YouTube puts the social conscience in online video

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In the past year, nonprofits have been increasingly turning to the Internet to help tell their stories. This trend got what could potentially be a big boost with the announcement late last week that YouTube has launched a program offering nonprofits a free YouTube channel.

"This really validates how critical the Internet has become for all nonprofits," said Fred Waugh, VP of marketing for nonprofit software provider Convio Inc, Austin, TX.

He added that in the past year, his company's clients have grown their e-mail files by 50 percent. In addition, these organizations are increasingly interested in leveraging Web sites like YouTube and FaceBook to reach out to new constituents, according to Waugh.

The new program from YouTube, San Bruno, CA, will enable nonprofits to upload footage of their work, public service announcements, calls to action and more on a premium channel that will have enhanced branding features and increased upload capacity. The channel can serve as the nonprofit's hub for their uploaded videos while also providing a way for people to connect with the organization.

The Advertsing Council, a 60-year old nonprofit that works to create public service announcements, began uploading its videos to YouTube about 18 months ago. This announcement provides the group one more way to take advantage of the Web site, according to Barbara Shimaitis, senior vice president of Interactive Services at The Advertising Council, New York.

"It's a great distribution channel for non-profits, and at no cost,"   Shimaitis said. "Users can have alerts sent to them for new PSAs. If you, the user, are passionate about an issue, you can embed the video on your persona pages. Marketers and brands are interacting more and more with the user, this is another example."

At launch, there were 12 organizations participating in the YouTube nonprofit program in addition to the March of Dimes. They include 24 Hours for Darfur, American Cancer Society, Autism Speaks, 92nd Street Y, Strong American Schools' ED in æ08, Friends of the Earth, International Rescue Committee, YouthNoise, The ONE Campaign, The Clinton Global Initiative and World Vision Australia.

"Video, unlike any other medium, allows nonprofits to give a tangible demonstration of their efforts, connect with people and exponentially widen their reach," said Douglas Staples, SVP of strategic marketing and communications at March of Dimes, in a statement.

"We'll use our YouTube channel to reach out to an audience of all ages and engage them in our mission," he continued.

Visitors to a nonprofit's YouTube channel will also be able to make donations using Google Checkout for Non-Profits.

Concurrent with last week's announcement, Google Inc., Moutain View, CA, which owns YouTube, also announced that it has expanded its online payment method Google Checkout to include nonprofits.

Late last week, product manager Prem Ramaswami posted a message on the Google Checkout blog introducing the new service for nonprofits. Through at least the end of 2008, Google Checkout will be free to nonprofits, enabling them to accept online donations without having to pay any transaction fees. Donors can complete a donation with just their Google login.

Google introduced Checkout in June 2006 and has been trying to hasten its adoption by retailers, and now nonprofits, with aggressive money-saving promotions.

Google hopes the service will "increase the volume of transactions by making the process as simple and secure as possible for everyone involved," Ramaswami said in his post.

While everyone seems to have recognized that the Internet is an effective way to reach constituents and new donors, Convio's Waugh said nonprofits are in a unique position.

"Nonprofits are really interested in building a relationship with donors over time," he said."They now need to focus on how to interact with donors online that eventually leads to them becoming a lifelong supporter," he said.

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