Video Storytelling for Nonprofits

Two people viewing a tablet

“Quiet on the set!”

With that shout, documentary filmmakers Brandon Kramer, Lance Kramer, and Aqiyla Thomas from Meridian Hill Pictures transformed a chock-full classroom at Foundation Center-Washington, DC, into a world where anyone with an iPhone or iPad can create videos that move people to action.

Brandon, Meridian Hill’s artistic director and co-founder, said technological changes have made it easy for nonprofits to tell their compelling stories.

Meridian Hill, an independent documentary film production company based in Washington, DC, counts the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the AARP Foundation among its clients. The company offers video-storytelling workshops designed to create a “culture of storytelling” at nonprofit organizations.

Brandon, Aqiyla and Lance spoke at a special program, “Video Storytelling for Nonprofits” this month. Below are some of their tips for video storytellers:

Before you shoot

Write a statement about why you need to tell your story. Are you raising money? Promoting awareness? Trying to understand a person or problem? Evaluating your services? The purpose shapes the story.

Identify one person who best illustrates your purpose. Character-driven storytelling is powerful. Think about the beginning of a conflict, what journey the person took to overcome it and what has changed as a result.

Getting ready to shoot

What specific moments can the subject talk about to describe conflict, turning point and resolution? Write out what visuals best illustrate those moments. Filmmakers call this a “paper edit.”

Choose which apps to download: MoviePro or FiLMic Pro for filming; iMovie or Adobe Clip for editing and Dropbox or iCloud for storing media.

Shooting your video


Equipment: The filmmakers recommend a tripod and Apple iPhones or iPads. Lock your elbows at your sides to stabilize the devices. For best control, they suggest an iOgrapher, an iPad case with handle grips on each side. Microphones boost sound quality, especially when picking up sound at a distance. 

Light and sound: Natural light is best, especially light filtered through a window. Try to film in a quiet place.  Microphones pick up the sound in the direction they face; make sure you’re shooting away from noise sources, such as traffic.

Shots: Wide shots set the place for your story. Medium shots show two people, usually from waist to head. Use close-ups to convey emotion. On an iPad, focus your shots by tapping the screen on the forehead of the subject.

Push record and wait for a few seconds at the beginning of each segment. Do the same at the end. These pauses are useful for editing. The editing process pairs sound and visuals to tell the story. Use your “paper edit” as a tool. The recommended editing apps are intuitive to use.

Sharing your video story

Where will your video “live”? How will people experience it? What platforms do you have access to? Some examples are Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram and Kickstarter. Who can help you get the word out?

Think about what you hope will change as a result.

BARBARA CORNELL is a volunteer at the Foundation Center-Washington, DC. She has volunteered at nonprofits in the U.S., Portugal, Italy and Cambodia. Barbara worked for Congressional Quarterly before becoming a staff reporter for daily newspapers. She has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize by the Kansas City (Mo.) Star and El Nuevo Dia in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She has freelanced for Reuters, Time Magazine and other publications.