The Problem with Putting your Nonprofit’s Videos on YouTube

By Josh Gold

When you make a film for your website or for a campaign, it’s a pretty common practice to host it on YouTube. YouTube is free, and it’s a site where people spend a lot of time watching videos. What could be better?

Turns out, a lot of things.

What’s wrong with YouTube?

There’s nothing wrong with YouTube, per se. It’s just not built for your video goals. YouTube is very good at their business – and their business is getting people to stay on YouTube and watch ads, generating revenue for – you guessed it – YouTube.

Think about it; once you watch one YouTube video, there’s a good chance you’re going to spot something tailored just for you on the sidebar and stick around for more.

Everything about the way YouTube is structured is designed to keep people on the site, not to send them off to do other things.

That isn’t what you want for your videos, though. You want viewers to be moved to take action – signing up for a mailing, making a donation, making contact with you, applying to your programs. These are things that they need to be on your site to do, and it’s challenging enough to get viewers to take these steps when they’re already there. If you start them off on YouTube, they’re another step removed. Just putting your videos on YouTube decreases the effectiveness of your campaign.

Not to mention…

Location, location, location

What kind of content is popular on YouTube? “Nonprofit-related” probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. More like cat videos, late night talk show clips, music videos, and home videos of cute kids.

If you’re hoping to get traction on the site organically, just from your appearance in everyday search results, you may not have thought this through. Site visitors aren’t usually searching for the kinds of terms that will put on you the front page.

Furthermore, is the YouTube audience even the right audience for your video?

If someone finds your video by searching on YouTube, is this person likely to become an active member of your support base? Are they likely to share it further? Even if you get a decent number of views, how valuable will they be?

As we’ve said, YouTube viewers aren’t there for you; they’re there for YouTube. They have no connection to your organization and they’re less likely to be motivated by your call to action. When you’re deciding where to host your video, it’s a good idea to consider where you will find the best audience for your cause.

The numbers dont look great, either.

Let’s put all that to the side and say you do manage to build an audience for your video. Let’s even say that viewers do heed your call to action. Guess what? Even then, you still won’t be getting the full benefit out of your video if you host it on YouTube.


Because YouTube is still getting all the credit for your video.

All those hits aren’t helping your website show up higher in Google’s search rankings. They aren’t earning you SEO (search engine optimization) points. If you want your success to drive more traffic to your site, you need to have your video hosted there and there alone. Even embedding doesn’t help, nor does keeping the video unlisted on YouTube.

Furthermore, because of all these factors, it can be hard to track your video metrics. If you aren’t controlling the environment around your video, you won’t be able to make much sense of how people interact with it, and you won’t be able to respond and adapt effectively.

What’s the alternative?

Sorry to say it, but paid video hosting services are the way to go. It makes sense, if you look at it through the lens we’ve been talking about. If you’re not paying a hosting site, they’re not working for you. It’s always a good idea to follow the money.

Vimeo’s paid, for-business account is a solid, budget-conscious option. It allows you to keep your videos from appearing on and, as a result, to start getting some benefit from your video metrics.

For more advanced control and features, give Wistia a look. They have a faster-loading player, more detailed analytics, and excellent customer support. If you can afford it, they’re definitely my top pick. (UPDATE: They offer a 10% discount to nonprofits; just ask at checkout.)

You can also check out VidyardBrightcove, or SproutVideo.

In other words

YouTube might be free, but it’s not going to help you get the full benefit out of your investment in video. That’s why it’s a good idea not to make YouTube your primary site for video hosting. Instead, consider paid sites that won’t distract viewers from your call to action, will drive traffic to your site, and will help you build the right audience for your cause.

Josh Gold, owner of Serio Films, has helped nonprofits raise millions of dollars through video-based marketing. You can follow Josh and his team over at and