How much change can you enact from the comfort of your bedroom?
Probably not much – not when you would rather sleep or surf the internet, spending all day on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and YouTube. Then again, there are times when doing something as simple as watching or sharing a YouTube video can help save lives, bring inspiration, and fund humanitarian organizations all over the world.
Since its inception in 2005, the world’s largest video sharing site has proved to be one of the most powerful venues for promoting charity campaigns and raising awareness of charitable causes on the planet. YouTuber and New York Times bestselling author John Green describes it as an extremely effective platform for fundraising. “The structure of the website facilitates community discussion and easy distribution of content,” he said, “whether that’s uploading a video for charity, discussing it in comments, or sharing it to Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and Reddit.”
A prime example of this is Project 4 Awesome (P4A), an annual YouTube charity initiative that solicits participation from online video creators all around the world to raise funds for various non-profit organizations. From its simple beginning in 2007, John and his brother Hank Green (aka the Vlogbrothers) manage what has grown into a full-blown, high-profile, highly engaging event that takes over YouTube every December to help non-profit organizations make huge strides in their local communities.
But the Vlogbrothers aren’t the only ones activating their YouTube audiences and ardent fan bases for the greater good. Here are other Internet personalities who have managed to become heroes for various charities all over the world:
Jack and Finn Harries (JacksGap)
From it’s basic beginnings as a weekly gap year vlog, JacksGap evolved into a channel dedicated to brotherhood, traveling, and charities. In a video dubbed South Africa 2013, the twins chronicled their journey to the Waterberg Welfare Society, a South African organization that aims to raise awareness and provide support to HIV positive people in the community. The video now has over 1.5 million views after going live in March for the 25th anniversary of the British charity Comic Relief.
Another notable charity video the siblings made is The Rainbow Center, all about a Sri Lankan initiative that provides education to poverty stricken children. The twins were touched while on a family vacation after seeing how children from The Rainbow Center center faced everyday poverty with positivity. They made a video about the organization and donated the ad revenue to the center. In just one week after the video went live, the center had received more than $1,600 in donations. The video now has over 1.1 million views
A few months ago, the twins of JacksGap launched their own website with a dedicated forum for charity where Gappers get to pitch in for causes they think the twins should support. “It can be very tricky choosing a charity to work with because there are so many awesome ones out there,” said Finn Harries, who also designed JacksGap.com. “However we pick those that mean something special to us and relate to the causes we care about most.”
Jack and Finn are also strong advocates of using social media sites like YouTube and Twitter to inspire people to make changes in the world. Some months ago, they gave a talk at the Camden Roundhouse for vInspired Live, an event that aims to inspire youngsters to do something for social change. Their most recent endeavor involved racing across India in tuk tuks for a campaign called The Rickshaw Run to support Teenage Cancer Trust. Just a week into their journey the JacksGap team (also fondly called The MotherTukkers and is composed of fellow YouTubers Louis Cole and Ben Brown, photographer Harry Crowder, and filmmakers Will Darbyshire and Max Crowder) has raised more than $100,000 for teenagers fighting cancer.
Finn notes he and his brother owe much of their success in helping charitable organizations around the world to their YouTube channel’s 2-million-person strong community. “We feel very fortunate to be able to connect with so many people via videos and social media. JacksGap has a really passionate community and I think that’s because we try and stick to certain core values. One of those values is helping others and raising awareness for those that are less fortunate. The community that support us is our inspiration.”
Craig Benzine (WheezyWaiter)
Besides offering big laughs through his comedy YouTube channel, WheezyWaiter (aka Craig Benzine) is also known for his active participation in various charities and fundraising events. In the past five years, Craig has campaigned for charities like Action Against Hunger, Water.org, Habitat for Humanity, and Donorschoose.org. He is also a huge supporter of P4A and has managed to raise over $20,000 for the fundraisers he has supported through YouTube.
To Craig, charity videos allow YouTubers like him to veer away from the somehow self-serving nature of their work. “I think raising money and awareness for charity gives me a chance to step outside myself,” he said. “And to promote something that has tangible benefits for the world rather than benefits for me or for those who just enjoy laughing at my videos.”
Craig is a testament to how the internet has made supporting charities more accessible to online creators and influencers. As he explained, “A good way to do some research on which charities to support is charitynavigator.org.” One of the beneficiaries of this charity search is Action Against Hunger, a humanitarian organization that tackles hunger on a global scale. His video Red Scare contributed to spreading awareness about the work Action Against Hunger did during the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
It was also through the Internet that he was able to get in touch with people from Water.org who invited him to India to see how they provide safe water for the whole community.
His video Home India Home, a short sketch based on his trip to India which he admits is also a personal favorite of his, has been well received by fans and now has more than a hundred thousand views. Craig notes that more than just making people laugh with his weird mumbling of the words India and Home, it was also one of the most eye-opening experiences he ever had. “It was a great opportunity to see the world and to really learn about how these things really work on the ground.”
WheezyWaiter’s 400,000 strong fan base has proved to be an important factor to how he has continually supported all these charities in his YouTube career. He shares that aside from their warm reception to causes, the YouTube community has also created a stable platform for changing the world through charities. “As the internet grows I can guarantee that online video will be essential for fundraising for anything.”
Craig also guarantees he’ll be supporting more charities in the near future. During the recently concluded VidCon 2013, Craig hosted a signing for fans at the This Star Won’t Go Out booth in support of families with children who were diagnosed with cancer. Of course, he also guarantees to continue to make the world a healthier, better place by offering the best medicine of all: laughter.
When he’s not busy being a professional fangirl, Tyler Oakley keeps his own fans busy with charity participation. His fans are so passionate, in fact, that on his 24th birthday, they decided to donate more than $28,000 for The Trevor Project, a charity Tyler has supported strongly throughout the years.
Founded in 1998, The Trevor Project’s suicide prevention lifeline is based on a short film about a 13 year old boy named Trevor, whose experiences of rejection at home and at school pushed him to try to take his life.
“I kept seeing people asking what I wanted for my birthday so they could send it to my P.O. box. I thought – let’s do something with substance. Let’s do something that impacts lives,” Tyler explained. “I have what I need in life but so many people don’t. I was really inspired to use my birthday to help troubled youth live to see more of their own birthdays.”
Tyler’s video about his birthday charity project – Twerking in my Undies – now has close to half a million views.
Tyler, who has experienced first hand the rigors of growing up as an LGBT teen, shared how overwhelmed he was with the amount of support and generosity his fans showed towards his chosen charity. “I wasn’t asking for big donations, I was more so looking to get everyone to donate,” he added. “I wanted to show my audience that it wasn’t how much you could give, it’s just giving that helps us all reach the goal.”
Through his charitable activations with the Trevor Project, Tyler has also been able to more deeply connect with his fan base, which further motivates him to reach bigger and greater goals.”As a YouTuber. the Trevor Project has helped me realize that I can use my reach for a greater cause and impact lives. It’s easy to get lost in the numbers of subscribers and views, but when you hear from a kid whose life was saved by you mentioning a suicide prevention and crisis lifeline, you see the people within those numbers,” he said.
Another LGBT campaign Tyler strongly supports is FCKH8.com, an online site that sells t-shirts to fund gay anti-bullying and gay marriage legalization projects. His It Doesn’t Get Better video about the cause now has more than 400,000 views and has been shared across various social media sites thousands of times.
Apart from The Trevor Project and FCKH8.com, Tyler has also been very supportive of other non-profit organizations like Kiva.org, which provides support for startup businesses and deserving individuals all over the world. This year, Tyler says he’s excited to see what charities his fellow YouTubers would be supporting for the 7th annual P4A event; especially since he’s been an active supporter of said project since 2008.
His experiences with campaigning for various causes has given him confidence that YouTube and other social media platforms can most definitely enact change. Not only has his charity vlogs helped him in his fundraising endeavors, he also says that charity videos can help bring even unknown and deep-seated problems like depression and suicide to light. “These videos help spread awareness to people about a cause they would never have normally known about had they not been a fan of the YouTuber who was passionate about it.”
Tyler also says he’s looking for more non-profit organizations to support through his videos especially now that his YouTube subscription base has grown to more than 2 million people strong.
In the hopes of uniting the community for a good cause, John and Hank Green decided to call up their YouTube friends back in 2007 so they can take over YouTube for at least one day in support of various charities. Seven years later, they find themselves swamped with emails asking about this year’s P4A every single week. And with more than 1.4 million Nerdfighters (the collective term for Vlogbrother fans) on their side and a bunch of other YouTubers participating in live shows and charity videos, P4A was able to come up with $450,000 last year on the website’s donation drive alone.
To John, however, these milestones are just a small part of what makes the whole campaign awesome. “Cold hard numbers aside, the greatest part is that every year everyone still wants to do it, they want to work on their video for weeks, they want to stay up for hours on end on live shows commenting with people all over the world, and they want to share the videos they’ve found with people who have no idea whatsoever about the YouTube community.”
Along with the success of their YouTube channel and P4A, John’s bestselling book – and now soon to be a movie – The Fault In Our Stars also moved lead actress Shailene Woodley, who plays teenage cancer patient Hazel, to chop off her long hair and donate it to make wigs for cancer kids who have lost their hair through treatment. This inspired many young girls to donate their hair as well through ChildrenWithHairLoss.us. Hundreds of photos are now also being shared on Tumblr with the hashtag #HairForHazel.
John added that charities like Save the Children, Partners in Health, and the Harry Potter Alliance has taught him and many other YouTubers about the value, perks and responsibilities of their chosen careers. “It reminds me what online communities are capable of,” he said. “And I feel a great responsibility to honor the YouTube and Nerdfighter communities by being mindful of how much they care whenever I make anything for YouTube.”
With more than a billion people watching YouTube every month, it’s not surprising that these charities have found great support through the video sharing platform. As YouTube’s viewership continues to increase, we can all look forward to a future where people like John, Hank, Jack, Finn, Craig, Tyler, and the many other YouTube stars who are using their newfound fan bases for good can transform a simple “Like” or a simple social media share into something world changing.