Nonprofits on YouTube: Start with Strategy




Lots of nonprofits are jumping on YouTube , but I’m worried that too few of their productions have strategic underpinnings. My advice is: get strategic, then get creative.

Individuals may be able to get away with uploading schlock on YouTube, but organizations can’t. You need to be as laser-like in crafting messages for your video as you are crafting messages for an annual report or a news release. Otherwise, you’ve wasted your budget on footage that does nothing to develop your viewer’s emotional engagement with your cause and support for your organization.

For nonprofits new to video production, I recommend working with a professional video producer at least for your first video. You can learn a lot from that experience—maybe enough to buy a videocam and do it yourself.

Before you ever hire that producer, know exactly what you want your video to achieve (e.g., conversation, donations, awareness, person-to-person dissemination, issue framing, concrete actions); who are its chief audiences; how will it be used; what are the 1-3 priority take-away messages; AND what’s your call to action. Once you’ve moved people, be sure to tell them what you want them to do.

With that information, you and the videographer can build an interesting story arc that not only entertains, but enlightens and persuades. The trick is to stick to your guns—even gorgeous footage and terrific quotes that aren’t on message should be cut. (Keep them for some other video you might make, or edit them into features for your website.) Remember, shorter is better. YouTube’s limit is 10 minutes. Here’s some basic technical information on making videos from YouTube.

Don’t forget your marketing plan. Uploading to YouTube is just a beginning. (Be sure to apply for a YouTube page through their Nonprofits Program portal–it gets you page branding tools not otherwise available, plus a video tutorial.) Think creatively about all the ways you can let key audiences know that your video is up there, and how you can encourage them to respond to it and share it. Try to enrich your YouTube page over time to keep people coming back. And, if you’re in Minnesota, don’t foget to post your video to MNStories, our own YouTube site.

Other general video production tips:

  • This is about storytelling and human relationships. Take a cue from novelists and start somewhere in the middle, not at the beginning. Very linear videos are great for training, but dull for storytelling.
  • Try to make this video about your cause, the NEED for your organization. Keep focus on your impact , not your activities.
  • Feature beneficiaries of your work, not only experts, peers, partners. Voices of those who need your services and are postively affected by what you do are your most powerful spokespersons.
  • When interviewing, ask the right questions of the right people. Make sure your videographer is a skilled interviewer working from a list of carefully considered interviewees. Draft questions for each interviewee so you can elicit answers that deliver the messages you want.
  • Use text to reinforce major points, but don’t overdo it. Use b-roll footage for emotional connection and impact. Keep people at the forefront, facilities are not that interesting.
  • Keep it real. You’re not striving for an Oscar, you’re striving to move the needle. Low-budget productions can be more authentic than glitzy productions…and authenticity is what people are hungry for.

Having said all that, here’s an example of a very innovative and authentic YouTube video about homelessness called “Mankind is No Island” by Jason van Genderen (obviously an individual not a nonprofit). No surprise it won an international short film award at last year’s Tropfest. The surprise is that it was made entirely with images taken by a guy on his cell phone. This not a model for what you should try right away, but an example of how creative you can get with only 3 minutes of this medium.

Other tips for nonprofit YouTubers?

CC photo credit: andreanilsson1976


8 Responses to “Nonprofits on YouTube: Start with Strategy”

  1. Chris Henne Says:

    Wow, I couldn’t agree more. Would love to try this out.

  2. Scotty Presas Says:

    I have had this happen. good advice, wish I had read this a month ago.

  3. Jenny Says:

    I really enjoyed that post.I will be reading a lot more of this blog.But

  4. floridavideoproduction Says:

    Great video, wow.Simple but ….


  5. Laurie Says:

    I am planning to take your advice and work first with a professional to produce a 4-5 minute video on our critical needs program. I was referred to a local agency and they asked me to include a budget in my RFP/project synopisis (thanks, too, for other good points in the above post that I will make sure to incorporate). Is there some guidance you can give me on budget? I have no idea since I’ve not done any thing like this before. The objective of the video is to serve as the moving part of our case for support….

    • IMPACTMAX Says:

      Hi Laurie,

      You may not want to hear this, but the rule of thumb is $1,000 per minute of finished video (includes editing). So, you’re probably talking here about a $4,000-5,000 production budget. It can be more if you require a lot of location shooting in different places. The videographer does the lion’s share of the work–but just be sure s/he’s crystal clear about your objectives and messages. Good luck!

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