Nonprofit Viral Marketing: 4  steps to create your best video

The Brief
A well-crafted video is a powerful marketing tool for your nonprofit. But you want to maximize your reach—you know, go viral—and, that means, above all else, keeping your audience in mind.


Storytelling is the engine of all great movement, and there is no greater story-telling tool than video. Executed well, it packs a dual punch: emotional engagement and the potentially very long reach, i.e., virality. Before I worked in the nonprofit world, I was a television and web producer in New York City. At CollegeHumor, I learned there’s no magic formula to ensure going viral. But you can increase the chances that your video is seen by as many people as possible by following this simple rule: Always keep the audience in mind. Always. These steps will make sure you do that:

“Executed well, packs a dual punch: emotional engagement and the potentially very long reach, i.e., virality.”
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1. Know who you’re talking to. Part of CollegeHumor’s success is it knows its audience cold (mostly frat boys). Similarly, it knows full well who it is not. There is no expectation that what works for their viewership would work for the Susan G. Komen crowd. Your demographic—who they are, how old they are, what they’re passionate about—drives your storytelling. For example, when I produced this video for The Greater Delaware Valley Multiple Sclerosis Society, we decided to take a light, youthful tone because we were using the video to sell tickets to an event thrown by the Young Friends of the MS Society here in Philadelphia.  

2. Keep it succinct. My general timeframe for video is three minutes and 30 seconds or shorter. Remember, you’re competing for attention with email, phone calls and text messages. Three minutes, more or less, is plenty of time to get a message across—if you can craft a compelling hook that pulls them in within the first 20 seconds. This Alex’s Lemonade Stand video is a perfect example of how to keep it short and simple, while still making a strong emotional appeal.

“Your demographic—who they are, how old they are, what they’re passionate about—drives your storytelling.” 
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3. Tell your truth. Make no mistake, emotion should be at the heart of every story. But beware insincerity; outreach that feels overly scripted turns viewers off.  This video for Bringing Hope Home, an organization that helps families of cancer patients pay their nonmedical bills, is infused with emotion but is not overly stagey.

4. Don’t be shy. What’s the point of a million views if those watching can’t share who you are when it’s done? Every video gives you a chance to leave your calling card with a potential donor or supporter. Be sure to include a link to your website or donor site.  This video I produced for Minds Matter Philadelphia ends with the kind of effective and clear call to action I’m talking about.

The Takeaway: 
Before you engage in a video campaign, do your homework. Understanding your audience—their passions, concerns and how they value their time—will help you hone a message that reaches further and maximizes your impact. 


Hilary Young is the owner and creative director of Hilary Young Creative, a boutique consulting firm that provides nonprofits and small businesses with creative strategy, and a blogger for the Huffington Post, ThirdAge.com and Blogher.com. This is her first post for RelSci.

RelSci is a technology solutions company that helps create competitive advantage for organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers. 

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