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How to Get Started Using Videos in Your Nonprofit’s Emails

Nonprofit emails are in a state of limbo.

If you’ve never taken a look at MailChimp’s benchmark data, it can be a wealth of insight as to how you’re performing on average. On one hand, the sector averages a nearly 25% open rate — the seventh-highest by industry. On the other, nonprofits don’t receive as many clicks to their content, receiving a mediocre 2.76%.

So there’s some good news and bad news to take away from this data:

  1. List degradation is really low. That means a typical nonprofit’s email database is likely not losing many subscribers to opt-outs, bounces, or spam filters.
  2. While subject lines are getting people to open your emails, what’s in those emails isn’t getting people to click any further to your content.

If you’re looking to convert one-time donors into donating a second time (or recurring!), a monthly newsletter probably isn’t going to cut it. You need content that’s exciting, personalized, and actionable.

A positive takeaway from this is that nonprofits are fueled by captivating stories. With stories abound in the nonprofit world, video can be a golden opportunity to connect with your audience. And while video content creation used to be an incredibly time-consuming and expensive effort, it’s gotten a lot more accessible within the last three years. What’s best, it will create a lasting impression that implores donors to give and give again.

What You Need To Make Your Nonprofit’s Video

A Good Idea

You don’t have to be a Hollywood screenwriter to have a good short video concept. But if you’re struggling to think of some ideas, here are some suggestions to get the ball rolling:

  • Consider a success story. Think back over the course of the last year. Could you interview an individual whom your nonprofit has helped? What about a capital campaign toward a new facility or program?
  • What would happen if your nonprofit didn’t exist? Who would go unserved? What wouldn’t have happened within the last year, or even the last decade?
  • Never discount the power behind a simple thank-you video. Whether you have a script for your employees and volunteers to read, or want to visualize the data behind your impact, a light touch goes a long way.

Filming Equipment

  • If you have a big, fancy camera then that’s awesome — but you don’t necessarily need one.
  • Many modern digital SLR cameras record HD-quality video. These are much less expensive than a broadcast camera, and it’s possible that someone in your organization already has one and would be willing to let you borrow it.
  • Technological advances have made our smartphones astonishingly clear. While there are better options than an iPhone, a recently released smartphone could still capture the material you need with adequate quality.

Editing Software

  • If you have the budget and are willing to invest more time and effort into your videos, Final Cut Pro is the standard for many documentary filmmakers. The editing software is robust and precise.
  • iMovie is free, included with all Mac operating systems, and is perfectly sufficient for small projects like Web videos. For Windows 10 users, the free Photos app now lets you import and edit clips to make your own video.
  • If you’re looking to go the animated route, online tools like Animaker and GoAnimate are inexpensive ways to put a fun twist on your video. GoAnimate even offers the ability to automatically lip-sync your audio to an animated character. Powtoon is also a free option.

What You Can(‘t) Do With Email Videos

So now you’ve got the video up on your website, and you’re ready to embed it into your email.

But there’s one tiny technical problem: Most email platforms — Gmail, Outlook, and Apple Mail, for example — don’t have the functionality to place videos directly within email. This means your readers can’t view a video directly within their Gmail or other mail.

While this seems like a showstopper, there is a workaround to making your video available to readers.

If you can’t simply place a video within an email, you can use an image resembling an online video player. Then, all you have to do is link that image to the video you want your readers to watch.

This technique works because it creates the ​perception​ for the reader that there’s a video to watch. See the image below taken from the Click & Pledge Foundation’s trailer for the upcoming documentary, Project Home: The Next Battle.

The effect is achieved by placing a play button graphic on top of a screenshot of still frame from your video. You can use an image editing tool like Photoshop, the free version of Pixlr, or this super-easy website to place the play button. Then simply add the edited image to your outgoing email.


Matt Sutherland is the Communications Director for Click & Pledge, an all-in-one online fundraising platform for nonprofits. Matt’s favorite activities include playing pickup lacrosse games and turning his guitar amp up to 11. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn.

Aly Sterling Philanthropy