Last year, streamers raised more than $83 million for charity on Twitch. How did they do it, and what can nonprofits learn from their success?

Twitch is a $15 billion streaming platform that is known for its gaming content, but, in actuality, is populated with all manner of self-made streamers. In 2020, these streamers raised millions of dollars for large well-funded causes like St. Jude, and for small niche causes like Black Cat Rescue and Relief. So, why have Twitch gamers, chess players, quilters, and just chatters been able to raise so much money for charity? Because Twitch streamers are practicing state-of-the-art virtual fundraising using techniques that are critical to ALL successful fundraisers, no matter the platform.

Telethon Meets Micro-Influencer

These new charity streams are the 2021 equivalent of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) Telethon, but they are the opposite of television. Unlike TV, which expects its viewers to lean back on their couch and watch, streaming is a lean forward medium. Online viewers are watching with fingers at the ready, itching to switch to another browser window, so digital fundraising requires you to fight for every minute of your audience’s attention. As a result, successful Twitch fundraisers are anything but lean back. They are fun, colorful, and relentless in their utilization of three critical digital fundraising tools:

  1. Community
  2. Interactivity
  3. Live

Do all those things sound familiar? They should. These are many of the same elements we strive to create in an in-real-life (IRL) fundraiser.

  1. Community IRL — You want to inspire and welcome your guests so that they feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves, invite their friends, and develop a personal ownership of your cause and continue to donate for years to come.
  2. Interactivity IRL — You want your guests to interact and have fun at your event. You want them to network, to chat, to eat, and raise their paddles!
  3. Live IRL — IRL events are by definition live, and therefor create a sense of urgency and FOMO (fear of missing out). Urgency and FOMO inspire attention and donations.

So when it comes to a virtual fundraiser, why would you ever want your audience to just sit back and watch?

Instead, let’s discuss how Twitch streamers adopt our IRL goals and turn them into virtual versions of the cocktail party, the silent auction, and the paddle raise.

The Twitch 3

Community

Twitch has built a $15 billion business because they understand better than any other platform the stickiness of community. It is the very spine of the Twitch ecosystem and much of the Twitch platform is centered on its chat room functionality.

During my very first stream (September of 2007), I discovered that the audience doesn’t come to see YOU, they come to see themselves and their friends. Just as they would at an IRL fundraiser, the audience comes to see and be seen, and a great twitch streamer makes the audience an integral part of the programming. They call out their audience by name, they acknowledge individual donations both verbally and with real-time graphics. They talk from a personal perspective about why their community and cause are so important to them, and they find ways to get their community to participate in real-time. By centering the community, Twitch streamers make their audience feel seen and a part of something special — something bigger. Their audiences stay for hours. And their audience donates — multiple times.

Interactivity

A virtual audience is an audience literally itching to click away. Interactivity keeps your audience leaning in and donating. Twitch streamers use all sorts of interactive tools to keep their audience engaged… and donating! Things like graphics that acknowledge donors in real-time, raffles, online chats, polls, rewards for certain donor levels and milestones. All of these are the digital versions of the paddle raise, the donation thermometer, and the auction that keeps your IRL fundraiser audience engaged. Think about it. The internet is inherently interactive — chats, comments, emoji, likes, and retweets are the currency of digital communication. A virtual fundraiser without interactivity is just a very low budget TV show…but more boring.

The internet is inherently interactive — chats, comments, emoji, likes and retweets are the currency of digital communication. A virtual fundraiser without interactivity is just a very low budget tv show… but more boring.

Live

This is the biggest mistake we see virtual fundraisers make: A pre-recorded event has no FOMO and it has no urgency, making it nearly impossible to garner real-time donations. A pre-recorded event eliminates any possibility that a donor may donate multiple times (yes — with great live strategy you will find that up to 25% of your live donations come from donors who donate multiple times during the live show). A pre-recorded event provides no effective way to build community. The sum of all of this — no FOMO, no urgency, no community, no interactivity —  profoundly decreases the average watch time of your show. We have found that the average watch time of a pre-recorded event vs a live event is more than 300% shorter. Shorter watch times mean fewer shares, fewer donations, and a smaller audience. How’s that ROI for you?

Virtual Fundraisers are here to stay. 

The reach and accessibility of virtual fundraisers has been groundbreaking for nonprofits, and, while we can’t wait to share the same room with our community again, the ability to reach a global audience and increase awareness means virtual fundraisers are finally here to stay. For some organizations we will be seeing hybrid virtual/IRL events, some organizations may switch off between IRL and virtual events, and some may solely produce virtual events in the future. The stakes and the bar are only going to get higher and higher. So let’s learn everything we can from our digital native friends who are successfully engaging their audiences and raising millions for their charities of choice. Let’s keep our fundraisers community centric, interactive, and LIVE.