5 steps to get your next nonprofit video off the ground

Benjamin Franklin once remarked, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”  This quote is especially accurate in the world of video production, where pre-production plays an integral role in ensuring your nonprofit’s video campaign is a success.

Proper pre-production helps you and your organization stay organized, ensures work gets done on time, helps everyone involved in the production remain on the same page and ultimately, creates more compelling stories that your nonprofit can use to grow.

Whether filming the video yourself or working with a freelancer or video production company, the following steps should be taken to ensure a well-planned video production.

Portrait of Mark Locki

Article by Mark Locki



The first step is to define the concept for the video.

What’s the video going to look and feel like? Is it dark and moody, or lighthearted and bright? Are we using only natural/available light, or will we create a unique lighting setup? Is it a scripted piece or interview-based? How long is the video, and where are you planning to distribute it?

Remember your budget while developing your concept, as your budget is usually a limiting factor in what you can accomplish.

Finding reference videos can be very helpful to let your team or production company know what you have in mind for your video.

If you’re working with a production company, they may create a “treatment” based on the concept. This treatment will cover the story they intend to tell with a short synopsis, the creative approach, visual style, aesthetics, and other important creative elements. This document is very visual, including plenty of reference images, and should give everyone involved a clear idea of what to expect from your final video.


Next up, we need to draft our script. Depending on the specific project, we might write out a full word-by-word script or create a list of interview questions we’ll be asking our participants.

If doing an interview-based video project, it’s beneficial to have a conversation with your interviewee before writing your interview questions so you have a decent idea of their story first. This can help you draw up the interview questions you want to ask and ensure you get all critical story elements.

When considering what questions to ask or what you need to talk about in the script, remember the basics: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How?  By answering these questions you’ll be able to paint a full picture of the story.


Next up, we need to plan what shots we need to tell the story. For some projects, like commercials, storyboards are used to detail every shot in the commercial. For other projects, a general shot list can provide enough of an overview of the types of shots needed.

Your shot lists should include, at a minimum, the key action your participants are doing as part of the story. You’ll also want to have a few establishing shots (shots that help the viewer know where we are), a selection of shot types such as wide angle, medium and close-up (ideally for each action that’s being done on film), the camera angle, and any details regarding camera movement that’s needed.



Depending on the need of the production, location or tech scouting may be needed. A location/tech scout will help you determine where the sun will be at a given time, what and where power sources are available, parking for crew and participants, and what the space sounds like (so critical for getting clean audio!)

What’s the difference between a location scout and a tech scout? A location scout is used to choose the locations to film in, while a tech scout is used once a location is secured to determine how best to use the site on the filming day.

If you’re filming on private property, you’ll need permission to film there. This may include booking a space to film in or asking the owner for permission. If you’re filming in city streets or parks, many cities may require you to get permits to film. Check with your local film commissioner to find more details.


The last step is to plan the remainder of the filming day. A brief list of the items you need to consider for final logistics include:

  1. Production Insurance – you’ll need to have insurance if anything goes wrong during your filming day. Many locations will want to know you’re insured in the (hopefully unlikely!) event any damages occur to their property.
  2. Booking crew and participants – if your production requires additional help beyond someone to film the video, you’ll need to arrange for a crew to be on site. Some potential crew members may include production assistants, gaffers, location sound recordists, and camera operators or assistants.
  3. Arrange props, wardrobe and rental equipment – this can be as simple as asking your participant to bring the items they need for the shoot, to going out and purchasing everything required. Work through your script and shot list to break down each item you need. For equipment, ensure you have everything you need (camera, lenses, lights, audio recorders and microphones, etc). If you need to rent any items, make sure you get them booked as soon as possible and arrange for them to be picked up.
  4. Arrange catering or food – There’s nothing worse than a full shoot day with no plans for food. If the crew is large and the budget allows, having a caterer bring food in can help you keep your schedule tight during the day. If you’re working with a small team, this could be as simple as asking people to bring their lunch or going to a nearby restaurant.
  5. Sending out call sheets – no later than 24 hours before the filming day, but ideally, with a little more leeway, you should send out a call sheet letting everyone know what time they need to be on set and the schedule for the day.

Lastly, ensure all your batteries are charged, memory cards are clear, and equipment is all in working order!

Whether your nonprofit is filming your videos yourself or you’re working with an experienced production company, taking care of these steps will ensure you’ll head into your filming day full of confidence your shoot will go smoothly!


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