with your work. Emotions are important because, as studies show, they compel action and can therefore be far more effective at building momentum and awareness than more standard, or so-called rational, content.


Developing Your Story


Once you have identified your video’s core purpose and message, it’s time to sit down and develop your story. Here are the steps involved in the process:


While most of us think of videos in terms of visuals, in truth, a written script will be your secret weapon. Writing down a narrative or dialogue will help you keep your message focused and concise, and will provide a blueprint for selecting the best accompanying media for your story (think: matching visuals, soundtrack, transitions, and more). To do so, make sure you set up your script to include a beginning, middle and end. These are also known as the “setting, conflict, and resolution” stages of a story. You can also prepare a storyboard to break these sections down frame by frame to keep track of their progression.



Once your script is ready, read it out loud a few times to hear how it sounds. You’ll want your narrative to sound as natural as possible, and reading things out loud beforehand is a great way to see if there are more streamlined ways to get to your message. Perhaps you can remove superfluous or repetitive words, or find a shorter way to express a point. Ask your friends and colleagues to read it out loud as well to see how it sounds to others before shooting your video.




The advantage of video is that you can incorporate many media to enhance your story. Don’t be afraid to get creative here! Think about how visuals, colours, sounds and frames can become part of the message rather than taking the linear approach where you state everything upfront though words. Think, for example, of what Google did in this endearing 2009 ad that tells an entire love story through Google searches:





Don’t try to pack too many messages into a single video. Stay focused on your key call to action––you can always break up your videos into segments, or experiment with different video-based formats such as social media live streams, animated clips, ‘ask me anything’ recorded answers, and more. So think first about the goal of your video: is it being produced to raise awareness? Generate leads? Raise funds? Next, think about your target audience––who are they, and what values do they respond to?




Lastly, once you have identified your message, narrative, and goal, it’s time to pick the format that best matches your needs. There are lots of ways to share and disseminate your videos these days, and below we offer some suggestions:

  • Live videos: can be streamed on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram as well as professional networks like LinkedIn. Check out Hootsuite’s social media live streaming guide to learn more.
  • Engagement videos: can be produced following a number of genres––some of the most popular ones are behind the scene tours; interviews; ‘ask me anything’ answers; tutorials; short lectures, and more.
  • Educational videos: can encompass anything from documentary episodes to case studies to short, thematic ‘explainers’ hosted on popular platforms like YouTube, Vimeo and others.
  • Marketing or fundraising videos: can also be embedded directly into your newsletter, personalized emails, event materials, website, and donation pages.

Once you’ve finalized your script, think about how to optimize your SEO by selecting the best keywords, video descriptions, thumbnails and tags to help your audience find you. Platforms like YouTube will offer auto-suggestions for you, but you can also take a look on Google Trends or the Google Keyword Planner to help you spot the best options.


Tech Tips for Producing Your Video


Now comes the hands-on part––here is a round up of the best tools to use to edit and share your video!

  • If you are a TechSoup Canada member, you can access our Adobe Premiere and Adobe Creative Cloud catalogue offerings and have access to powerful editing tools to craft the perfect video. (Check out our Design for Non-Designers series to get familiar with the Adobe universe and learn more about Adobe Spark!)
  • Animoto is a cloud-based video creation platform that offers a nonprofit program as well as customizable promo video templates and tons of step-by-step resources to support you in the process of uploading, editing and sharing your video creations.
  • OpenShot is a free, open-source video editor for Linux, Mac, and Windows. It is available in 70+ languages and allows you to incorporate anything from 3D effects to animation. (You can read more about open source tools in our Design for Non-Designers post––it includes tips on how to source free soundtrack and stock image materials, too!)
  • If you are looking to produce video specifically for social media, Canva is an online design platform that offers lots of customizable templates for content such as Instagram stories, animated Facebook headers, and more. Our blog post on Canva has the full scoop!
  • In addition to uploading your videos on your website, blog, and social media channels, you can create dedicated profiles on content sharing platforms like YouTube and Vimeo. The YouTube for Nonprofits program offers tons of valuable resources on how to engage your supporters through video. The YouTube Creator Academy takes this one step forward with a free, three-part online course.
  • If you’re using Vimeo, you can access hundreds of templates for high-impact social videos or refine your craft through their Video School page.
  • Lastly, if you’re looking for more free editing tools, the team at Shopify has put together a helpful roundup complete with key feature highlights to help you find the best option for you.


Additional Resources


Ready to get started producing your own videos? Check out the pages below to find examples of effective nonprofit videos to get you inspired!

  • Animoto breaks down the success behind the Jane Goodall Institute’s ‘square video’ campaign and offers 5 ideas for videos that tell a story;
  • Causevox rounds up 5 inspirational nonprofit impact story videos;
  • Global Giving highlights 10 videos that show that a better world is possible;
  • Canva for Nonprofits highlights how LEAP Africa developed its brand narratives to support its storytelling and outreach efforts in support of social change.
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