Philanthropy has a new face, and it’s that of 24- year-old American YouTuber Jimmy Donaldson, also known as MrBeast.
His YouTube account is currently the fourth most- subscribed on the platform, and the highest ranking of any individual, with 130 million subscribers by 2023.
What makes Jimmy Donaldson particularly interesting is the way he has merged entertaining stunts with philanthropy in a way that – while it may divide opinion – is extremely effective at achieving his goals.
Jimmy first began his YouTubing career at age 13, in 2012. In the beginning, his content was the standard fare of play-along gaming videos, plus commentary about other YouTubers. This changed, however, once he began doing stunts that gained significant viewer traction despite costing little or no money and having no obvious purpose.
One excellent example is the video in which he spent more than 40 hours counting to 100,000, before condensing it into a 24-hour-long edit. This video gathered tens of thousands of views in a very short time, and began a trajectory to huge success as Jimmy learned more and more about how to create videos people felt compelled to watch.
While these videos themselves may not have changed the world (largely being silly stunts that played on viewer curiosity) their reach and popularity has arguably allowed him a platform from which to change lives.
Challenges he has set himself and challenges he has set for other people are among the most successful of his videos, whether creating a real life squid game, asking people to compete for a private jet by being the last to take their hand off it, or building Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory in real life and creating a competition to win the entire construction.
Ad revenue and product placement offers have been plentiful, and he has taken other spin-off business opportunities too, including creating his own burger chain and merch for fans. He hired many of his friends to work for him on content creation, spreading content across several different channels each with a different focus. Now he is worth an estimated $100million, and has raised millions for charities including the Arbor Day Foundation and The Ocean Cleanup.
While much of his charitable work has involved making money from videos and then donating it to good causes, many of his videos have also directly combined entertainment with philanthropy in a way that makes the charitable contribution itself the entertainment.
Among these videos are one in which 1000 people with curable blindness receive a sight-restoring operation paid for by Jimmy, with the whole thing filmed and edited for viewers’ entertainment. While some have criticized the way the subjects’ plights are served up as content, others have argued that the video highlights issues in a way that other, more dry, forms of publicity simply could not have managed.
As MrBeast, Jimmy has also bought Christmas gifts for children, a house for a homeless man, and donated thousands of dollars in cash to streamers and gold bars to restaurant servers.
Tasteful it may not be, but attention-grabbing? Certainly. And arguably raising money is only half the battle when it comes to supporting a cause, with the other half being raising awareness.
With so many family offices also looking to make their philanthropic effort as successful as possible, should we also be considering how to put our work and good causes front and center of potential audiences’ attention?
We may not want to do so in exactly the same style or to exactly the same audience as MrBeast has so successfully done, but his combination of charity and fun is an excellent example we can all learn from as we seek to engage new supporters in our philanthropic efforts.