Professional Quality Video On a Shoestring Budget for Nonprofits

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By Ritu Sharma, CEO & Co-Founder, Social Media for Nonprofits



Video is one of the most important assets we have in our sector. Imagine the #IceBucketChallenge without video, or #Kony2012, or #Batkid. Video is a compelling way to tell a story, and really move people – and yet it’s a daunting tool, underutilized by many nonprofits, often reserved for heartstring-tugging stories meant to drive fundraising campaigns.

But consider this:

  • It takes 2-3 pages of writing to convey 2 minutes of video
  • Its narrative, visual form of storytelling allows people to retain more info than other form of communication
  • You don’t need to spend a fortune to create a professional quality video (always the biggest hesitation in our sector)

We recently organized a four-hour, hands-on video training in partnership with YouTube at YouTube Space LA (Production Basics on a Shoestring), learning from top video professionals how to create quality videos on a very short budget.

During the training we were shown a professional set-up, and then how to achieve the same results on a shoestring budget. The two were nearly indistinguishable – it all came down to some simple tips and tricks.

The Better to See You, My Dear

Lighting for video requires a bit of consideration, because if your lighting is bad, your video will suffer. You’ll get best results from using a standard technique in still and video photography called three-point lighting. This consists of:

    • Key light – the primary source of light, shining 30-45 degrees to one side of your subject

Filter and softening effects can be achieved with colored cellophane or wax paper affixed to the rims of the lights with clothespins.

  • Fill light – placed 30-45 degrees to the side opposite the key light, this light offers contrast between highlights and shadows
  • Back light – lights the subject from behind, offering contour and distinction from the background

Lighting1You can create these pieces of lighting easily and affordably enough with clamp-on lights from Home Depot (and once you buy a few, you can use them for video after video).

Lighting2 Lighting3In fact, many everyday items can serve the same purpose as pricier photo-specific counterparts:

Though if you want to invest in a few pro tools, some aren’t as pricey as you’d think:

Grab all of these items for less than $100 and give your videos a professional look without the price tag.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Visual medium notwithstanding, excellent audio quality is just as important as excellent visuals (it’s HALF your video, after all). If your video quality is a little less professional, you can get away with it as long as you have crisp, clear audio, but if the audio quality is poor, it doesn’t matter how good your video looks – you’ll lose your audience quickly.

A few things to consider regarding audio:

  • Outdoor environmental factors – wind, traffic, airplanes, dogs barking
  • Indoor environmental factors – talking, doors opening/closing, electronic noise (printers, phones, appliances)
  • Proximity to those speaking – as close as possible (within two feet) works best

It’s important for those on camera to project their voices and enunciate, of course, but sometimes even the best speakers’ voices can get lost in the shuffle – especially if you’re in a situation where you can’t control the background noise (like an on-the-spot interview in the middle of a busy conference). The best way to ensure perfect audio quality is to use an external microphone to amplify your video’s audio track.

A lavalier mic is a great option for a single speaker (unless you have enough for additional speakers). The Rode SmartLav+ is one example of an affordable mic that plugs right into your smartphone for easy recording and exporting to whatever video editing program you like. Grab one new or used on Amazon, or even at your local Guitar Center.

If you need to share a mic, or want greater control over external noise (as most lavaliers are omnidirectional, meaning they’ll pick up more ambient noise), a shotgun microphone is a good option. Something like this could be hand-held OR mounted to your camera to add some dimension to audio being recorded via lavalier.

Plug into your smartphone with an adapter (and use your phone’s audio recording app, or download your favorite), or plug directly into your camera (be sure your model supports it before purchasing).

Speaking of Cameras

You don’t need top of the line there either (you’d be amazed what you can do with a newer model smartphone), but if you have some room in the budget, here are some options:

Canon 50D-70D series offers a solid, mid-level, high quality camera, and there are many others in and around the same price range. Comparison shop based on your needs.

The more affordable Canon Vixia is also a great option, for hands-free operation with or without a tripod. (Though tripods are good to have on hand and are very affordable. Add one to your shopping list for about $28.)

Applying the Tools – Video Best Practices

Once you have equipment sorted out it’s time to put it to use. First let me debunk the myth that you only need video during major campaigns. This is absolutely not true! There are so many opportunities to use video to build a more robust presence for your organization. For example:

  • One-minute vlogs from your executive director
  • Stories from constituents – like the way Mark Horvath uses video to empower the homeless
  • Spotlights on board members and volunteers, 30 seconds long or so
  • Interviews and/or Q&A stations at events, with pre-scripted questions

Videos don’t need to be long or perfect, so don’t be afraid to use every channel at your disposal: YouTube, Instagram, and even Vine can boost your cause’s visibility, so put those hesitations to rest and get ready to call “Action!”

Does your nonprofit use video regularly? Share your experiences with us!

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