Crowdfunding: Can Partnering With An Internet Celebrity Make Your Campaign An Overnight Success? | Beth's Blog

Crowdfunding: Can Partnering With An Internet Celebrity Make Your Campaign An Overnight Success?


Ask any high school boy who likes video games who PewDiePie is and they will tell you that he is the most watched video personality on YouTube.  The main focus of PewDiePie’s videos is his commentary and reactions to various video games as he plays, captured on video and shared on his YouTube Channel.

PewDiePie’s channel is the most subscribed channel on YouTube,and reaches over 34.8 million subscribers. Currently, the PewDiePie channel has received over 8 billion video views.  Due to his popularity, PewDiePie’s coverage of indie games has created an Oprah effect on video game purchases.

And like Oprah, PewDiePie has a passion for philanthropy and raises money for charities through his “Bro Army” fanbase, according to my teenage son – what he calls the people who subscribe or watch him on YouTube.

A few months ago, PewDiePie and the Bro Army raised more than $630,000 for Save the Children through a crowdfundraiser on Indiegogo, a gaming bundle on The Humble Bundle, live-streams on Twitch and an anonymous matching donation of $150,000.   I discovered this campaign, along with a few others when I found out about the Indiegogo Playbook, a useful step-by-step guide to creating your strategy and setting up a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.   The other campaigns included:

  • Hour of Code – Raised $5M by leveraging a live $2.5M match and became Indiegogo’s most successfully funded campaign in history
  • XPrize – Raised almost $1M from over 2,000 contributors to revolutionize education technology
  • Dalai Lama Foundation – Raised over $126K to protect the legacy of the Dalai Lama

After quizzing my teenage son who is a fan of PewDiePie, I did a quick interview with Ettore Rossetti, Director of Social Media & Digital Marketing from Save the Children, to learn some insights about the campaign.

It is every nonprofit’s dream to have Oprah or other celebrity do a fundraiser for them.  How did Save the Children manage to get the most popular YouTuber to do a crowd funding campaign?   Rossetti says, that PewDiePie approached Save the Children through his agency, Maker Studios.

The agency had a direct, pre-existing personal connection with Save the Children.  PewDiePie was inspired by Save the Children’s work with other YouTubers and wanted to partner with a nonprofit with global reach that would match the scope of his Bro Army fan-base. Save the Children works in 120 countries and at the time PewDiePie had subscribers in nearly as many countries (maybe more than that now).

Says Rossetti, “I am a big believer of inbound marketing/inquiry marketing/indirect marketing — creating brand awareness, affinity and engagement through outbound methods and means to generate qualified inbound inquiries. I’m sure PewPieDie gets thousands of inquiries, but he reached out to us because of our global reach, brand reputation among YouTubers and gamers, and our work for children.”

Who knew that a famous YouTuber interested in online games would also have a passion for philanthropy?  Rossetti says that Felix (PewDiePie’s real name) is reserved, humble and philanthropic.  “He personally pledged toward his own fundraising to motivate donations and engagement.” Rossetti says that PewDiePie does not regularly live-stream but personally creates entertaining content for his audience. He truly listens to his audience and creates serialized content for his Bro Army. His fans eagerly anticipate the next new video. He has recently expanded his online presence with a mobile app.

With such a huge and attentive following on YouTube, one might be tempted to think that simply putting up the call to action on YouTube creates immediate donations  Wrong!  According to Rossetti, the strategy was more of a bit of a hub and spoke model where he leveraged all of his social networks (twitter, Facebook, Google+) with YouTube at the center. There were multiple incentives, including small perks-based donations by individuals to larger corporate sponsorship perks (e.g. Fridays with PewDiePie).   The combination of a well-designed strategy, careful execution, and Internet celebrity contributed to the success.

There are many crowdfunding platforms available to nonprofits.   Rossetti recommends selecting the platform based on intersection of talent, audience and objectives which is why they selected Indiegogo. Says Rossetti, “We had a generally positive experience working with them, their fees are competitive, and they are knowledgeable, have good ideas and are responsive.”  Another reason why they selected the platform is because the back-end offers different options, including PayPal linkage.    Since the PewDiePie’s audience skewed younger and is international, they selected PayPal for the back-end for the many micro gifts they received.

The campaign has some carefully crafted perks for different donation levels, starting at $5 dollars.    Rossetti says that fans probably care less about the philanthropy and more about “what’s in it for me?”  “However, I believe that the charitable aspect created a guilt-free reason to give because they were getting something AND doing good – a win, a win. We put in a donation equivalency for each perk level so that donors could see what kinds of things they would be funding.”

Is there any advice that Rossetti would recommend for nonprofits partnering with a celebrity or Internet Famous person? Rossetti served as the nonprofit project team member with Felix.  “I would recommend as a best practice. That way, you can answer charity questions, address issues and even post updates if necessary. It also gave the campaign more official, nonprofit legitimacy, especially if you use PayPal to process gifts so the campaign will have an official nonprofit endorsement.”

Rossetti shared his wisdom on crowdfunding campaigns:

  • Revenue potential for campaign determined based on “sell out” of perks.
  • Perks need to be exclusive/valuable to the audience in order to sell (e.g. one-of-a-kinds, autographed items, personal shout outs).
  • A lot of time/commitment by the talent and agency is required.
  • Triangulation of 3 key elements: popularity, philanthropy and engagement with the latter being the most important (a smaller more engaged celebrity can raise more than a large, less engaged celebrity).
  • Let talent own the campaign…don’t be overbearing with editorial control (your “free agent” vs. “fortress” concepts)
  • Frequent weekly updates are required to keep the bids going and the audience engaged
  • Dealing with fulfillment, perk questions, and volume fraud filters were challenges and take time.

Has your nonprofit used crowdfunding to raise money?  What makes for a successful nonprofit crowdfunding campaign?   What are the best practices of partnering with celebrities and online influencers?    And lastly, am I the only person who has never heard of PewDiePie before this campaign?

7 Responses

  1. Melissa says:

    Great post! I recently worked with on a nonprofit using social media to raise donations around a single hashtag and while they did not have a direct celebrity endorsement they lucked out and gained lots of attention around Patricia Arquette’s empowering oscars speech!
    Here are the details:

  2. Beth says:

    Melissa, thank you for sharing. I will check it out

  3. […] publishing this post about Save the Children’s Crowd Funding Campaign – where I mentioned the Dalai Lama Foundation’s successful campaign, I noticed this […]

  4. […] from Beth Kanter, Crowdfunding: Can Partnering With An Internet Celebrity Make Your Campaign An Overnight Success? We’ll be partnering later this year with one of our own SDS members, who has run a couple of […]

  5. gamingworld says:

    Its very good to save the children using the game concept. but it is also very difficult to promote it. I think a celebrity may speak only one time to the press and this program will be successful or a freelancer may be hired to promote this brilliant program

  6. […] Ettore Rossetti, director of social media for Save the Children, who partnered with video game v-logger PewDiePie to raise more than $630,000, told Beth Kanter's Blog that fundraisers should allow the […]

  7. sang says:

    Thanks for discussing Crowdfunding: Can Partnering With An Internet
    Celebrity Make Your Campaign An Overnight Success? | Beth’s Blog.