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In Less Than 30 Minutes, Create an Optimal Youtube Channel for Your Nonprofit (Without Uploading Any Video)

January 15, 2011
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In the recent years, you and your nonprofit have undoubtedly encountered online video as part of your work. You may have been the subject of a video or even started experimenting with making your own. Regardless of where you are in video production, it’s important to optimally set up your organization’s online infrastructure on Youtube.

You don’t even need to have made your own videos in order to have a presence on Youtube. On Google, video search results are now more prominently displayed. This means that if a potential supporter googles the cause or issue you work on, they are more likely to come across videos about your organization… no matter if they’re made by you or by others. Why not take advantage of this attention? An active and fleshed out Youtube channel demonstrates how important this type of digital communication is to your organization.

In less than 30 minutes, you can follow the first three steps below to create an optimal Youtube channel (Steps 4 & 5 take more time). Once all your ducks are in a row, videos about your organization will have more impact.

To start off, you may ask, why Youtube and not Vimeo, BlipTV, or any number of other video websites? While these sites might equally useful and have their own pluses, I’m focusing on Youtube because of it’s popularity and all the tools and perks they offer to nonprofit organizations.

First off, Youtube terms: Every Youtube account has a unique “username” and “channel”:

  • A username is what you use to sign into your account with and to upload/interact on the website. It is also part of the unique web address for your channel, ie. Once created, you can’t change your username.
  • A channel is your own webpage on Youtube where you can choose the title, layout and videos to display. Your channel is often the primary landing page for people when they look for you on Youtube or the webpage you should link to from your own website. Your username and channel title don’t have to be the same. You can always change the title of your channel.

Whether or not you have a Youtube channel yet, here’s a checklist of things to do when setting up your account (or if you’ve already got an account, steps that you take to optimize it). The first three steps will take less than 30 minutes to complete.

1. Create a Youtube account that’s accessible to your staff (now and in the future)

A. To activate an account, use a unique email address that more than one staff person has access to. If it exists, I recommend using the info@[your organization].org account for your organization. If you don’t have one of these, consider creating a Gmail account that links to the Youtube account (both sites are part of the same company).

B. Choose a username that relates to the name of your organization. Your username can only contain up to 20 letters A-Z or numbers 0-9. Your first choice might not be available so it might take time to find something available. Once you set up your account, you will use this username and password to access the channel. Later you can change the title of your channel (below).

C. When Youtube sends you an email to activate your account, save the email message. It’s vital that you save a “digital trail” for future staff. This email leaves a bread crumb showing what email the Youtube account is attached to. Archive this setup email message somewhere where others can find it in the future.

D. Create an accessible Word or Excel document that includes the username and password in it. With staff turnovers, it’s important to have this saved outside any one person’s brain. You can change the email attached to your Youtube account. But you can only have one Youtube channel per email address.

2. Apply for Youtube’s nonprofit program (see video above)

Youtube offers great perks for nonprofits like listing you in their directory, donate buttons and making it possible for you to embed clickable links to external websites like your own. While this might not seem important when you first start out, the approval process takes time. Why not go ahead and apply to get in the queue? Lots of other organizations are applying for this partnership, so why wait? Plus, once you’re approved, you’ll be able to experiment with and utilize these tools right when you need them. You must have current IRS 501(c)(3) status in order to be considered for this program.

To apply, you will need your organization’s Federal Tax ID number * and the names and contact information for key staff. To help you see what you’ll be asked, I’ve posted a PDF screenshot here.

First, make sure you’re logged in on your organization’s account. At the bottom of Youtube’s homepage, click “Creators and Partners” and then, on the left-side under “Partner Showcase“, click “Nonprofit Program“. Under the video, see the “Apply Now” section and click the Apply button to complete the online application.

* If your organization does not yet have 501(c)(3) status, use the name and Federal Tax ID number of your fiscal sponsor. For example, if you are fiscally-sponsored by the Tides Center, apply under the name “Tides Center – [your organization name]”. There is nothing wrong with this: you are using your sponsor’s tax ID while you applying for your own. You’re also avoiding getting automatically kicked out by Youtube’s application system.

3. Flesh out your channel

Once you’ve created your account and sign in, your username appears on the upper right of the Youtube webpage. Click on the arrow next to your username for a the drop-down menu to view your channel, inbox, etc.

A. Fill out your profile. Youtube offers you the opportunity to tell something about your organization in your profile: why not take advantage of it?

There are two ways to do this: Once signed in, find your username at the top right of any Youtube webpage. Click the arrow for the drop-down menu and select “Account” where you can edit your informaiton. You can also edit some of these sections directly on your channel (go to “My Channel” in the drop down menu).

  • Add the web address for your organization’s website.
  • Cut and paste “About” information from your website in your Youtube profile.
  • Add your logo as your profile image.

B. Choose a channel title and layout

Arrow shows where to type title

As mentioned earlier, you can choose your channel’s title (different from your username) and appearance. For example, you might like to title your channel with your organization’s real name, spaces and all. Once signed in, find your username at the top right of any Youtube webpage. Click the arrow for the drop-down menu and select “My Channel”. On your channel, towards the top of the page, are tabs for you to change “Settings” (like your channel name and “tags” or keywords), “Themes and Colors”, “Modules”, etc. Youtube offers several  color schemes and moveable modules for your channel. You can make your channel match your organization’s website. It’s also possible to upload a background image.

  • Change title of your channel.
  • Add channel tags.
  • Change the theme and colors for your channel.

C. Search for videos that spotlight your staff or organization and “favorite” them.

Two ways to "favorite" a video

Most likely there are already videos about your organization, cause, community or issue on Youtube. If you like them, “favorite” them (under each video) so supporters can see them too when they visit your channel (there are two ways to do this, see image to left). In the spirit of “share and share alike”, you can also create playlists of videos from partners and allies. You can also select what video you want as the central video on your channel: it doesn’t need to be your own but can be one of your favorites created by someone else.

  • Favorite 2 videos on your issue or cause.
  • Favorite 2 videos that feature your organization or staff.

D. Add friends and subscriptions.

Example of subscribe & friend buttons

Subscribe to the channels of your favorite video-makers. The subscribe button is usually next to their image or logo. You can “friend” individuals and other organizations on Youtube. This might seem superfluous but helps control commenting on your videos.

  • Subscribe to 3-4 other Youtube channels (i.e partner organizations, supporters, etc.).
  • Add 3-4 other Youtube users as friends (i.e partner organizations, supporters, etc.).

4. Help people find you

Let your supporters and followers know how to find your Youtube channel:


  • Put a Youtube icon, button or link on your organization’s website.
  • Add the channel web address to your Facebook fan page.
  • Through your Yotube profile, connect your channel to your Twitter account and Facebook fan page. Youtube will automatically send a tweet when you upload a video.

    Screenshot of inbox

5. Upkeep at least once a month

Just like pets and houseplants, Youtube channels need care and attention even if you don’t have new videos to upload.

  • Check your inbox for new friends requests and only add people you really know. To access your inbox, sign in. Find your username at the top right of any Youtube webpage. Click the arrow for the drop-down menu and select “Inbox”. Look for highlighted items like Comments and Friend Invites.
  • As you come across new videos on your issue or cause, favorite them (once you’re signed in).
  • Add partner or supporter videos to playlists (under each video).

Now you’re set!

I’ll have more tips of optimal uploading soon.

Let me know how you fare with these steps. Leave a comment below or drop me an email.

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