The first installment of the TechSoup Digital Storytelling Challenge webinar series covered everything you need to consider before you hit record.

The hour-long webinar was led by Rich Vázquez, co-founder and board president of Lights. Camera. Help. Vázquez, who has a background in screenwriting, guided the audience through some of the basic concepts of developing stories for production. The discussion concluded with some examples of effective nonprofit video and suggestions for storytelling resources.

What Drives a Great Nonprofit Story?

The basic elements of a story are style, setting, theme, plot, and character. The style covers what sort of tone is used to tell the story. The setting not only locates the action but also can drive much of your film’s tone. The theme is the broad idea or message that your moving is trying to convey. Plot is the vehicle that moves the story – the action. The character, an integral element to the plot, can be a person, object, or even the setting.

One important question that drives storytelling is why do we tell stories? Understanding the intent of your digital story informs all aspects of how that story is developed.

Key considerations include understanding who your audience is and where you want to take the audience when the story concludes. Make certain the story you are telling and how you are telling it appeals to your intended audience.

Questions, to ask include:

  • Does the story build on existing relationships or is it meant to cultivate new ones?
  • What is the call to action?
  • Are you recruiting volunteers or donors?
  • Is the story meant to appeal to those that might benefit from your organization’s services?

Have a Stated Mission for Your Story

Like your organization, Vázquez suggests that your digital story have a stated goal or mission statement. Having a stated mission for your digital story can serve as central organizing element.

Planning a digital story, he proposes, is like event planning. And like event planning, involves elements such as deciding who will be involved, how much time is expected of them, and what tools or other elements are needed.

Production Planning How-Tos

Production generally requires much more in terms of time and resources than most people initially think, which is why careful planning is a must. As an example, Vázquez talked about shooting outdoors, which can be noisy depending on the time of day. Vázquez also advises that nonprofits obtain permission from subjects or the owners locations used in filming.

As for equipment, both for pre- and post-production, Vázquez’s first suggestion is for nonprofits to contact their local public access channel, which can be a great source for camera and sound tools. Organizations that want to take a more professional approach to screenwriting and production planning can use Celtx, a free online tool.

Obtaining free music, photos, or video clips is possible through online searches for creative commons licensed content. Other music sources include Jamendo, ccMixter, and Finding photos is even easier if using, which searches only for creative commons licensed content on Google, Flickr, Wikimedia Commons, and more.

Those looking for video content can search through or Vimeo, which features a special search setting for reusable content. And finally, Vázquez suggests that nonprofits look to the relationships they have and just ask. Sponsors will sometimes contribute for higher filmmaking budget and music, photo, or video creators are more inclined to lend freely to nonprofits. 

Learn More

To learn more to help you tell your digital storytelling, make sure to mark your calendar for the upcoming TSDigs tweetchats and webinars

Susan Chavez
Online Community & Social Media Team, TechSoup Global