Tech in the Commons: A Toolkit for Place-Based Nonprofits
Tell your nonprofit’s story in real time.
Video lets you connect to your community "on a human level."


  1. Ask yourself, What events does my organization host that might make for good live video? Or a good recap video? How can you adjust existing events to be more camera-ready?
  2. Look at your budget and determine how much, if anything, could be designated for video efforts. Maybe there’s only room to accommodate a charged iPhone and an intern with some social media know-how. That’s still something.
  3. Do a low-stakes Facebook Live shoot with little or no promotion. With nobody watching, now’s your chance to get comfortable with the tech.


You can tell someone about the impact your org is having on its community, but showing them? That’s much better.

Take POPPYN’s recent video report on problems in Philly’s foster care system as an example. The youth media program’s teen participants brought the episode to the attention of Department of Human Services Commissioner Cynthia Figueroa, who in turn invited the students to screen it for City Council in the hopes of sparking reform.

How can place-based nonprofits harness that same power of video to tell the stories of their impact?

Why use video

Video lets you connect to your community “on a human level,” said Media in Neighborhoods Group cofounder Jon Kaufman, who has worked with a plethora of well-known nonprofit and for-profit brands.

For community-based organizations that want to implement video into their engagement strategies, here are his tips for getting started:

  • Have a vision — Know why you’re making a video as opposed to some other kind of campaign. This will inform creative and logistical decisions throughout the filming process. Kaufman recommends organizations start with a “landing video” to be displayed on their websites’ homepage that tells the story of their brand.
  • Craft content for specific media — When making videos for Instagram or Twitter, remember their time limits and ask what stories can be told in that time.
  • Consider timeliness — Think about whether your video could by updated with time-sensitive installments, or if you’d get the best value with something that’s not time-sensitive and can be used for years. For instance, MING made a video profiling an organization’s major benefactor that ended up working as a memoriam when she died a few years later.
  • … And ethics — People tend to assume information is true when they see it on a screen. Fact-check yourself, and make it clear when something has been fictionalized.
  • Tell the story bottom-up — Rather than top-down, which happens when, say, only an executive director is interviewed about a nonprofit’s work. There’s a lot to be missed by not speaking to on-the-ground employees or a community’s members.

The technology

Recording studio The Boom Room began offering live video services to musicians in 2016, and “it changed my whole business,” founder Gary Dann said. Rather than filming performances with DSLRs and memory cards, which required hours of download and editing time, he can now use all-in-one technology to get performances out to viewers instantly.

Read more about why Dann adopted live video for his studio in the next chapter. First, here are his tips for making the most of the medium:

  • Understand Facebook’s algorithms  — The platform is more likely to promote live videos than regular ones, and it prefers videos shared on personal pages over business pages.
  • Shop around — Technological options vary from $10,000 (multiple cameras and high-end audio equipment) to free (a personal iPhone and Facebook Live propped up on a tripod).
  • Tagging, tagging, tagging — While streaming, be sure to tag your location and any relevant pages and people so those watching know who’s involved in the production. Plus, those tagged can share the video, widening its reach further.

Livestreaming dos and don’t

“It’s the nature of technology that anything that can go wrong, will,” said Jeff Bethea of PhillyCAM, a public access media nonprofit. Here’s what to consider before deciding to livestream an event:

  • Is the timing right? — People watch live broadcasts because of their immediacy, but think about whether an event happening at 8 p.m. on a Saturday is something your target audience will be around the watch.
  • Do you have the right equipment? — “There’s some technology to match every [budget] level,” PhillyCAM’s Laura Deutch said. PhillyCAM uses LiveU, an HD device that costs the org around $3,000 for 24/7 tech support and the ability to connect to Wi-Fi; MobileCitizen, an internet service provider for nonprofits with plans for $10 per month; and Switchboard Live, which allows for simultaneously streaming for up to five outlets.
  • Is there good internet? — This sounds like a no-brainer, but many a livestream has been ruined for poor reception. Doing a test run at the filming location before the event will ensure smooth operations.
  • What will marketing look like? — Set up “events” on YouTube with start and end times and countdowns. Send out the streaming link beforehand. Above all, be sure to make the video’s first few seconds of content engaging, as uninterested viewers will tune out quickly.
  • Does this make ethical sense?Legally, you can record video in a public space. But ask yourself if the people attending the event you’re filming are expecting to be recorded, and if not, if there’s something you can do to get their permission.

Connect with Laura Deutch for further advice on live video practices at

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