Project for AwesomeIt began as something akin to flash mob of web video stars on YouTube. A hack. It was pure grassroots—based on the idea that a concerted, coordinated effort to make—and then promote—videos around a single topic all in the name of charity. But since its humble beginnings in 2007 in the YouTube underground, the annual charity fundraiser known as Project for Awesome started by The Vlog Brothers—Hank and John Green—caught the attention of YouTube itself and raised over $140,000 this year for dozens of charities.

“In 2007 a group of people got together and we hacked YouTube,” said Hank Green. “There’s a lot of ways to put it but I think that’s the simplest. We used all the tricks we had learned as YouTubers to help our videos get more views. And we used those tricks more than we would have ever used those tricks normally. And while this would have felt underhanded and maybe a little bit dirty if we were just doing it to grow our video views—instead it felt awesome, because we were doing it for charity.”

Now in its fourth year, Project for Awesome isn’t quite as subversive as the brothers went right to YouTube corporate to enlist their help in broadening its reach. Anyone can create a video, and pick their own charity to support amongst the diverse set of worthy orgs in on the action like Water.org, Toys for Tots, Save the Children, Make A Wish, The Open University and Beat Bullying.

“Every year since 2007 it’s gotten a little less underground and YouTube’s taken more notice,” Green told us. “This year we went to YouTube a few months early to see if they wanted to help. They did, big time. They gave us a 24 hour front page spotlight, let us re-design the YouTube logo and coordinated a 3 hour live stream at the fanciest studio I’ve ever been inside of.”

The central fundraising model involves raffles with YouTubers donating prizes—everything from a signed MysteryGuitarMan guitar to a Wheezy Kids’ Keyboard to The bulk of the funds (around $110k) came in through small donations from individuals though a few notable YouTube stars like iJustine, Smosh, The Templemans and The Vlogbrothers chipped in larger amounts totaling $30,000.

“YouTube’s support resulted in a dramatic growth in viewership and participation from bigger content creators,” Green added. “Our audience had also grown pretty steadily since the 2009 P4A. I’d say videos made by the community doubled (and also the quality went way up), views on P4A videos doubled and since previous P4A’s hadn’t raised money at all, the $140,000 we raised is infinitely bigger than any previous project.”

Stats on this year’s P4A:

  • Total number of videos made: Over 3,000
  • Total number of hours of video: Over 40
  • Total number of views: Over 10 million
  • Total number of comments: Over 600,000

“Independent content creators often don’t realize the power they have,” added Green. “There are a lot of young people who really look up to this new generation of entertainers and we wanted to create an opportunity to use that power for good. Content creators have, since the beginning, really embraced the idea. It’s never taken more than a simple email pitch to fellow content creators to get great participation rates from big-time YouTubers.”

Some of the P4A videos made by YouTubers this year:

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