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How Invisible People Uses YouTube to Increase Donor Awareness


Launched in November 2008, Invisible People is a nonprofit organization focused on raising the awareness of homelessness in order “to make the invisible visible.” It was founded by Mark Horvath, a man who was once homeless himself.

Today, Horvath helps alert others to Invisible People’s mission by harnessing the power of video. He posts simple yet poignant YouTube videos of himself interviewing homeless individuals he meets on the street in order to help others understand what it’s like to be in their situation.

Thanks to these videos, people are paying attention to the organization’s cause like never before. More than 1 million minutes of Horvath’s videos were watched in 2013, and they’ve attracted the attention of major news outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The Los Angeles Times and CBS. Invisible People has also partnered with the Hanes clothing company, which allows Horvath to pass out much-needed socks to the homeless people he meets.

Videos like those Horvath creates can be a great way for nonprofit groups to raise awareness in order to gain new donors, volunteers and support. We interviewed Horvath and a couple experts to learn how other organizations can use this medium most effectively. Here’s what we learned.

Prioritize Authenticity Over Production Value

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Invisible People’s videos is their authenticity. Horvath typically approaches a person who appears homeless on the street, in a park, or in another public area and interviews them on the spot.

The questions he asks usually aren’t scripted. Instead, Horvath aims to engage the person in a conversational dialogue about their life and the circumstances that led to their present situation.

The videos are shot bare bones-style: the interviewee is pictured in a close-up shot that frames their head and shoulders. This style of shooting, Horvath says, makes the individual the focal point of the video and allows viewers to clearly see his or her facial expression, which helps them connect to them on a deeper level.

Invisible People Patrick

Horvath’s videos are shot using closeups that allow viewers to clearly see the facial expressions of the person being interviewed

There’s no pre- or post-production involved: no cutaway shots, lights, or other production tools are used. Horvath uploads the videos directly to YouTube without editing them. “Authenticity has replaced production value,” he explains of his approach. “People would rather have real…the good, the bad and the ugly. That’s what has attracted people.”

Prioritizing authenticity also helps nonprofits like Invisible People make the most of a limited budget, as there’s no need to buy expensive equipment or pay screenwriters or other video production staff.

“If you have a phone and a laptop, you already have 80 to 90 percent of the cost covered,” says Travis Glasper, a nonprofit marketing consultant. “Only about 10 percent of the cost is how to actually edit [the video].”

“A lot of nonprofits are worried because they don’t have a video team or budget for video,” adds Taylor Corrado, former head of nonprofit marketing at HubSpot and current marketing manager for Blue State Digital. “But the quality of the video isn’t as important as the content and how engaging it is.”

That being said, production quality cannot—and should not—be ignored completely. “You have to focus on the best quality you can, because that transmits credibility,” Horvath emphasizes.

As such, while Horvath says some of his most impactful videos were shot on a flip phone camera, he typically uses a small video camera and a shotgun microphone in order to get the best possible audio.

Create a Story, Not an Advertisement

Creating authentic videos that convey your nonprofit’s mission in a powerful way requires more than just minimal production value. It’s also important to keep the focus on who or what it is you’re trying to help, rather than simply advertising your organization.

“Don’t make a commercial,” Glasper says. “As soon as folks think your video is a pitch or an ad, their antennas go up, and the chance of you engaging that person goes down because they think they’re being sold something. They don’t want to be sold—they want to initiate the involvement.”

For this reason, Horvath never appears in the videos themselves: he interviews subjects from off-camera to keep the focus on the person he’s chosen to highlight. During each video, the only reference to Invisible People itself is a small “IP” logo in the upper right corner and a conclusion slide that provides viewers with a link to the organization’s website,

Videos start with Horvath jumping right into the conversation—the camera is already trained on the subject once the video begins. While Horvath starts out by asking a few basic questions, such as how long the person has been homeless, he lets them do most of the talking.

This allows the person to tell their story the way they want to, revealing as much or as little as they wish, and has the effect of making each video a completely different experience for the viewer. In this way, these videos resemble personal video diaries more than anything else: they’re a uniquely personal, extremely compelling look into the life of someone most people would never look twice at while passing by on the street.

Keep It Short

Horvath also says it’s also essential to keep videos short in length. The reason for this, he says, is that most people don’t have the attention span to watch videos longer than a few minutes—especially those without cutaways or edits.

Horvath, who worked in the television industry and has been producing videos since he was in high school, says keeping videos short is a basic rule of television production, and thus comes naturally for him.

Corrado says the ideal length for a video like the ones a nonprofit would use to spread awareness is under two minutes. “After that, people stop paying attention,” she says. “Also, it keeps the fluff down and gets to the content, which makes it more engaging.”

In addition to holding people’s attention spans more successfully, Horvaths says, keeping videos short allows them to be viewed and shared more easily on social media. “A lot of videos are being consumed via mobile devices, so [keeping them shorter] uses less bandwidth,” he explains.

Utilize Social Media to Spread Awareness

Finally, Horvath points to the importance of utilizing social media platforms beyond YouTube to spread greater awareness of the videos he creates. To do this, he often uses Twitter to let people know where he is and who he’s interviewing, even if he doesn’t post the actual video on his site for another week or so.

“It’s like you’re watching TV on your couch and you lean in because you want to know what’s next,” Horvath explains. “I’m telling the story as I’m going along, and that brings people vicariously with me, because they get to meet someone at the same time I meet them. Then they get to hear more of their story when I post the video a week later. It’s very intentional.”

When Horvath meets someone he plans to interview, he often Tweets a link to an Instagram photo of them:

Invisible People Twitter

One of Horvath’s Tweets that includes a link to a picture of “Greg”

 Invisible People Instagram

A picture of Greg on Invisible People’s Instragram that Horvath’s Tweeted about when he first met him

A week or so after the photo of Greg was posted, Horvath uploaded his interview with him on YouTube.

Another practice Horvath uses is to embed YouTube videos on the Invisible People website itself (in addition to the nonprofit’s YouTube channel), which allows him to drive people directly to it from from social media platforms. “Use social media as an outpost,” Horvath recommends. “Send them to a landing page for your blog.”

Invisble People Greg landing page

The landing page on the Invisible People website for Greg’s interview

Finally, Horvath says, it’s important to engage with viewers who comment on the videos you post, as this helps keep the conversation about each of the video subjects going, and brings greater awareness to Invisible People’s mission. “You have to interact,” he says. “If they like the content, say ‘Thank you.’”

How does your nonprofit use YouTube to raise awareness and reach new donors? Share your experience by leaving a comment in the section below.

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Marissa Fajt

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