Gaming Influencers Are Raising Millions For Charity Through Modernised Telethons

Streamers and YouTubers have become the modern day celebrities for an entire generation. Many of them boast larger followings than some of the biggest TV and movie stars, and the paycheques that come with that fame will set many of them up for life. But for many, an important part of their role is raising money not for themselves, but for charitable causes.

Over the years gaming influencers across the world have raised millions for charity in a range of different ways. But one of the earliest and most successful campaigns came from the UK group The Yogscast.

“Back in 2011 our community would send Simon [Lane, co-founder of The Yogscast] boxes of jaffa cakes, unfortunately, we’d just become one of the biggest channels on YouTube and were overwhelmed with more than we possibly eat or even store,” says Lewis Brindley, co-founder of The Yogscast. “At the same time, we discovered that you could buy a goat online [for charity] – and I thought it would be hilarious to ‘prank’ Simon by asking the community to send him some goats instead. It’s kind of a goofy joke and I still think it’s funny! The community loved the idea and we had a much bigger response than we had ever expected, raising over $100,000.”

Building on the success of this initial charity drive, the Jingle Jam was born and is still going strong as an annual fundraising event over 10 years later. It has now become a two week streaming extravaganza featuring 12 hour streams every day from almost every member of The Yogscast. There’s also a massive collection of PC games donors will get if they contribute above a certain amount, all of which are gifted by publishers and developers, and like many of these campaigns, other streamers can fundraise for the Jingle Jam through the Tiltify platform.

This year’s iteration of the Jingle Jam raised over £3.4 million ($4.1 million), bringing the total raised from all Jingle Jam events to more than £22 million ($26.7 million.) The event has proven so successful that the Jingle Jam charity has been formed, making this more than just a fundraising event.

“The decision to make Jingle Jam its own charity is really exciting,” says Brindley. “[It] means that we can grow the event and the impact that the games industry, The Yogscast and gamers can have, as we get more and more streamers and their communities to take part and help raise money.”

It was events like this and countless others that inspired YouTube star Seán “Jacksepticeye” McLoughlin to start raising money for charities along with his audience of almost 29 million YouTube subscribers. In 2018 he started the Thankmas fundraising event, which this year raised over $10 million for World Central Kitchen.

“I’ve always seen other people do them before, [and] that inspired me to kind of take up that mantle as well and try and give back with the sort of responsibility and the audience that we have,” says McLoughlin. “I thought it would be a lot harder to do, [that] it’d be a lot scarier to do but it was actually surprisingly easy. And it’s just great to be able to take your audience and not just make it all about yourself all the time.”

This year’s Thankmas event was a single day, 10 hour, live stream that featured appearances from other massive gaming influencers and even Jack Black. It’s an obvious evolution of the traditional telethon formula, but updated for a modern audience that is already showing massive results.

“We’ve seen stuff like telethons before but there’s always kind of that corporate feeling to it,” says McLoughlin. “Even when raising money for great causes, it’s kind of hard to connect with the audience. There’s always that barrier. I feel like creators and influencers and people who do this kind of work have a great connection with their audience and I feel like they’re able to kind of talk to them more honestly, and really care about the stuff that they’re into. I feel like it opens up a lot more of a genuine connection that way and being able to raise money through.”

It’s not just the massive influencers with millions of followers that are doing good along with their communities, countless creatives raise money for charities throughout the year. One such channel is Triple Jump, a UK based gaming channel with almost 250,000 subscribers, which has raised over $26,000 for a variety of charities including The Trevor Project in memory of team member Philip J Reed who sadly passed away this year.

“It’s about putting your money where your mouth is and showing you’re invested in the causes most important to you,” says Ben Potter, channel manager at Triple Jump. “Particularly in the case of raising money in Philip’s memory, fundraising was an opportunity for all to come together in aid of a common goal. The role of streamers and influencers shouldn’t be taken lightly. They hold a genuine position of power in so many young people’s lives, and so younger generations seeing their favourite streamers raising money for charity is really important.”

“I think I speak for both of us when I say that we’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how keen so many people are to donate with barely any encouragement,” adds Peter Austin, head of video at Triple Jump. “In that sense, it seems to me that our role is as much about giving the community an excuse to all donate to something together and feel that we’re making a much bigger difference than any one of us could on our own.”

One major influencer who has often been highlighted for their charity work is Benjamin “DrLupo” Lupo, who has raised over $13 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital over the years, including more than $1 million which was raised in 24 hours during the annual Build Against Cancer live stream last weekend. As well as hosting these major fundraising events, Lupo gives any donations he gets while streaming to the charity.

“I am of the opinion that I have enough money,” says Lupo. “I do take care of my family and my loved ones, things like that, but at the end of the day, I don’t know what I would do with all of it if I was just focused on myself. Just let it sit and build up in a bank account to look at? Cool. I just don’t see a purpose for that when I could take that and focus it somewhere else on people that need it.”

Lupo has long been a supporter of influencers doing charity work, and has been somewhat of a pioneer in the space, constantly donating to St. Jude’s. For him it’s a core part of his work as an entertainer, and something he hopes to encourage more influencers into doing.

“People put the label influencer on us right, [so] I might as well try and influence people to do something good,” says Lupo. “And if the next generation sees that and says ‘hey I want to do what Dr Lupo did, what Jackspecticeye did’, then that’s fantastic. That means I think we’ve done our jobs in a good way.”

Despite the difficult economic situation around the world for many, charity streams from influencers continue to set records for amounts raised and show no signs of slowing down. With platforms such as Tiltify making it easy for streamers to raise money for charities, more and more influencers are getting involved, and it is a trend that will hopefully keep evolving and raising millions for good causes.

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