Advice: Charities and the Service via Video Project

Each year, Next Vista for Learning asks students and teachers to tell the stories of those who make their communities better. Specifically, we ask for videos we can place in our online library that might inspire viewers, especially young viewers, to put their time, energy, and talent into helping others.

While the rules and logistics of the video contest are covered in the Service via Video project pages, in running this project we have been asked for a template guiding teachers for how to prepare students for this effort. We welcome your suggestions and critique with the material below.

Approaching the Service via Video Project

How long this project will take to accomplish depends on the grade level and how much of what's below will work well for any given group of students. Consider this as a set of possibilities for your class, adding, subtracting, and changing elements based on your needs.

Begin by letting students know the larger goal, which is to tell the stories of charitable efforts in their communities. Groups of students can pursue this goal by:

  • researching multiple charities,
  • contacting and keeping communication records for each charity,
  • reporting on initial outreach,
  • gathering material for a compelling video,
  • planning the video and getting feedback from multiple sources,
  • drafting a video,
  • revising it based on feedback from their peers, the teacher, and contacts at the charity, and
  • submitting to and acting on requests from Next Vista for Learning.

Research Multiple Charities

In the beginning stage, students should research several charities in their communities, using the charities' web sites and other tools to learn what they do. Students should make notes (collaboratively shared within their groups, ideally) with short descriptions of each charity's efforts, as well as how the charities can be contacted.

Looking ahead, it is always possible that students' first (and second) choices of charities will be unable to provide needed information for any number of reasons. Having a backup choice or two can help avoid problems in later stages of the project if a change needs to be made.

Contact Charities for Information on Volunteer Opportunities

Students should contact each charity on their list in order to determine which ones will be able to communicate with them reliably. Some charities are so understaffed that students might be unable to get replies to requests. Some might be so busy that they are unable to make time for the students. Some may simply not reply to initial requests for information.

An initial outreach can be focused on learning what opportunities the charity provides for those wanting to volunteer. Gathering this information can be helpful for formal community service programs the school may run, if your school collects such information. For the Service via Video project, this is the students' opportunity to determine which charities will be easiest to work with. Using what is gathered from this stage, students can choose first and second choices for moving forward with their projects.

Report on Initial Contacts

It might be constructive at this stage to take some time to have groups report to their class on what they have learned and which charity is their first choice for their video project. Learning how other groups have pursued their initial efforts can be motivating for those moving more slowly, but at core this is an opportunity for students to share ideas regarding possible approaches to their videos.

Once students have had feedback on their thinking as to choices and verified their first choice, it is time for the students to contact that charity to let them know they would like to make a video telling the story of their work. Students should be prepared for the possibility that a charity doesn't want a video made, and if so, they can move to contact their second choice.

Gather Material

A good video is the product of a well-planned story with good visuals. In contacting the chosen charity, one goal will be learning what help the students can get in gathering personal stories, visuals, and other materials.

Personal Stories

In addition to the story of the charity's work, it can be powerful to tell of the motivations and experiences of volunteers. Their quotes, either as text or recorded audio, can help the viewer better understand why the charity's work is important to the community.

When doing interviews, students should always show respect to those with whom they speak, and honor their time by letting them know how long they expect the interview to take. It is good practice to make sure the person interviewed is okay with the amount of time requested.


A compelling video will require a variety of visuals, and the charity might be able to provide photos and/or footage the students can use in building their video. Students should get written permission to use any material provided.

Students can also get their own photos and footage through a visit, interviews, and the like, but the goal should be to have as many different visuals to choose from as possible. When it comes to telling a story visually, having more than one needs is far better than not having enough.

In addition to getting their own and the charity's images, there are also legally usable music, sound effects, images, and footage available online. Many students have not had significant (or any) practice finding and citing Creative Commons-licensed media pieces, and this may be a good point in the project to help them learn this.

Simple Lesson in Citing a Legally Usable Source

First, have students go to CC Search and experiment with search terms that produce interesting pictures related to the work of the charity. Next, have them choose one to download, using the technique of saving the file with the citation information in the filename (detailed instructions for this). Finally, have students create a two-slide presentation in which the first slide has the name of the student and the image embedded, and the second slide has a written explanation of why that slide was chosen (Google Slides template for this).

Needless to say, searches for images can produce visuals that aren't appropriate for the classroom. If this happens in class, it is worth reminding students that at your school you choose to hold yourselves to higher standards, and students should simply close the window if a questionable image appears. A picture of a scantily clad woman, for example, might prompt you to remind students that the woman pictured is someone's daughter. Encourage them to treat people respectfully, and not as objects.

Contact Information

At the end of the video, students should provide viewers with web sites and/or phone numbers, perhaps with the name of a volunteer contact for the charity. Always verify with the charity that the information is correct. Viewers may wish to volunteer for and/or donate to the charity, and students' videos should help guide them to do so.

Crafting and Refining a Plan

With the story of the charity, quotes from interviews, and a variety of visuals, students can write up their plan for the video. Often they will want to begin making the video right away, but for stronger videos and more efficient use of time, it is much better to craft the piece in writing first.

With a written plan, students should get feedback from other students, teachers, and even the charity. Regardless of whether they will use the suggestions, it is proper to always thank those who provide ideas; if one disagrees with the critique, it is typically better to ask clarifying questions or simply make a few written notes rather than to argue with the person who has offered feedback.

Draft a Video

Students should then begin editing their video, keeping in mind that there will be more feedback to come. Staying organized with all material, perhaps by keeping media for the video in an easily-found folder, and a backup of the media saved elsewhere. The project itself should be drafted using a tool that allows one to easily make changes. During the editing phase, it continues to be important to get feedback. The better the advice, the stronger the finished video will be.

In later stages of revising the video, students should show the video to their contacts at the charity for their advice. If students have misrepresented something important about the charity's work, it is important to catch that before the video is posted publicly online, obviously.

Submit to Next Vista for Learning

Next Vista for Learning will donate to the charities highlighted in videos which are named finalists in the project's annual contest (see the rules for eligibility). To be named a finalist, videos will have to meet the rules of the Service via Video project, and Next Vista may have requests or suggestions for final changes for the videos submitted.

Students are encouraged to share the video with others. The strongest success for this project will be having these stories inspire others to help improve the lives of those in communities near and far.

The 2014 Service via Video winners