Ok. You want to make a video, but you didn’t exactly go to film school.

Relax. Go look at YouTube’s home page for a minute. Do you see the teenager recording herself singing into a hairbrush microphone? Do you see someone’s pet chinchilla rolling around in a sandbox? The term “home video” and all of the shoddiness it implies, has lost all meaning.

Digital technology has now advanced to the point that almost anyone can post a video of decent quality. A well-plotted video with a scripted beginning, middle and end may not even need to be edited.

And if it does, you can use an easy point-and-click tool like WeVideo. Or Facebook Live, Periscope or iMovie – see details here. No expertise needed. And no studio equipment needed either.


Basically all you need to produce a clear, quality video is…Dunh dunh dunh…an iPhone. Yes, all recent iPhones are now fitted with a high-definition camera of brilliant quality completely adequate for YouTube video filming.

Add an iRig Mic that jacks directly into your phone and you’ll have production-perfect audio as well. Don’t want to even go that far? Stick with your iPhone, the audio quality on new iPhones are decent enough to get the job done.

Voila. Welcome to the world of indie filmmaking.


With your technology in place, the real challenge lies in imagining and crafting video with engaging original content.

Let’s brainstorm. We’ve included a lot of examples to help in this process. And while many of these videos weren’t necessarily made on a shoestring budget, they can generate some great ideas.


Think about what feelings you want your video to inspire: Outrage? Aspiration? Empowerment? Curiosity? Delight?

Tugging at the heart strings can be effective but there are other tactics- humor, irony, satire – that work just as well to get a point across.

Watch the finalists of YouTube’s DoGooder awards to get a sense of the wide range in tone employed for even very serious subjects.

Define Your Story

Once you’ve got an idea of what tone you’re aiming for, what type of story you want to tell, and what you hope your viewers will do as a result, you’ll need to think about the approach.

Here are a few angles:

Direct Approach. One easy formula you can follow is to simply introduce one of your beneficiaries. What are they up against? Identify their struggle, the villain, (poverty, violence, corporate greed, etc) and then the hope—what your organization does to make a difference.

Close with a call to action, ideally all in 60-90 seconds

Videos like these are both cut-and-dried and very effective at humanizing your issue.

Side Door Approach. There are other, more oblique, approaches to video crafting that give your creativity more play. Save the Children‘s video below is a great example of an ironic take on the overall concept of foreign aid.


Why Instead of What. Some videos focus not simply on what their organizations are doing, but why they do it. Capture the bottom line values that you believe most people share. “We all deserve clean drinking water.” “The home should be a safe place.” “No child should have to grow up in a state of fear.”

Sometimes focusing on the “why” rather than the “what” creates an equally compelling message. See this great video on family planning from the Gates Foundation.


Testimonies. When dealing with an issue that might be fraught with stigma, use a testimony with character development so that viewers can get to know the people behind the issue, like this video from the ACLU of New Mexico:


Satire Instead of Drama. Focusing on the frustrating absurdity of your issue is another common and effective tactic. The video below by Pathfinder International highlights the barriers women face in obtaining birth control in other countries by placing that situation in a familiar context—an American doctor’s office.


The effect is comic in its ridiculousness, but the underlying message is quite serious.

Other Cool Video Ideas

Introduce Yourselves. Why does your staff care about your cause? Take the viewer on a tour of your headquarters or into the field where you do you work. Introducing the actual, living, breathing people behind the façade of your organization fosters trust and a sense of real human connection. Just as every beneficiary has a story, so does every nonprofit founder or team member.  

Introduce a Campaign. Videos are a great way to kickstart and promote new campaigns. The more interactive the campaign, the better.

Do a FAQ Video. Highlight the frequently asked questions or common misconceptions about your work or issues related to your work.

Post a Video Series. Think about a series of videos to promote a campaign or idea rather than just producing stand-alone videos. Oxfam Great Britain ran a series of “Green Granny”  videos on YouTube that featured sustainability lifestyle tips, from the maternal Barbara Warmsley.


The advantages of serialized videos is that they enable you to follow a formula to a certain extent and to create a more cohesive and recognizable voice.

How to Launch Your Video

Once you’ve wrapped up production, upload your video to your YouTube channel. From there you can easily embed on your website, share on Facebook, or even send out to your supporters through email (videos are gold on email).

YouTube Features

Remember that YouTube offers a host of fabulous features to make your video easier to find. YouTube is one of the most popular search engines in the world, so if you’re not taking advantages of these features, you’re missing out on a great opportunity for visibility.

Video Description Box. Adding a short call to action (5-6 words) followed by your website URL (“Save the bog turtle: http//swampfriends.org”) can go a long way in pulling viewers to your site.

Call to Action. The call to action overlay is a dandy little feature that can also shunt traffic to your site. The overlay is simply a banner ad that furls across the lower third of your video and links to your site. This feature is accessible if you’re part of the YouTube for Nonprofits program.

A call to action is critical in making the most of your video. People don’t want to just passively learn about issues, they want to help. So make sure to always add a clear call to action they can click on, be it a call to donate, take advocacy action, or join your cause.

Keywords. Choosing the right keywords will insure that your videos will be found in a YouTube search. Include keywords in your title, video description and tags.

Title. Title is important for both grabbing attention and implanting key words that will determine where you show up in search results. Keywords also matter in the video description and how it is tagged. Tag with search phrases more than broad search words.

So that’s it. You’ve successfully joined the swelling ranks of accidental videographers! No expertise or chinchilla needed.