Through an arrangement with TechSoup, PND is pleased to offer a series of articles about the effective use of technology by nonprofits.

A Few Good Tools for Video Editing

Before the digital revolution, videos — like still photographs — were actually shot on film. Editing them involved cutting out individual frames and splicing the filmstrip back together, a tedious and expensive process that resulted in lots of little plastic squares on the cutting room floor. You also had to move through all previous footage to reach the scenes you wanted to edit, more or less requiring you to edit the film in the order in which you shot it.

These things, along with expensive equipment and production costs, made producing a video a pipe dream for many nonprofits and libraries. But times have changed, editing video is easier than ever, and the costs of equipment, production, and editing tools keep going down as new technology and software hit the market.

The software available today makes editing digital footage faster, easier, and much more affordable and puts it within reach of anyone with a personal computer. Even better, digital video editing is "nonlinear," which means you can access the scenes you want to edit directly. This helps speed up the process, especially for a short, Internet-ready video for which you just need to trim off the ends and add a title screen or two.

About Video Editing

You'll never shoot a perfect video from start to finish in one take. A phone might ring, the wind could pick up, the sun could cause glare, or a dog might start barking. Editing lets you cull the best parts from several takes and combine them into one — or, more simply, cut the bad parts out of a single take.

How much do you need to edit your footage? It depends on what type of video you're making and who your audience will be. A video to show your donors at a fundraising gala may require a professional touch, but a "guerilla" or documentary-style video — a quick and simple one designed for the Internet that forgoes high production values in favor of a spontaneous look and feel — doesn't need to be polished and perfect. You might just add some titles or credits and trim out unwanted bits, like when your talent forgot a line or tripped over something.

It is possible to over-edit your video. All the software options mentioned in this article come with special effects that can enhance your video. Don't overuse them; a little goes a long way. Some effects look cheap and gimmicky and will distract the audience from your message. Others, like "dissolves," which let you transition between clips, and fades-to-black can be used safely with some regularity.

Different tools offer different approaches to editing and degrees of usability. Let's look at them one at a time.

Free Tools

There are several free or very low-cost solutions that let you make short videos or slideshows with minimal edits. Here are a couple of examples:

Animoto. Free for nonprofits, Animoto technically is not video-editing software but a Web site that allows you to create professional-looking slideshows quickly and easily by uploading and arranging your photos. The site also includes a library of copyright-free music you can add to your slideshow, as well as a variety of themes and backgrounds. Although Animoto won't solve all your video needs, a polished slideshow can be a great way to thank donors, volunteers, and other supporters online or at a gala or other event.

YouTube. The popular video streaming site now provides a handful of editing features. You can add up to seven of your previously uploaded videos into a basic timeline, trim them, and add transitions, titles, and other effects to create a new video. These features probably won't be the best choice for someone who needs to create a lot of videos, but they are a compelling option for organizations that need to edit videos infrequently.

In addition, mobile devices that shoot video, like smartphones and tablets, have started to offer basic editing functionality, and mobile apps can add more features. However, built-in microphones on these devices are designed for phone calls, not videos, and the audio quality suffers as a result. Some small cameras also allow you to edit videos on-screen and offer higher audio and video quality than smartphones. They might be attractive low-cost options for beginners looking to make a few short videos.

Beginner Tools

These generally free or low-cost options may already be installed on your computer and are a good way to get your feet wet with video editing.

Windows Movie Maker. Windows Movie Maker is a good tool for people just getting started with editing, and the prevalence of Windows computers means you're likely to already have it in-house. Movie Maker is good at basic tasks such as trimming clips and adding titles, transitions, and soundtracks. But it offers limited file options for exporting edited videos or converting clips and files from one format to another. Movie Maker comes pre-installed on most Windows PCs and is available as a free download from Microsoft.

iMovie. Apple computers have a long history of being used for creative purposes, including editing video. iMovie, pre-installed on all recent Macs, is a surprisingly powerful and easy-to-use editing program designed for beginners. While Apple computers have grown in popularity, they are still uncommon in most nonprofit offices — if your organization has one, this is a logical choice for editing your videos. This software comes pre-installed on Apple computers and is available for $50 as part of iLife.

Adobe Premiere Elements. With an interface similar to iMovie's, Premiere Elements is an affordable and beginner-friendly editing tool. It's a step up from Windows Movie Maker because it provides more advanced functions and allows for importing and exporting many more different file types. While iMovie users should have little trouble adjusting, Premiere Elements requires a longer learning curve than Movie Maker. It's available for $99 retail, or for $15 for eligible organizations through TechSoup.

More Advanced Tools

While more expensive and technically demanding than the beginner tools, these options provide more powerful features and greater flexibility for experienced and power users.

Adobe Premiere Pro. A significant step up in price and functionality, Premiere Pro has little in common with Premiere Elements and uses a substantially different interface. It works well with other Adobe products, however, including the Creative Suite and After Effects, which, if used correctly, can create high-quality special effects for your video. Several blockbuster Hollywood films have been edited using this software, which means it's certainly feature-rich enough for most nonprofits. Available for $799 retail, or $70 for eligible organizations through TechSoup as a component of Adobe CS5.

Final Cut Pro X. Apple's Final Cut Pro has long been the leading alternative to more expensive editing software like Avid and is a logical progression from introductory software like iMovie. With the release of Final Cut Pro X, Apple has geared the professional-level software to a wider consumer base, simplifying the interface — which will be familiar to iMovie users — and making it more accessible to the average nonprofit user. It's available for $300 for Apple computers. The previous consumer-level discounted version, Final Cut Express, has been discontinued by Apple but can still be found for under $200 on some Web sites and continues to be supported.

Other High-End Solutions

If you're skilled-or savvy enough and have high-end video production needs — and a budget to support them — there are numerous video solutions available on the market. Avid Technology makes the best-known, including the core of its product suite, Media Composer, which costs several thousand dollars and requires a powerful computer to run properly. Avid also has a range of lower-priced solutions, but if your need for video editing is sufficient enough to need such tools, you're likely better off contracting a professional video editor.

Additional Resources

Thanks to the following nonprofit technology professionals for providing recommendations, advice and other help:

Copyright © 2012 CompuMentor. This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License.