Want to Try a Gaming Telethon? Do Your Homework First.

Nonprofits are seeing a lot of success with charitable livestreams targeting the gaming community, a trend that is picking up in a big way. But for associations that want to follow suit, a little homework is necessary.

Over the past couple of weeks, as wildfires in Australia started sweeping across the continent, fundraising efforts to help firefighters and others battling the blazes began to crop up in social media and other platforms. One of the more unexpected, and successful, initiatives came from the world of gaming.

Over the weekend, a group of streamers—those who play games in a livestream format—held a live event that raised more than $300,000 in Australian dollars ($208,000 USD) for wildfire aid.  It’s far from the first time that gamers have stepped up in a telethon-style format, and the trend proves that philanthropic appeals don’t need to be served on a television set to be effective. Often, a highly engaged niche audience can do the trick.

In particular, two gaming fundraisers have picked up attention over the past decade and more. Awesome Games Done Quick, held twice a year, targets fans of “speedrunning” and has raised millions of dollars for various charities.  Desert Bus for Hope—based the intentionally terrible minigame Desert Bus, where players must drive a slow-moving charter bus in real time—has raised $5.2 million for the charity Child’s Play since 2007.

These fundraisers work akin to a telethon, in that people can donate at any time, except with an e-commerce touch—services like Amazon’s Twitch and YouTube have built-in tipping functionality for users, which is used to gather donations.

As The Washington Post notes, the trend has spread and provided new opportunities for charities and nonprofits to raise money. The events help the streamers as well by drawing attention to their talents as they raise funds for a worthy cause.

It’s surely not the right tactic for every organization—many streaming-focused charity events benefit large nonprofits like the American Cancer Society—but with the right opportunity, a livestream fundraiser could stand out make a big impact. For associations exploring the idea, a few considerations are worth keeping in mind:

Targeting helps. Gaming livestreams work best when they’re targeted at a specific audience. Nonprofit Quarterly cites the example of Harris “Hbomberguy” Brewis, a streamer also known for his political commentary. He recently held a fundraiser for a transgender advocacy group while playing Donkey Kong 64 for more than two days straight.

Technology plays a role. While platforms like Twitch are popular for charitable livestreams, organizations also need to track donations and manage the experience for people who are both talking live and playing a game. As the Post notes, telethons have become a popular enough model among the streaming community that dedicated tools are available to track donations as they happen. And while some firms may take a cut for managing the event, others do not. “In a lot of cases, these distributors are already using our technology,” Streamlabs Head of Product Ashray Urs told the newspaper. “We’ve realized that we have all the capabilities there and that they’re already using our tools for a lot of this work. So that was the motivation.”

Proceed with caution. As with any new digital tool, bad actors can take advantage of livestream fundraisers. Earlier this month, for example, a French streamer on Twitch revealed that he had failed to donate earmarked funds for the French Association for Multiple Sclerosis. While that’s an extreme case, other concerns are likely to be more widespread—particularly related to the content in the stream and its potential impact on the brand the event is supporting. Jeremy Wells, the fundraising events manager for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), told The Guardian last year that the organization sets guidelines for livestream content. “If someone’s going to do a stream, raise some money, and support our work, that’s fabulous,” Wells said. “But if we’re working directly with someone, we try and keep mature-rated games off the board. And we ask that people keep the stream decent—though people can interpret that in different ways.”

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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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