News and analysis
November 17, 2015

YouTube Helps Drive Donations, Google Study Says

Social media’s potential to generate actual giving — as opposed to just clicks, "likes," retweets, and "awareness"— remains unclear. But a study released Tuesday suggests that YouTube may play a role in transforming passive fans of charities’ work into active donors.

People who give money to charity are much more likely than the public to visit YouTube, according to the study, and significantly more donors are checking out the online video site each year.

The study was conducted by Google, which owns YouTube, and Millward Brown Digital. They tracked the online paths of 425,000 visits to nonprofit websites and found that 90 percent of online donors visited YouTube during the previous six months, compared with 65 percent of the public. And the number of donors who visited YouTube grew 18 percent from 2013 to 2014.

Before they give a gift, donors are often watching nonprofit-related videos, the study found: The frequency with which viewers watched nonprofit videos doubled in the month before they gave a gift. During that time, they watched an average of 5.7 charity videos.

About 84 percent of nonprofit videos are discovered from a traditional search engine, according to the study, not by going directly to a charity’s website.

One-quarter of people who visited the 14 charity websites that the study tracked did not give money but instead a watched video or took other actions, such as signing up for an email newsletter, that signaled their interest in the cause.

Charities should track the data showing when people begin watching their videos more often or taking other online actions that could indicate they may be considering a gift, says Jessie End, head of industry for nonprofits at Google.

Think about making a "softer introduction" to your organization, she advises. "My suggestion would be that the first few videos you’re putting out in a sequence be more about telling your story and impact and that the ask comes when the indicators show that that person has the intent to donate."

A wait-and-see approach, aided by careful monitoring of online data and making a tailored, perfectly timed appeal, can reward such patience, says Ms. End. "Creating a path for the donor, making an ask at the right time, is really critical, but so is making sure you have a path for people who aren’t ready to donate at that moment."

Send an email to Heather Joslyn.

Send an email to Heather Joslyn.