Show & Tell: Using B-Roll to Visualize Stories through Video

Video is a Visual Medium

There’s a reason you’re using video. It’s an effective way to introduce people to what you do — and calls them to act. With video, you reveal what someone would see if they were with you in-person, first-hand. Your organization is accomplishing even more than a well-crafted mission statement on your website. You’re affecting people, benefitting them, providing relief and giving hope. It’s time we show that.

Watching a nonprofit director rattling off statistics or stating your process may be informative, but is it compelling? Is it triggering a response in the viewer? This is the value of video. Video can summon both emotion and mental reactions, both of which draw your viewers to a better understanding of what you do — and even more importantly, inviting them to participate.

Consider showing, not just telling, your story.


Show & Tell with Video

Use video to both show and tell, crafting a compelling and well-rounded story to share why your organization exists and what you’re accomplishing. 

“Show” great footage + “Tell” through engaging content. This is a meaningful combination.



  • Be intentional with what the viewer sees. This could include where you choose to film your interview, as well as any additional footage (called "b-roll"). 


  • Be intentional with crafting the story well, from beginning to end. Whether the content of your story is told through an interview, a voiceover or text on-screen, make sure you have a clear message and call to action.


B-Roll Amplifies a Viewer's Connection

Often videos rely so heavily on telling the story verbally that we forget that supplemental footage can really hit home with viewers. In addition to seeing interviews, there’s more you can show to bring the viewer into your story.


What is B-Roll?

What you see on camera that is not an interview or text on-screen is called b-roll in the film industry. This is supplemental footage, incorporated within the story, weaving in and out, drawing the viewer into the story visually. Showing footage of what’s being said reinforces your message. This could include people, objects, signs, an environment or specific location. Use b-roll to show what's pivotal to the context of your story: who, what, when, where — and ultimately why.

Take your audience to the “front lines” of what your organization is accomplishing: people interacting, faces showing excitement, children playing, care packages being assembled — lives being affected. Show a human element. This will make the explanation of your process and statistics “stick,” once the viewer sees them personified by real people and experiences.


Visual Techniques for Capturing B-Roll

The supplemental footage you gather can look a lot of different ways, though it should all be motivated by your story. If you’ve had time to develop an all-encompassing “creative concept” before filming, you’ll know more of what you’re looking for and how you want to capture it. If you’re capturing footage of a live event “on the fly,” think on your feet and keep an eye out for imagery all around you.

Briefly, here are some visual techniques to consider for capturing b-roll footage:



  • If you’re talking about the bi-lingual pamphlets you provide, show those pamphlets.



  • Often considered “artsy,” these shots might be more environmental. Capture the string of lights above a crowd, the worn shoes of a child by the front door or purposefully compose a shot out-of-focus or with little visual clues to let the audience interpret it how they'd like. Keep it ambiguous. You can even frame an abstract shot to place text on-screen during post-production.



  • Like how a cross is symbolic of the Christian faith, show items or signs that reveal more than a surface-level, literal meaning. A cup of coffee by itself could symbolize loneliness, where two cups on a table could symbolize community or friendship.



  • Negative or downturns in the story could show items or places that are typically cold — like cement, ice, darkness. The opposite would be to reveal sunlight when hope enters the story.



  • Give more depth to who is speaking or who is being shared about. Feature them smiling at the camera, wringing their hands, with a grimace or other facial expression. Convey emotion through images of people.

Of course there are others, but that’s a lot to run with — see what you can apply!

Intentional Imagery in Video

Even more than just showing your organization’s activities, b-roll is effective for pulling on emotional ties. Because video is visual, use your imagination to bring a story to life.

The goal is to be intentional. B-roll should be driven — motivated — by your story. Let me emphasize that again: b-roll is a reflection of your story. And as the two intertwine, your video will take on more life-like honesty. As the story is told and images are being shown to reflect the who, what, where and why, it’ll be more effective for compelling your viewer to act.

Here are a handful of examples, as well as frames of the b-roll images with each that really hit home. Study these to see how these simple, though intentional, b-roll images reflect the stories being told.


Show poverty with dignity

People's City Mission // "Connect to the Story"

Using portrait shots, we see the faces of real people who are benefitting from the organization. Even with their own challenges, we see individuals prospering as a result of the work People's City Mission is doing.

Show a Journey

Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries // “Heart of Camp 2016”

Largely metaphoric, the contrast between warm summer days and the cold dead of winter reveal the story — how Erin started out skeptical then came to see her story taking on more meaning. Through a voiceover in her own words, she talks through her journey. Meanwhile, we watch her trek through the elements of snow and steep stairs as she processes where she was and where she is now.


Christian Heritage // "What If?"

Most everyone can relate to loneliness, perhaps even isolation. It's made clear with literal b-roll of this young boy alone in a room, with the countenance of sadness and a bleak outlook. As the woman is debating what it would require to be a foster parent, we see the consequences of her decision — a young boy, perhaps abandoned. We feel the tension, because whether she says "yes" or "no" might determine the boy's future.

Show Suspense

Fremont Health // "Second Chance"

With the opening scenes largely abstract and metaphoric, the combination of cold snow and deep darkness builds suspense in the story's unknown.


Homes for Our Troops // "Navy PO2 Ret. Timony Birkhead"

Sometimes you just need to see someone's unhindered joy to demonstrate hope. In this story of a mother and son, we incorporated Cinematic Gold footage of them receiving the news of being awarded a new home — and nothing could truly reveal their joy more than seeing their genuine reactions! We see hope through smiling portrait shots and Timothy sharing about his young daughter, since we know that having a new home will affect her future as well.

Show danger

Tiny Hands International // "Trafficked"

This video is very conceptual, relying heavily on abstract images driven by the foreign environment, giving a clear setting to the story. We don't see trafficking in our day-to-day lives, so the dramatizations of what the girls have experienced bring us face-to-face with the danger young women are facing. In a very realistic way, this b-roll brings our understanding of trafficking's severity to a new level.

Show Caution

Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation // "Josh the Otter"

Pools, bathtubs and water are normal things for us to see, but in the context of this story, we're meant to view them differently. Through literal images of ordinary scenes, water now serves as a metaphor for danger, loss and caution.

Show Independence

Homes for Our Troops // “Rebuilding Lives: The Fanenes”

Another example of literal b-roll, we see how an ADA-accessible home impacts the lives of an injured veteran and his family. We could choose only to talk about the house, but it is more effective to see the contrast of the old home and to now see Sgt. Fanene able to function with much more ease in his new home. We see the adaptations that make it possible for him to live independent of his injuries' limitations.


Once you know your One Big Idea, purposefully capture the story behind it. Capitalize on the visual nature of video. Images and the emotion they stir up will stick with people, drawing them into your cause and moving them to action.

Share examples of your videos in the comments below. Tell us all about what you're illustrating through b-roll!