Low-Budget Video Production: Visual Communication for Small Charities


Tot Foster

In 2020, Tot Foster was awarded a VSSN Development Opportunity Grant to fund a workshop for charity staff on how to produce videos on a small budget. Here she reflects on the process and sets out how all charities can make use of video, including her new online course.

Telling stories about impact, talking to supporters, reaching out, collaborating with service users – video can do so much for small charities. And in these strange times anything that can help with online communications has got to be good. But there’s a problem – not many small charities are making the most of video. It’s seen as expensive, time-consuming, and technically tricky to make. But it doesn’t need to be.

I worked for many years mentoring and producing videos with charities. I saw a lack of video training that really takes on board working with little time and money, in challenging situations with vulnerable people. So, to cut a long story short, I’m now at the end of a PhD researching and designing a production process to help charities start making their own low or no-budget videos. This is where the VSSN development grant comes in. My research has a very practical application which isn’t going to be realised by my thesis sitting on the shelf. So, with the help of VSSN, in October 2020 I held a day-long online workshop for nine charity staff. They came from organisations working with all sorts of people from refugees to children with learning difficulties. We had fun watching videos, brainstorming in break-out rooms, filming dogs and pianos and tinned soup on our phones. That was followed up by one-to-one mentoring sessions for whoever wanted it, on films they’ve got in mind. Three people went on to make brilliant films in their organisations straight after. You can see one of them here.

But that wasn’t the only good thing to come out of the grant. The plan was always to use this session as a learning opportunity to inform the writing of an online course. The brilliant Sorrel Parsons from Superhighways (who had hosted the workshop and recruited participants) got everyone to fill in detailed evaluations. That feedback helped me better understand changes that needed to be made. Since I applied for the development grant, the Open University funded me to write a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) called ‘Low-budget video production – visual communication for small charities’. It’s now finished and is peppered with lots of low budget videos, some made in my bedroom out of cardboard! The MOOC is now live and available here: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/low-budget-video-production-for-small-charities. The first course starts on 8 March 2021, and then will be made permanently available.

Thanks to the development grant I learned lots of valuable lessons from the workshop that have gone into the MOOC: make it as interactive as possible, include suggestions for specific bits of kit, and do my best to de-mystify the editing process. I also then ran a spin-off workshop on animation you can do in lockdown (getting the cardboard out again) at the Superhighways online conference, Impact Aloud. Thank you so much to VSSN for supporting the dissemination of my work with a development grant, contributing in a small way to digital development in the sector. Thanks too to Superhighways and the Open University.

The MOOC ‘Low-budget video production – visual communication for small charities’ is hosted by Futurelearn https://www.futurelearn.com/, and is now available for registration at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/low-budget-video-production-for-small-charities. It involves 3 hours of learning per week for four weeks and is free.

You can find information on Superhighways at https://superhighways.org.uk/. They provide training and advice on all things digital for small and medium voluntary organisations within the London area.