Illustration of writing an article on a laptop

ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Digital storytelling and video buying basics for nonprofits

Millennials and post-Millennials, Generation Z, live, eat, and likely even sleep, with their phones. The word Millennial has become so overused that it sounds less like a term for a generation and more like fingernails dragging down a chalkboard. Regardless, you can’t ignore the largest generation in American history and the hours they consume media online. Plus, unlike the upcoming Generation Z, Millennials have billions of dollars to spend -- or donate.

Obviously, this makes your video content very important. I constantly hear from nonprofit organizations struggling with how to effectively leverage the attention of this digitally-immersed audience. Below are some of the primary issues I see from nonprofits when trying to tell their stories through online videos: 


Your nonprofit sells bracelets made by youth from disadvantaged neighborhoods and 100% of the proceeds go to raise awareness about polluted water for endangered species in third-world countries with evil dictatorships. Huh?!

That’s too complicated. Keep it simple.

You don’t have to change the mission of your organization; however, try to get your mission statement down to one or two sentences. Even if you do have a highly complex program, you can highlight your best case study, or one compelling story from your most beloved advocate, volunteer, client, etcetera. In a video, your message needs to be immediate, concise, and captivating because you have approximately five seconds to get my attention.


YouTube, Facebook, and Snapchat, oh my! What platform are you putting your video on? This should help you determine the length of the video. Long form videos perform best on YouTube and if you run your video as pre-roll, you can target exactly who sees it. Or, create a short trailer for use on social media that can grab attention and then direct viewers to the full version, more appropriately placed on your website or blog. Either way, make sure the length of your video is right for the platform you’re placing it on.

If you hire an agency to help you with your digital marketing, make sure they are completely transparent with their strategy and distribution methods. $18.5 billion dollars went to fraudulent media buys last year. Obviously you want results for any dollars spent, so make sure you get what you pay for in terms of views and engagement. Needless to say your donors will not be happy if you’re not spending your funding appropriately.

We know who… so let’s skip to why!

Adults in the United States are watching 5.5 hours of video content on a daily basis. Consequently, it’s imperative that your video be well thought-out and well positioned, or it’s bound to get lost in the ether of available content.

If you do a media buy for your video, you have the ability to hit a very granular audience. Make sure your video has the appropriate targeting and its content is reflective of the group you hope to connect with. Know your audience, but more importantly, know why you’re telling them your story. Are you looking for general awareness, petition signatures, donations? Have a direction and don’t forget a call to action.

In 2012, 83% of Millennials made a financial gift to an organization. They are willing to donate time and money. This is the next generation of philanthropists. They are constantly seeking a new story to share and important causes to contribute to, especially through social media. Immediacy is something that they understand and want to help with in a meaningful way.

Finally, don’t let someone else tell your story, like an overzealous agency partner or an outspoken board member. The exception to this would be if you utilize a social media influencer. Influencers can add reach and resonance to your content, but only when the messaging is authentic and they genuinely care about your cause. Transparency is more than a buzzword. As more and more information is becoming available, transparency is critical to success -- especially because no one sniffs through cause-washing and hidden agendas faster than Millennials. We grew up with the answers at our fingertips -- we made Google a verb. So be true to your mission and execute your video stories from start to finish with uncompromising integrity.


Learn more:

Let the ASU Lodestar Center’s Nonprofit Management Institute help you with the next step! Enroll in NMI 112: Emerging Marketing and Social Media Strategies, taking place online April 18, 2016 to May 2, 2016. Register today here:




Audra Buras holds a master’s degree in communication studies from Arizona State University. At ASU, she teaches a course online about organizational dissent. She also works as a consultant at Buras Consulting and is the Chief Distribution Officer at IMMINENT Digital.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog