Episode 77: Gaming fundraising – more tips to grow income, with Will Robinson

Episode Notes

Long before the era of lockdowns, gaming was growing steadily more popular and across all demographics. Tantalisingly, its highly likely that some of the people who care about your cause also play games regularly.

Many larger charities have created strategies for fundraising with gamers. If you’ve not thought about this option before, or you want to get some ideas, we hope you find this episode (and Episode 66) illuminating.

I’m very pleased to share the second part of my interview with an accomplished fundraiser named Will Robinson, who works for the charity Become. During the first lock-down of 2020, they piloted a sponsored game-a-thon event called Become Players. It went so well they’ve repeated the event twice more, building a loyal group of new supporters.

In this excerpt from a new learning bundle we’ve created for the Bright Spot Members Club, Will explains lots of valuable insights to help charities succeed. This includes advice on working with influencers, ethical and safeguarding considerations, incentives, and the advantages of using a specialist instant messaging platform called Discord.

If you want to share this episode because you think it will help other charities – THANK YOU! – we are both on LinkedIn and on twitter Will is @Will_R0binson and I am @woods_rob.

Further Resources

Want to go deeper and get 24/7 access to LOTS more practical training content?

This episode is part of a learning bundle we created with Will on Getting into Gaming Fundraising for out Bright Spot Members Club. In the middle of this episode Hannah mentions how helpful she’s found it to be a member of the Club since the start of the pandemic. If you’d like to find out more about all the training bundles (on today’s topic and LOTS more) and live weekly coaching sessions that Hannah and the rest of the club get access to, or to try for just a month, go to www.brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join/

Want training, inspiration and support to increase fundraising income? You can find out more about the Major Gifts Mastery Programme; the Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme or the Individual Giving Mastery Programme by following these links.

Free E-book. If you’d like to know powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, then do check out my free E-book: Power Through The Pandemic – Seven ways to raise money with major donors, corporates and trusts, even now. You can download it for FREE here: brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power

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‘Out of the 65 people who raised money for us through gaming this year, 63 were entirely new to us, and the key acquisition tool was Facebook advertising.’

Will Robinson

Full transcript of Episode 77

Rob:

Hey there folks, and welcome to Episode 77 of the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast. This is the show for anyone who works in fundraising who wants ideas and maybe a dose of inspiration to help you enjoy your job and raise more money. And today, I’m sharing the second half of a conversation I had recently with Will Robinson, who is a very smart fundraiser at Become. Become is a fairly small charity that serves children and young people with experience of living in care in the UK. In episode 66 of this show, Will shared some wonderful progress his charity is made in fundraising with the gaming community.

Rob:

As you may be aware, in recent years some larger charities have developed strategies for raising funds with gamers. During the first lockdown in 2020, Will fast tracked his plans to do the same. At the time of recording, Will’s charity had done three separate gaming marathon events called Become Players, which had raised a total of £16,000. To me, one of the fascinating things about their achievements is that of the 65 people who raised funds through gaming for Become this year, not one of them had raised money for the charity in any way before. So this gaming initiative was the catalyst for lots of new support. And just as interestingly, some of those people have now raised funds for the charity through all three of the gaming events across the year.

Rob:

In today’s episode, Will shares advice and various lessons he’s learned so far, including tips on incentives, working with influencers and ethical and safeguarding considerations. Early in this part of the conversation, I asked Will to tell us about a specialist instant messaging platform called Discord that has been really helpful to their approach.

Rob:

Will Robinson, welcome to the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast.

Will:

Hey Rob, thanks for having me.

Rob:

You are very welcome. I’ve been so intrigued by some of the things you’ve been doing in the gaming community. I think I read on your blog about a platform called Discord. What is it and what are the advantages you’ve found with that compared to another platform like MailChimp or something for staying in touch with people?

Will:

Yeah. So Discord is an instant messaging platform. It was created specifically for the gaming community. So if you go onto Discord, you might join a channel, it’s called, specifically about a game because you’re interested in this one game, so like the Sims or something, you can go on the Sims channel and it’s just like a instant chat and everyone’s just talking about the game and you can make friends and have interesting conversation.

Will:

So charities, we can create our own channel, like Become Players channel, for all our participants to join. And that gives us an immediate communication tool to send out announcements, to send out just good stewardship, and also to help encourage participants to support each other. So again, this was super important for those technical questions about gaming, about streaming, which I did not know the answer to, people were asking this platform on Discord and then some of our other participants, who are great and who are experienced streamers will answer the question, and they’re all helping each other and building relationships and building community.

Will:

And it was hugely positive around the actual events to read out some of the messages that were sent during the weekend of. It was so wonderful to see everyone supporting each other. So people were saying, “Well done everyone. I love the community and how each of us made a difference.” Someone’s saying, “I love this community. I’m open to all events and challenges you got here in the future.” People are like, “Woo. Go team.” But yeah, essentially everyone’s just really excited for each other. And while we were watching the streams live during the weekend, so again this is another important point, is that as a charity, it’s really meaningful for you to be a viewer for your streamers when they’re doing the challenge that you drop in, it’s called, and then on the chat, you can say, “Hey, Will here from Become. How’s it going? You’re doing great. You’re amazing.” And that’s that really meaningful piece of engagement.

Will:

But while watching them, you can see them all talking about the team’s fundraising target. So that was really amazing, that people being, “Oh yeah, I’m on £200. That’s great. Let’s see how the team’s doing. Oh, the team’s on like 6,000. That’s so wonderful.” And they seem to be celebrating the team live total more than their individual total, which is really wonderful. And Discord has been really… Well, it’s been crucial for building those relationships and building that community so they have that shared experience and work towards a shared goal.

Rob:

Yeah. So, I’m realizing that if a charity’s going to do this, they’ve got to get a sense of how much resource they need when, and clearly there’s various milestones in the lead up to promote an event like that. And then it needs to be all hands on deck during that weekend or during that one day marathon, or whatever. Was it you doing most of that, heavy lifting, that appearing on there? Or were you managing to get your colleagues to do a stint as well?

Will:

First two challenges, so this was both in 2020, it was just myself, but we only just started using Discord relatively recently and the end of 2020. And it takes a couple of months to seed and build up, so it’s only really this year where it really started to take off. And there was a lot of organic conversation which we didn’t need to seed. And at that point, my colleague, Alicia, definitely helped. So there was two of us that helped moderate the chats and to be involved over the weekend and dropping in on all the streams and make sure everyone got some connection with the charity and felt like they were, yeah, fully supported and we were fully grateful for what they were doing.

Rob:

Yeah. And I was just wondering, it’s becoming really clear to me the various human needs that get met by an event like this that’s done well. I just see, it appeals not only to people’s competitiveness and their joy of the game, but also to this feeling of being part of something bigger than themselves, the power of the tribe. To what extent are people explicit about the cause? I’m guessing some people, it’s enough for them to know, if you give, you’re giving to this good cause and their mates don’t need loads of detail about out that. But is it also the case that some of your people who are fundraising for you might say a bit more about why this is an important cause? And if so, is that something that you, as a charity, would help them get the information or the content or the stories to be able to share that if they wanted to during a break or even while they were waiting for the next level to load up or something?

Will:

Absolutely. So yes, we have created, it’s like streamers tips and just quick short paras and key points about the charity and our cause, why it’s important, why we need to exist. We have provided that, but you’re right that there’s a broad spectrum of how engaged people are specifically with our cause. And we learn, or I learnt relatively early on that this is, we’re going to get most success from it if it’s a gaming product, which happens to be a charity fundraiser, rather than a charity product, which happens to be gaming. So I really wanted it to enter that gaming space, to look like a gaming challenge, to look like a gaming community.

Will:

And then our primary goal is fundraising, but a close secondary goal is to bring those individuals closer to the cause to help that education, and that in turn will hopefully help them participate or motivate them to participate in future events, which we are seeing and is the case. So yeah, the people who signed up is a broad spectrum, those people who have very little awareness of care experience, what it means for a person to be in care. But then we also have seen a wonderful number of people who have personal experience of care during the community as well, which is really fantastic and, yeah, helps with our ultimate mission of supporting the community.

Rob:

Thanks. And I know that in this space, sometimes people talk about the importance of influencers and that being a really attractive way, I guess, or an easy seeming way you can make one of these events succeed, because if you go to someone who’s got lots of followers, as I understand it, well then hey presto, lots of people are going to fundraise for you. Have I understood the word influencer correctly in this context? Could you put me right? And what’s your experience of going down that route to grow an event?

Will:

I think you are correct, Rob. Influencers, yeah, are a huge part of online culture now, beyond gaming and influencers are massive everywhere and I’m sure most charities are becoming very aware of their ability to promote events if you can get them on board. And yeah, there’s a huge cohort of gaming influencers. As I talking about earlier, people who are having thousands of viewers, if not hundreds of thousands of viewers to a live stream. So yeah, the possibility of them being able to get your message across to a huge number in a really small, short space of time is massive. And many of these gaming influencers have yet quite easily raised like £10,000 for a charity in a single evening, so if you can get one on board, it could be huge.

Will:

Some of them are available or will stream for you at a cost. That’s a decision that individual charities need to make. It’s not something that we would consider ourselves. We’re definitely hopeful to build relationships with influencers in the medium and longer term. I’ve struggled to reach them over the past 12 months, so that £16,000 we raised, we raised that without any influencer involvement. So they’re not a need, they’re not a necessity to have a successful gaming fundraising product, but yeah, the opportunity they present is massive so you should always consider them. And yeah, as I say, the key issue I felt and found is accessing them, just getting them to listen, getting them to reply. So we have had that one mid-level influencer who her personal experience of care was why they were motivated to support us and get involved in events.

Will:

But I didn’t know that beforehand when I contacted them, I was contacting quite a wide range of just British gaming influencers, just discovering that they’re actually UK based is quite difficult in the first place. Because you’ll find that gamers and streamers are relatively protective of their identity, where they are, location. I’ve heard questions before from regional-based charities asking, how can I discover where the streamers are within this region, within our county or something? And that’s going to be really hard because of that anonymity that a lot of people in the online space appreciate.

Will:

So yeah, I don’t have the answer, unfortunately, for influences yet. I’m still looking for it myself, but I hope the biggest tip I can give is, it’s not essential. Keep following that path, keep knocking at influencers’ door, and hopefully one day you’ll get one that’s really strong and really positive, and maybe will fundraise that 10 grand in one evening for you.

Rob:

Yeah. What’s really useful for me to know is, it sounds tempting, but it’s not, like lots of things in life and lots of things in fundraising, the promise of that easier seeming massive £10,000 or whatever, it’s tempting, but don’t be distracted by it. If it’s right for your fundraising strategy to test pilot could a gaming initiative work for us? If it’s going to work, it needs to work anyway because of how you work, your proposition and how it might suit a part of your audience. And if you do the work and make that work anyway, it seems to me over time, you may well also manage to make these extra things happen so that it can cause you to have a leapfrog growth, but to just go down the influencer route primarily anyway, like it’s the Holy Grail, like a magic wand that will solve everything seems to be not a wise path.

Will:

Yeah. Yeah. Our longer term strategy or ambition is that building the community of grassroots gamers that we are doing, that will in turn become an attractive proposition to streamers themselves because they’ll be able to advertise what they do, their stream, to this new community, this number, and they may get at an extra 100 viewers or followers to their own stream. So again, you’re incentivizing them, you’re offering something back because we’ve got that audience to offer to them.

Rob:

Hi, it’s Rob, and I just wanted to jump in really quickly to let you know about the Bright Spot Members Club, which is where we’ve published the full learning bundle that will help us to create. If you’re curious about how this training site works, rather than have me explain, I wanted you to hear from one of our members, Hannah, who joined in March, 2020, and who’s made use of the resources ever since. She’s had a fantastic year, which has included doubling the income for her small arts charity compared to the year before COVID and she credits the club with helping her to make this progress. Here’s what Hannah said about why she’s a member.

Hannah:

I think this way of learning, for me, just fits in much better with my workload. You’ve got so many different resources online that you can just tap into when you need them, and so many different experts that you brought to your program that actually, I think I would struggle to be able to persuade my board of trustees to spend hundreds of pounds sending me on a three, four-day training course when actually there’s a really good value for money in your series. And Rob, you bring some really fantastic speakers and professional fundraisers to your series, and some of the sessions may be very short, but actually that really suits my style of learning. So I think actually, I would say to someone, just give it a go.

Rob:

If you’d like to know more about how this training club works, go to brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join. For now though, back to the interview, as I asked Will about his approach to ethical and safeguarding issues.

Rob:

I wanted to ask a couple of slightly different questions about the bigger picture in the context of a charity, one to do with safeguarding and one to do with ethical approach generally and the suitability of gaming. It seems to me, so many charities are managing to make this work, that there is a way through, but our listeners may be concerned or maybe they know that there’s someone, a powerful decision maker within their charity who’ll be concerned on either of those fronts. In terms of the safeguarding one, for you, because your charity is for children and young people, what’s been your approach to keep things safe?

Will:

So specifically on safeguarding, that’s definitely been a key piece of my work to make sure, especially on Discord essentially, that’s where it’s been critical that we do have a safeguarding approach and to retain it to be that really positive and safe place for our community. It’s helped that we’re a small charity because we had such low numbers to start with, moderation is a key part of a Discord channel. So because we’ve got relatively small numbers and still do, I’m able to read every single message, every single chat that’s put out to make sure it’s safe and good. On the Discord, you can have text and voice channels. So we don’t have voice channels, it’s because we just don’t know how we could moderate that, so we don’t have that.

Will:

And you can always have all channels on Discord have a clear kind of code of conduct at the start, so it’s a clear agreement that if you join this community, you should follow these rules. If not, you maybe banned or kicked out of that community. There’s clear rules not to share any personal information, such as address or contact details. Clear message that if anyone else in the community makes you uncomfortable, you can direct message a charity administrator or email our charity here. A bit more technically the Discord offers its own safeguarding and safety options. So you can make your channel the most safe possible. So it blocks any triggering content.

Will:

And then beyond that, you can have what’s called bots. This is kind of AI, which you can add in yourself. So we have a bot that blocks swearing so you can’t use bad language. If someone types a message with bad language, it’ll say, “Oh, no, bad language. You’re going to have to rephrase that. You can’t send it in.” So there’s lots of tools you can use to make it a positive and safe place, but every charity needs to do its own risk assessment of the platform. You should bring your safeguarding lead into the conversation to make sure it is that positive and safe place.

Will:

And then finally, we’re really vocal about it on the platform. So we want this to be as safe and positive space as we can for all of you and for anyone who will join. And again, because I’m not an expert in Discord, I will ask the community, “If you think there’s any tools that we should build into this, please let me know so we can continue to make it even more safe.” And some of them came with really good suggestions. One of them was a tool where you can choose your own pronouns when you join the community. So that’s attached to your name to make people feel a lot more comfortable. So we’re able to build that in. So now when someone joins the community, they’re encouraged, if they would like to, to choose their own pronouns. And again, that’s hopefully made it a lot more safe and comfortable for individuals in the community.

Will:

So yeah, again, engaging them, bringing them on that safeguarding journey has been really important, but it’s still something that we’re still learning. And again, because we’ve had relatively small numbers, it’s meant we’ve been able to do it in an environment that we’re happy with, it’s safe enough rather than big charities. If we suddenly have 1,000 people join, that would become a huge risk because we just wouldn’t have the capacity to moderate every message and build the relationships and actually understand and know people. Yeah. So I think we’ve been a bit more lucky with that.

Will:

And then to come back to who we target, with the Facebook ads and everyone, we do target an adult audience so it’s always 18 plus, but yeah. So as you say, Rob, we’re a young person’s organization. We’re aware and we have to be responsible to expect some under 18s to join the channels, so we are aware of that. We’ve got all our safeguarding processes.

Rob:

Thanks Will. And what would you say to someone who’s listening and they can see, this is such an important fundraising opportunity that deserves to be looked at and taken really seriously given how massive a market it is, but they’re aware, either they’re concerned or some of their colleagues would be concerned about the associations between gaming and some things that could do harm, for instance, the perceived link between violent games and that behavior becoming more likely in real life. Lots of charities are getting past this and they’ve found a way to have that discussion internally, but what would your tips be for how we might navigate that?

Will:

Yeah. First off, yeah, I’m not a psychologist or researcher so I would definitely encourage everyone to do your own research into these key questions, which are important, but some of it all comes from a place of stigma as well, the stigma against gaming, that it’s a waste of time, it destroys brain cells, which has pretty largely been proven unfounded. So yeah, the whole, does violent games influence behavior? Again, if you just do your research and most of it proves that it doesn’t.

Will:

There’s a real question of addiction, which has been discussed a lot. Young people getting addicted to gaming. It is a minority, but it’s certainly real. So yeah, you should be aware of it. We build into our stewardship journey that gaming needs to be part of a balanced lifestyle. Absolutely encourage breaks. On Discord, we’ll raise it as a conversation to make sure people are aware and what tips that people have to make sure you’re getting away and it’s all safe. And then you can clear it on your webpage as well, tips to make sure you’re gaming safely.

Will:

There’s a question of that really common gaming challenge of the marathon. We have learned that that itself poses a bit of a physical health risk. If you’re asking someone to stay up overnight and do something for 24 hours, I mean that’s not the healthiest thing to do. So absolutely, everyone in charity community should be encouraging, sorry, breaks within the marathon. You absolutely should, not just allow, but encourage people to split that up over a weekend or longer to make sure people are looking after their mental and physical health. So yeah. Rather than just saying, “It’s a marathon, you got to do it,” and then some people may feel like, “Okay, if I don’t do it, I’m not going to get my certificate because I’m going to fail.” So yeah, you absolutely should be clear that it should be accessible, flexible, and safe.

Will:

But yeah, there is still a stigma against gaming, but again, I would definitely encourage people to do research. It can be a huge force for good within that balanced lifestyle. It can be a tool for positive mental health. Personally, I’ve used it for escapism. You can escape into another world, which is fantastic. And I was watching a documentary, a short documentary on BBC iPlayer the other day, it’s called Gaming And Me. I encourage people to watch that, that’s a bit of education, which is good.

Will:

And then one of the positive opportunities of the gaming world is opening up communities to individuals. Some people find communities which are inaccessible to them in “the real world.” So again, that is a hugely positive thing, and all these positive things should not be overlooked because of our past preconceptions that gaming is dangerous. And finally, gaming, I mean, it’s absolutely here to stay and it’s only going to grow. It’s not just young people, it’s a huge part of culture across the world. So if you make the decision to not engage, yeah, for safeguarding reason, that’s okay, but as long as you understand the positive aspects as well and you make that informed decision,

Rob:

That makes sense. Thank you Will. In terms of, I mean I know how hard you’ve worked over the last year and a half, having conversations, researching in various places to get more expert in this space, and I know you’re continuing to do that. If someone’s listening and they realize they really need to look into this, do you have a couple of tips for a couple of places they could go to or podcasts or blogs they could read which would help them go deeper than we’ve been able to cover in this fairly short interview?

Will:

Sure. I think the first thing I would say is go on Twitch and just really see real life what it is, what people are doing. So you can make an account really quickly with minimal personal information, and then you can just click and watch people live straight away. So you’ll understand there what gaming and streaming gaming is.

Rob:

I guess, I’m near the end here, but if there were one, two, or three things, they might seem obvious to you now, but two years ago, you wouldn’t necessarily have known these insights to be so important, so valuable principles or valuable things you’ve learned during this journey over the last year and a half that might be useful to someone who’s about to embark on it? Even if you’re in a way repeating some things you’ve said already, what would those one, two, or three principles or ideas be?

Will:

I think I would say every charity can access gaming fundraising. I think you will have some gamers in your current audience already, and you can also access completely new supporters. I think a key thing for us was that it’s entering the gaming space, or we’re straddling the gaming space and the charity space, but leaning more heavily into the gaming space. So if you build something that looks like a gaming product and a gaming community, that will really appeal to people who maybe don’t have awareness of your cause or charity yet, but that will motivate them to join. So essentially it’ll be an event led fundraising product, which it definitely is for us and we’ve seen huge success. And that community aspect has been massive for us, it’s been one of the most successful ad copy, I was mentioning earlier about doing a test of what is the most successful copy that engages people to sign up. So joining a community was really successful for us. So that’s been tremendous.

Will:

And then, I mean, another tip is everyone loves a good giveaway. So if you do incentivized fundraising, so we had, if you fundraise £200, you’re going to get a Become Players esports jersey. So esports is the more competitive side of gaming, but again, just to make people feel like they’re part of a team, they’re part of a community, and really give some tangible reward for that. People have loved that, gamers and everyone alike. So yeah, those are a few tips that I think every charity can access.

Rob:

Will, thank you so much. I’d love to go on and on, but I know you’ve got plenty to get on with. Thank you for coming on the podcast. Thank you for sharing so many examples, tips of things you’ve learned along the way. I look forward to watching your charity’s continued activity in this space, because it seems you’ve got plenty more plans and it’s working already and you’re determined to keep working with this community.

Rob:

A key insight I’ve got, like lots of great fundraising, so much of why you’ve made it work is by being grateful for and making use of the power of your community. You couldn’t have done it all on your own. There’s no way you ever could have, but you’ve really deliberately asked for help and found lots of wonderful people who care about your cause who have helped, and that’s a lot of why you’ve made it work. So, thanks for making that point really clearly, as well as all the other tips. Best of luck with your fundraising and I will catch up with you soon.

Will:

Great. Thanks again for having me, Rob.

Rob:

Thanks Will. Bye-bye.

Rob:

Well, I hope you found these ideas were helpful. If so, please do remember to subscribe to the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast today so that you never miss an episode. For a full transcript and a summary of the episode, go to the podcast section of our website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk.

Rob:

As I say, this episode was an excerpt from the full film interview I did with Will as part of a learning bundle for the Bright Spot Members Club. If you’d like to see the full learning bundle, it’s one of dozens of learning films and weekly live fundraising master classes that we provide to fundraisers through the club. To find out more about how the club works, go to brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join.

Rob:

Just before we finish, I’d like to say a huge thank you to all the kind listeners who’ve been spreading the word about this podcast on social media or to your colleagues, helping us to get this free content out to as many charities as possible during the pandemic. And Will and I would love to hear what you think about this episode. We’re both on LinkedIn, and on Twitter Will is @will_R-0-B-I-N-S-O-N. And I am @woods_rob. Thank you so much for listening today. Best of luck with all your fundraising and I look forward to sharing more Bright Spot examples with you soon.