3 Things to Think About Before Making Your First Video

Now which of these tools is going to help me fundraise?

By Josh Gold

Ready to get started with video?

More nonprofits are producing films to support their causes than ever before. Maybe you’re thinking of making one yourself, to give your public face a little extra zing or polish.

As filmmakers, we certainly appreciate the enthusiasm. But while we believe that video is a great investment, we often find that its most important features are misunderstood or just plain unknown. People sense the appeal of a great video, but aren’t aware of its full implications and potential.

Mostly, they just don’t want to be left behind. They dive in with no real goal beyond keeping ahead of the trend, and end up losing out on the genuine value video has to offer.

The 3 tips we suggest here can get you started on thinking about video in a more productive way, from planning to implementation.

1. Why Video?

This question may seem almost too basic, but bear with us.

Does video do anything in particular, or is it just a gimmick that makes your website or presentation look a little livelier? Is it popular but fairly useless, or is there a deeper reason it’s become so ubiquitous?

You won’t be able to make the best video possible if you don’t even know what it’s for, what the format is most suited to accomplish. What does best mean in the video world?

Our point here is not just that you need to understand your tools, but also to remind you that video is a tool. At its base, video is a powerful marketing mechanism. It’s the latest medium of communication, but it’s more than a high-tech billboard.

Video has the capacity for complex storytelling and immerses viewers in an intense sensory experience involving both visual and auditory cues.

It feels like it’s been with us forever, but video marketing is actually very new. 61 years ago, 50% of people didn’t own TVs. It wasn’t till about 20 years ago that marketers began using the internet for advertising. 11 years ago YouTube didn’t exist and it wasn’t until 10 years ago that Facebook was released to the public.

This is a young field full of exciting discoveries, but you won’t reap any of the benefits if you don’t even realize that you’re involved. You have something special on your hands, so take the time to learn about how it works and what it can do for you.

2. What’s Your Practical Objective?

There are tons of creative decisions that go into the final product – some obviously big, but also a million minor choices that add up to the complete picture. It’s a huge process that takes a combination of inspiration and rigorous planning.

With so much to account for, it’s tempting to get lost in the details. Without realizing it, you can easily find yourself getting carried away by an exciting idea or feature that isn’t ultimately the most constructive use of your resources.

“Is this really necessary for the video???”

In fact, if you don’t clearly articulate your purpose, the problem can end up much bigger than just a wasteful tangent. Think about it. What does it mean to be off course if you don’t even know where you’re headed? How can you plan an effective route if you have no destination in mind?

We’ve seen it happen too many times – advising a client, leaving them to consider the options, and then coming back two weeks later to find that they’re either going in circles, or committed to a vision that has nothing to do with their real needs.

So start every day by asking yourself, “What’s my goal?

Is the purpose of the film to raise money? Recruit more participants? Raise awareness? Every aspect of production ultimately needs to come back to this central premise.

You’ll be surprised how many decisions will suddenly seem much clearer when you pose this question. When you’re not sure what to do, see if it helps to go back to the beginning. When you start to lose focus, confused and distracted by too many possibilities and extraneous details, a quick reminder of your target might be all you need to get back on track.

3. Who’s Your Audience?

Before every writing exercise, my sixth grade English teacher would always ask us to think about the audience we were writing for. Was it for a friend? A parent? Or the teacher herself? As a kid, I wasn’t very impressed by this advice. “What is she talking about?” I thought. “I’m just writing a book report on Holes. What difference does it make who’s going to be reading it?”

As a filmmaker, I’m now well aware that it makes a hell of a difference. Recently, we created a video about an educational summer program – not a recruitment film, which works to attract more participants, but a fundraising film, designed in this case to make a pitch to one particular donor. Now, no matter who we’re talking to, the program’s good qualities remain the same. But we need to recognize that potential campers will be more interested in exciting footage of activities and events, while donors will find far more relevance in educators discussing the program’s success and lasting impact.

Different audiences will respond to different kinds of emphasis and stimuli, from the audio track to the interview subjects to the highlighted visuals.

Your audience determines everything from message to form to the myriad details involved in execution. Only once you know whom you’re trying to reach will you know how to research and react to their interests, tastes, and the context in which they’re likely to encounter your film.

Are they students or professionals? Donors or volunteers? What stories will they care about, and are they more likely to respond to a music video? A mini-documentary? A comedic, viral video? Will you be able to connect with them personally at a meeting or event – or will you be aiming at a wider but more remote audience on social media, who will need some way to follow up if they’re interested?

Know Your Audience!

These factors will influence not just which subject matter and tone are appropriate for your viewers, but also their attention span, their mood, and how they receive and interact with the video. A film appears very differently to someone scrolling through his or her Facebook newsfeed versus someone seated at a fundraising gala. You’ll need to take this into account when choosing length, screen size, shots, soundtrack and more. You’ll need to capitalize on an effective video by showing it at the right time, or by ensuring that its online presentation is designed to increase clicks on the donate button or visits to your website for more information.


Together with understanding the medium and your own objectives, understanding your audience is undoubtedly one of the most important elements of planning a video.

Obviously, the answers to these questions can end up being pretty complex. But just by being aware of the right things to ask, you’re already far ahead of the game. Your creative team can properly prepare themselves to take the most important factors into account and aim for measurable success.

Sometimes, the solutions you find will be plain, old common sense. But mostly, it’s going to take research, experience, and time to get a handle on these issues. This short list is the result of years spent working in the field, so don’t expect to arrive at a perfect understanding in just a few minutes. The investment will be worth it, though – when you see the results.

Josh Gold, owner of Serio Films, has spent the past eight years working with nonprofits to grow their brands through video-based marketing. Josh can be reached at josh@seriofilms.com.