Tips for Shooting A Winning Video For Your Nonprofit | Beth’s Blog

Tips for Shooting A Winning Video For Your Nonprofit

Guest Post

Photo by Global Fund for Children

Note from Beth: After you read this guest post, you’ll have lots of great tips for your nonprofit’s video.   And don’t forget, The 5th Annual DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards is now  open for submissions from members of the YouTube Nonprofit Program until March 2nd. This year, for the first time, in addition to awards for Best Small, Medium, and Large nonprofit organization videos, there is also a Best Thrifty Video category for videos produced for under $500.

Tips for Shooting A Winning Video For Your Nonprofit- guest post by Dawn and Brian Crawford

The HD DSLR video revolution is here. This tech trend is all the rage. There are contests to push filmmakers to “ tell the story behind the still” and television producers are turning to this compact video recording technology.

We recently shot a fundraising campaign video for the Autism Science Foundation with our Canon HD DSLR. Along the way we learned some valuable lessons to help nonprofits use this new video technology to tell their stories.

Why use a DSLR?

Cost, quality and versatility is the most appealing attributes of shooting on a DSLR. For the price of a consumer-quality HD video camera, you could purchase a DSLR that takes both high-quality stills and HD video. Quite the deal!

A DSLR’s video quality far outweighs the quality that you can get on a less expensive pocket camcorder. While smaller camcorders have their place. When shooting a fundraising video or another piece for wider distribution, quality is key.

You can also get arty with a DSLR. There are tons of lens options and you can use advanced film techniques like shallow depth of field and pulling focus.

Rent or Buy?

You don’t have to buy a thing to film your video on a DSLR. Renting means you can get an expensive piece of equipment for a fraction of the price. Check out your local camera shop for rentals and expert advice. Many of them rent everything from cameras to lenses and microphones. is also a great online resource.

In our opinion, purchasing the DSLR body and lens kit is a great investment, especially if you’ll be taking photos or shooting video throughout the year. On the other hand, when it comes to lenses, we say RENT. A great lens can make a huge difference in your video quality, and good glass comes at a steep price. For our shoot, we rented a lens for $35 that would have cost twice as much as our camera kit if we would have purchased it.

Purchase a Tripod

A tripod may be the most valuable piece of equipment in your arsenal. You can use it to smoothly capture your subject without the nauseating movements. Another nice add-on is a $26 Tripod Dolly that makes those close-ups and pans a whole lot smoother.

Practice Your Manual Focus

The biggest limitation of shooting video with a DSLR is that you need to manually focus your video. Most DSLR cameras do not have continuous autofocus which means that your subject will come in and out of focus as they walk toward or away from the camera. For a newbie videographer, learning how to smoothly control focus will take practice to master.

DSLR Audio Isn’t Good

There’s no way to put a pretty face on this aspect of DSLRs. To capture better audio get a camera with a mic-in jack (these are a bit more expensive) or get a portable recorder. For our videos we use a Tascam DR-07. Either way you’ll need to add a microphone to the mix to get the best sound.

Lighting Your Subjects

An often overlooked detail, lighting can make or break your video. For our video, we rented two professional banks of lights along with diffusers. For the weekend, these rented for around $50. Worth every penny.

Making Your Video Shine

Now that you’ve shot your video on your fancy DSLR, it’s time to edit. You will need to upload your footage to a video editing software to put together shots, add title cards and include that all important call to action at the end. The least expensive and easiest to use options are iMovie and Windows Movie Maker. Both have dedicated users and a huge variety of tutorials online to help you get started. Remember that there are also technology partners to help your nonprofit purchase the software you need to make your dream video.

So, is DSLR video right for your nonprofit? It depends on how much you want to invest. As with any in-house project, you can save on outsourcing, but your internal time commitment does go up. If you are shooting several videos a year, investing in a camera and lens kit then renting additional equipment could be a winning option.

Regardless if your nonprofit is shooting with a pocket camcorder or graduating to a DSLR, tell your story. You have amazingly moving stories to tell, so go out there and shoot them!

Dawn and Brian Crawford are a creative duo who are communicators by trade and have a passion for nonprofits. Dawn is a freelancer for BC/DC Ideas and Brian writes for the volunteer storytelling blog Amplifying Good. Both live in North Carolina. They just love shooting video and have not been paid to endorse or recommend any of the products in this blog post.

15 Responses

  1. Great tips here guys! So awesome to see your ideas and passion here on Beth’s blog. I definitely need to bookmark this.

  2. [...] Tips for Shooting A Winning Video For Your Nonprofit [...]

  3. Lisa R. says:

    I love this kind of concrete advice. Thank you! It makes me want to go out and shoot video just because I can.

  4. Rob Wu says:

    I am not endorsing any products. When I started with cameras and filming, it took a lot of time to understand what I needed and what was just nice to have. Here are just some pointed tips to get started.

    There are 4 things you need for your own setup.
    - Camera body (compromises can be made)
    - Lens (never skimp on this)
    - Stabilization (need this)
    - Lighting (nice to have)
    - Post processing (need this)

    Camera Body
    I recommend to start with the Canon T1i/T2i. If you have a little more money to spend, try the 60D or 7D. Also look at Nikon too. See for reviews.

    All in all, I don’t think most non-profits need anything above a T2i or 7D.

    Renting lenses is good, but consider purchasing your own — practices makes perfect and filming on the fly is fun too.

    If you’re getting a Canon camera body, first thing you need to do is to throw out the kit lens. Then I’d start with two lenses Canon f/2.8 17-55 or 24-70. If those are too expensive, get the Sigma f/1.4 30mm. That one lens should give you high quality video with lots of bokeh (fancy background blur).

    Tripods are good for non-motion video — talking heads. If you want to have motion — sweeping shots and other movement of the camera — get a DIY steadicam. You can make one for under $100.

    Just film your subject next to a window. This should get you “good enough” results 90% of the time with no need of extra bulky lighting equipment.

    Post Processing
    Hopefully you have a Mac. Use iMovie if you do.

    So, if you’re cash strapped, you can get a used T1i, a used Sigma 30mm, and a tripod for about $950k. It’s a good investment.

  5. [...] on @ About Jim Sparks Visit Jim's Website. View other posts by [...]

  6. Mike Spear says:

    While I think it’s important for anyone entering the video creation process to understand the basic elements involved, I truly believe that most nonprofits would be best served finding a film student, or video professional to create their videos on a pro-bono / volunteer basis.

    I’m not saying hire the first person that comes around offering free services – that can just make things worse. Interview prospective producers as you would any other service provider, and set expectations for project completion.

    You’ll end up with a much better product, and if you choose wisely, it’ll cost you much less than if you did it yourself. Often students and filmmakers will own their own equipment that they’ll be willing to lend to the project for free.

    I say this as a former film editor and video news producer with more than 10 years of experience in the industry.

    If you do end up producing the video in-house, I would add that the A-number one thing that separates a high quality, professional video from one that looks amateur, is sound. Make sure you invest in a decent microphone with a wind buffer. These can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars, up into the thousands, but are usually only about $10/day to rent.

    Good luck, and happy filmmaking!

  7. Deirdre Reid says:

    This is an area where I am, frankly, clueless. You make it sound actually doable to a videophobe like me. Thanks!

  8. You’re talking about established safe nonprofits here, but I want to share a tip from an unlikely activist friend of mine.

    She’s involved in a long protest campaign around a church closure ( and keeps an unassuming Canon on a neck strap.

    Whenever a confrontational moment comes up she starts the camera’s video and ignores it, just turning her body as necessary to make sure it’s facing the other party. No one seems to realize that this camera on her neck is shooting video. It looks “normal,” i.e., like a still camera, and she projects a non-threatening soccer mom appearance, so she gets people to say things they wouldn’t dream of saying on a video camera. Most of the videos have remained private, for internal use only, but here’s one we posted to Youtube a couple of years ago (featuring a blustering police chief who refuses to give his name!). The video quality is not going to win any awards (she sometimes chops off heads), but some of them are very cool and make me regret buying a Kodak, Flip-like camera that’s obviously for video and doesn’t hang on a strap.

  9. Like Mike, I totally support Dawn and Brian’s passion for video and their desire to see nonprofits take advantage of it.

    Like Mike, I also would suggest that finding a film student or pro bono producer (or an intern with a technological bent) is definitely worth considering.

    Creating video isn’t rocket science, but it offers its share of frustrations for the uninitiated. Sort of like when I tried to learn HTML in order to create my own website…

    This isn’t to scare people off entirely from the DIY approach. In fact, a middle-ground solution that we often recommend to folks is get an easy-to-use camcorder, capture their footage, and then hand the video off to a professional who has the technology/equipment – and storytelling skills – to edit it together.

    (One additional point about audio: along with your external mic, get a pair of headphones to plug into your camera so that you can monitor the sound you’re recording.)

  10. Great advice from Rob, Mike, and Geoff!

    Rob’s right, you don’t need a super expensive camera to pull this off. We use a Canon t1i, but the t2i is a little more versatile in the video dept if you can afford it.

    For me, (cheaper) stabilizers are hit or miss, but some people love them so I say do your homework and make up your own mind.

    Mike has a great point, don’t make sound an afterthought. Budget and plan for it just as you would with your camera and shot list.

    That’s an excellent idea from Geoff. We didn’t get deep into editing with this post, so let me say don’t underestimate the time it takes to edit. Partnering with a professional editor to polish it up and pull out the story may be a better route to take.

    Some links for aspiring nonprofit video makers:

    Equipment research (as mentioned by Rob):

    Equipment doesn’t have to be expensive. Check out for tips and tricks on how to make your video look professional without the price tag to match.

    Learn by watching. See how others are doing it. Nonprofit & activism channel on Vimeo –

    I also enjoy for their light-hearted, but informative tutorials and tips.

    If you are going to edit yourself, I recommend the Edit Foundry – – it’s not a how-to of editing, but more about the philosophy of storytelling through editing.

    What are some of your favorite sites for creating videos? I’m always looking for more.

  11. [...] have not been paid to endorse or recommend any of the products in this blog post. Republished from under a CC BY [...]

  12. [...] digital single lens reflex camera is another way to go. (It looks like a camera-camera, but has video capabilities.) Dawn & Brian [...]

  13. Najlah Hicks says:

    Hey Beth,

    With the help of Miami Herald videographer Chuck Fadely, we put together an economical and easy to use video kit that we think will benefit any nonprofit that wants to tell stories. We listed links to where you can find it all online.

  14. Ashley says:

    don’t forget how important the music is! I use for royalty free music!

  15. [...] on autopilot.Humor is ok,and it is ok to shoot your own video without paying a ton of money. Check out Beth Kanter’s tips for shooting winning video for your non-profit.Looking for more examples? Check out 9 other [...]