(May 19, 2021) Progressive grassroots, community-based online fundraising is much more diverse and varied then some mainstream charity fundraisers might think.
In November, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez surprised mainstream news outlets by raising over $200,000 for a variety of causes by playing the popular video game Among Us in partnership with mainstream YouTube personalities such as JackSepticEye, ContraPoints and HasanAbi.
JackSepticEye is Seán William McLoughlin, an Irishman with 27.1 million YouTube subscribers. ContraPoints, with 1.33 million YouTube subscribers, is Natalie Wynn from Arlington Virginia, who says she provides counter arguments to right wing political conservatives, and also speaks eloquently about her experiences as a trans woman. Hasan Abi, a Twitch streamer with 1.2 million followers, is former Huff Post columnist Hasan Doğan Piker from New Jersey who grew up in Istanbul. (For the uninitiated, Twitch is a streaming platform dedicated to gaming).
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was joined in her gaming fundraiser by Jagmeet Singh, leader of the federal NDP in Canada and the first person of colour to lead a Canadian federal political party. Singh has 37 thousand Twitch followers.
In an non-gaming example of modern online fundraising, Seth Meyers of NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers, raised more than $200,000 for In God’s Love We Deliver, which is a charity that focuses on providing food for those living with long term illnesses such as cancer and HIV-AIDS, and is now focusing on those affected by COVID-19, through YouTube.
While the coverage of online fundraising has had a distinctly political angle in recent news, some in the charity sector are noting the potential of YouTube and Twitch, believing it is not only possible, but productive, to engage with a variety of influencers.
The rules about fundraising vary according to the channel.
YouTube requires anyone making a monetary gain from their videos to meet a certain set of requirements. The content must be deemed “advertiser friendly,” the user needs at least 1,000 subscribers, submit to a review process of the content that is being made, as well as other checks and balances YouTube has put into place. Once those steps are completed, content creator is then considered a YouTube Partner and is able to monetize their channel. This allows them to make personal profit off of ad revenue, but also permits the same fundraising tools that allowed Late Night with Seth Meyers to raise over $200,000 during the current pandemic.
Twitch appears to have less regulation. The streaming platform for primarily gamers allows almost anyone to raise money as long as there is an audience willing to donate and the user has access to platforms such as Tiltify, StreamLabs Charity, Just Giving, DonorDrive, or BetterPlace to process donations. Twitch also says that it “does not have the ability to investigate whether streamers have fulfilled their promise to donate,” which is why donor-giving platforms are encouraged as a way of promoting transparency.
Where YouTube seems to have more structure, Twitch is very much a wild west, openly refusing to confirm themselves whether donations take place and placing responsibility to the giving platform. But who are the people doing this fundraising? And where do charities fit in?
Internet gaming has not been known, historically, as a place that celebrates diversity. Echoes of the misogynistic Gamergate in 2014 still linger online and offline but, thankfully, the emerging faces of online gaming undermine that generalization.
And the emerging influencers already have an eye towards fundraising.
Through her Twitch Tuesdays, popular drag queen and musician Trixie Mattel has raised more than $60,000 for several charities including those involved with the Black Lives Matter movement. In the summer of 2020, she played a video game called Dead by Daylight for an evening, raising $16,000 dollars for Colour of Change. Over the course of eight days, she raised $10,000 for The Bail Project, all using Tiltify.
As perhaps one of the most popular drag queens to appear on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Mattel has been open about her experiences growing up as a young gay Indigenous man in Wisconsin. Trixie Mattel, aka Brian Firkus, has been able to turn their sarcastic wit into large charitable contributions for causes they believe in. Brian’s face, painted as Trixie, is one of the many personalities of fundraising in online gaming, showcasing that progressive grassroots fundraising is much more diverse and varied then some mainstream charity fundraisers believe.
Another example is the YouTube streamer Jazzyguns. Describing her gameplay content as “aggressive,” Jazzyguns is “a fierce gamer with a knack for four-letter words,” who prefers not to use their real name online for privacy concerns. Her YouTube channel has more 450,000 subscribers and is steadily growing. As a woman of colour and an LGBTQ+ ally, Jazzyguns has raised money for an array of causes. By streaming an hour and twenty minutes worth of gaming content, she was able to raise $1,200 dollars for the organization Black Girls Code, which trains and offers support to young black girls interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) and whose goal is to become the “girls scouts of technology.”
“Usually when you see gamers, you don’t see people like me. I wanted to show people that people like me do exist; black girls do play video games and we play them well and can be competitive just like you,” say Jazzyguns in an interview with LifeWire’s Brandon Sams. People like Jazzyguns and Trixie Mattel are the faces of online fundraising in gaming, just like JackSepticEye, ContraPoints and HasanAbi. This shows not only how diverse the talent pool in online gaming content is, but also that these individuals already have a vested interest in giving back to communities and causes they personally care about.
Where that leaves us is in quite frankly exciting and completely uncharted waters.
It is very easy to wax poetic about how technology connects us, but it is worth the charity sector to take note of what is happening in the online gaming sector. With the exception of Ocasio-Cortez, Singh, and Meyers, these creators work often by themselves and for long hours, relying on donations, ad revenue or a full-time job to make ends meet. That those individuals still choose to fundraise instead of making profit themselves should be a signal to the charity sector that there is a desire among the community, and its influencers to help in a meaningful grassroots way.
Whether this means reaching out to individual streamers, exploring deeper partnership with fundraising platforms such as Tiltify or BetterPlace, or simply allowing the community to develop organically, it is hard to say. The only answers we have are that based on the current climate and the growth of online streaming, there is a bright future for charities, fundraising and online gaming.
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