Why You Don’t Need To Be Like Kony 2012 To Tell Your Nonprofit’s Story On YouTube

While it’s hard to argue with 70 million hits, it shouldn’t take a multi-million-dollar budget like the one behind the viral hit to send a powerful message.

Why You Don’t Need To Be Like Kony 2012 To Tell Your Nonprofit’s Story On YouTube
Flickr user William Hook

First off, if you’re unfamiliar with Kony 2012, allow us to welcome you back from your cave and then invite you to read this. And watch this. Caught up? Good.


In just four days, the people behind the nonprofit organization Invisible Children have gone from relative unknowns to viral sensations to targets of widespread criticism, having now been accused of manipulating facts, disempowering Africans, and aligning themselves with a Ugandan army that has allegedly violated its own share of human rights.

Whenever an organization reaches a massive audience as quickly as Invisible Children has, a vocal opposition is bound to arise, whether its complaints are valid or not. But one criticism that’s difficult to ignore is the fact that only about one-third of Invisible Children’s budget is devoted to providing on-the-ground assistance in areas affected by the warlord Joseph Kony and his army, while the rest is focused on raising awareness, partly through documentaries like Kony 2012. (An Invisible Children spokesperson defended this financial model in an email to Co.Exist.)

While you can’t argue with 70 million hits (and counting), it shouldn’t take a multi-million-dollar production/promotion budget to send a powerful message. Just ask YouTube, which on Wednesday announced the inaugural class of its Next Cause program, a group of 20 nonprofits “who’ve demonstrated passion and huge potential for using YouTube to further their causes.” And while none of these videos possesses the scope, narrative command, or budget of Kony 2012, that doesn’t make their causes any less worthy. And furthermore, if you can tell your story through a few days’ work and the copy of iMovie that came pre-loaded on your Mac, then it frees up resources to put toward, you know, actually doing the things people are giving you money to do.

Here are three of the best videos made on the cheap from nonprofits selected for YouTube’s Next Cause program (while these are some of our favorites, we recommend checking out all 20):

International Fund for Animal Welfare

In this gripping video, the IFAW’s Marine Mammal Rescue and Research teams save the lives of as many dolphins as possible after what the organization refers to as “one of the largest common dolphin stranding events on record.”

If Kony 2012 is like the Avatar of awareness videos, this is its arthouse cousin. The conspicuous absence of music and narration lends the video a naturalistic tone, making the viewer feel right in the middle of the action.


COTS–Committee on the Shelterless

One of the slogans for the Bay Area’s Committee on the Shelterless (COTS) is “A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out.” The video below illustrates this point not by a barrage of statistics or faceless narration, but by turning the camera on a man whose life was saved by COTS and letting him tell his story. About halfway through the video, the speaker tells a joke that earns some laughs from the until-now invisible audience. This moment reveals that he’s been talking live the entire time, without the benefit of multiple takes or tricky editing, rendering his heartfelt words even more powerful. The whole video drives home the point that while high production values and savvy social media tactics can help your organization reach a massive audience, there’s no replacement for brutal honesty and sincerity.

Born Free

In the time it takes to watch the 30-minute-long Kony 2012, you could watch this 20-second video posted by the conservation group Born Free nearly 100 times. Instead of focusing on big narratives, Born Free uploads short clips of animals merely living their lives: eating, communicating, or, as in the video below, playing. By celebrating even the simplest instances of animal behavior, Born Free’s videos cut straight to the heart of what they’re fighting for, and why it’s worth protecting.