The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

The Top 4 Tips for Nonprofit Video Projects

As a filmmaker with more than 30 years of professional experience, I have witnessed the ability of film to get to the heart of a message, faster, and more powerfully than any other medium. That is why I am passionate about helping nonprofits use film to their best advantage.

Here are my top four tips for getting the most out of your film projects to help reach your fundraising and branding goals.

Jim Harvey Film Shoot
The author readies for a video shoot.
Credit: Havey Productions


1. Strategize

The best starting point is a well-articulated purpose and strategy. Remember, if you can’t say it, you can’t do it.

For the Daniels Fund Scholarship Program, Havey Productions produced a series of vignettes profiling scholarship recipients. The strategy was “to provide an engaging, revelatory, and inspirational look at Daniels Scholar graduates so as to inform and inspire high school students, employers, and communities on the opportunities offered by the scholarship program and the qualities exemplified by Daniels Scholars.”

A strategy is important because it’ll guide you as you decide who you want to collaborate with creatively, which content to include in your nonprofit film, the spokespeople to use on-camera, the budget for your project, and many other critical decisions.

As with any other marketing exercise, developing the right strategy for your video project will come down to three main questions:

  • What is your message?
  • Who is your desired audience?
  • How can you most effectively reach them?

It is during the strategy stage that you answer these questions. Need more help getting started? Check out these five tips for nonprofit video.

2. The difference between film and video is art

With the advent of digital video, the line between “film” and “video” has been blurred—but the distinction is important:

  • Making a film used to refer to a production using motion picture film, as opposed to those shot on video tape.
  • The look, lighting, and production techniques were considerably different, with film being the choice for artistic production values over the “live event/nightly news” look of video.

Knowing the difference between the two is key to selecting a production partner that is right for your nonprofit video project. I recommend that you pay close attention to the production values of their prior work.

“Production values” refer to the technique, method, and artistic approach applied to the creation of a video or film. To harness the full emotive potential of film, find a professional whose work demonstrates artistic production values and emotional impact. It’s not about gimmicks like quick cuts, fast zooms, or contrived transitions. Rather than simple reportage video shot with little direction or set preparation, the cinematic techniques of film production pay great attention to the craft of visual storytelling, lighting, mood, movement, focus, and the essential artistic motivation of controlling the human eye. At best, technicians and artists from both styles can create beautiful images.

3. Making the emotional connection

A good filmmaker is a skilled storyteller who can help you unearth an emotional hook that captures the heart of your mission or campaign. An effective film elicits a visceral response and moves people to action by stirring their emotions. The personal decision to support an organization or cause is not about information—it’s about inspiration.

Film is also an excellent vehicle to reinforce your nonprofit brand. Involving your production partner in the early stages of the development will ensure a film project that is more on-brand. At Havey Productions, one of our areas of expertise is Legacy Filmsfilms that help distinguish a nonprofit’s vision, mission and identity for both internal (staff, board members, and volunteers) and external (donors and the general public) audiences.

Remember and use these basic elements of a good story line:

  • Why should I care?
  • What can be done? (case statement)
  • What difference will it make?

As you strategize and collaborate to make the crucial emotional connection with your audience, remember that filmmaking is an art that when done well can inspire powerful action. (You can also try following these 11 rules for video fundraising.)

4. Collaborate with your filmmaker

We hear it every year at the Oscars—”Film is a collaborative medium.”

The production process has many moving parts that are all important. Begin collaborating with your producer or video technician early and include them in your team’s creative discussions.

When you begin filming, it’s helpful to have an internal point-person that can liaise with your filmmaker and represent the interests of the various stakeholders in your nonprofit project. Establish a timeline for the major deliverables in the production process including these basic checkpoints:

  • Treatment: This is the document that describes the general flow and theme of the film.
  • Script: Your film or video on paper (or pixels), including edited interviews, narrative, visual cues, and other notes. This is the time to make sure your key messages and calls to action are present.
  • Filming: Make sure you are doing everything possible to get the right shots. All locations, on-screen “talent,” clothing, backgrounds, and lighting should be carefully coordinated to communicate the desired mood and message.
  • Music: So much of the emotional heart of a film is conveyed in the music and soundtrack. Make sure it works.
  • Approval cut: A rough cut of the film provided for notes and feedback.
  • Final cut: Hopefully, greater than the sum of its parts.

The message your film sends to the public in words, music, images, and production values is perceived as a direct reflection of who you are, so take good care to make it a great reflection.

Jim Havey, Producer, Director, and Founder of Havey Productions, is an Emmy Award–winning filmmaker specializing in all aspects of film for the non-profit sector. Based in Denver, he has worked with an illustrious list of non-profits in the Western United states including: The Daniels Fund, Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation, HopeWest Hospice, University of Wyoming, Colorado School of Mines, Historic Denver, Inc. and many others. For inspiration on your next film project, visit or

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Linda Lombardi
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