Secrets to making a great nonprofit video

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Today, we announced the winners of the YouTube Nonprofit Video Awards, a celebration of the best videos from organizations in the YouTube Nonprofit Program over the past year. The four victorious videos are spotlighted on the YouTube homepage today.

Over 750 videos were submitted to this year’s awards, ranging from quirky narratives about how life on another planet relates to equal rights on Earth to honest testimonials from young dancers. In other words, these videos don’t have a lot in common, except for these central tenets which should guide anyone wanting to create compelling videos for nonprofit organizations. (If this is you, please check out our Video Volunteers program.)

1. Content is still king

First and foremost, you want to make sure that your video is appropriate for the organizational goals you want to hit. Before you start filming, sit down and figure out what you want to accomplish and whom you want to reach. A video targeting high-dollar donors may look very different from one that’s intended to train your volunteers.

Then, think about ways that you can put a creative spin on your video. Good, original content — whether it’s heartfelt and serious or light and humorous — goes a long way on YouTube. Here are a few approaches you may think about taking:

a) Tell serial stories. Engage viewers with a series of videos that tell a story around a specific theme, and keep them coming back for more. Once you've created a few episodes, put them into a playlist. This allows you to develop several video narratives targeted at particular demographics. A good example is Rainforest Action Network’s “Greenwash of the Week” series or “Oxfam’s Green Granny” series.

b) Respond to current events. Address relevant news stories by posting videos that explain your position. You can then embed them in emails to your supporters — a video message can be more effective than a text-laden email. Also, users are probably more likely to be searching for topics currently in the news and may be more likely to find your video organically through the YouTube search bar. You’ll want to be sure to tag your video with timely and relevant words.

c) Make your audience part of the video. Using annotations, you can create a “choose your own adventure”-style video, which puts the viewer in the driver’s seat and allows them to decide their video “fate.” Two great nonprofit examples of this style are “A Different Ending,” a campaign combating knife crime in the U.K., and “That’s Not Cool,” a campaign from the Ad Council about staying safe online.

2. You don’t need a Hollywood budget to succeed

Gone are the days when you need a large camera crew to make sure people watch your video; some of the most successful videos on YouTube have been created with an extremely minimal budget. Your organization can get started with video even if you only have a few hundred dollars; for example, the Flip Video Spotlight program offers nonprofits a two-for-one deal on their Flip Ultra cameras (which averages out to about $60 per camera).

Another alternative, if you’re low on staff and monetary resources, is to participate in the YouTube Video Volunteers. Each month, the program features a different issue (this month it’s climate change) and matches nonprofits who need help with video creation with passionate YouTube users who can produce content. The top three volunteer videos are put on the YouTube homepage at the end of the month. Here are the winning videos from last round, which focused on global development:

3. It’s OK to follow the leader

Here’s a piece of advice your boss will probably never give you: start watching a few popular YouTube videos every day, even if they have seemingly nothing to do with your organization. You may not see the connection between your issues and Fred, a sneezing panda or Dancing Matt, but these videos are resonating with a huge number of people on YouTube. See if you can replicate elements of these viral videos in your own organization’s content. Seriously, couldn’t Keyboard Cat be the next poster cat for animal welfare?

The Pink Glove Dance,” arguably the most viral nonprofit video ever with over 8 million views, followed this method beautifully. The Portland St. Vincent Medical Center snatched a page right out of the J.K. Wedding playbook.

Nonprofits can also apply for the YouTube Nonprofit Program, available in U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia, which offers free premium perks like branded channels, the ability to add call-to-action overlays to videos to drive traffic to external sites, and the ability to add a Google Checkout button to your channel. These tools can add another layer of interactivity to the content you’re creating.

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