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How Charity Gaming Marathons Have Changed Fundraising

Charity gaming marathons are changing the world of fundraising, one game at a time. Here's how gaming raises money.
Charity Gamers Gaming

Imagine playing video games as a way to raise money for charity. Sounds strange, right? It’s actually been an incredible money-raising strategy for the last ten years.

Sitting around and playing video games is often viewed as a leisure hobby, something done during free time or casually with friends. However, with the rise of the livestream, this passive hobby has become an active way to engage viewers across the globe. Tie this activity to a fundraising incentive, and you have one heck of a way to drive funds.

What is a Charity Gaming Marathon?

A charity gaming marathon is a livestream of participants playing games for either a virtual or live audience.

A schedule of games is set over a week or a weekend and viewers donate towards an on-screen donation total, much like an old-school telethon.

The livestream is often paired with incentives and prizes, high-level gamers play fan favorites or technically challenging games to drive donations.

The specifics of each marathon varies from event to event. Some events are primarily livestreamed video game events that viewers can tune into at any time during the marathon. Some are competitive tournaments, and others are just casual game playthroughs, friends getting together and having fun while raising money.

Raising money for a good cause is always the primary goal. This idea is reinforced typically by an emcee or host who reminds viewers often what the gameplay is going towards.

Does It Work?

Yes! While the idea may seem a bit unusual at first, these gaming marathons have proven to be effective at drawing donations.

Some of them accumulate several million dollars each year for major organizations like St. Jude’s or Doctors without Borders.

These charity gaming marathons are successful because donors enjoy watching high-level gameplay and having incentives to donate towards, like “bonus” games. High level gameplay is not only entertaining, but the live aspect of the marathon means the viewers have a say in the format. Games can be added, incentives can be met, and viewers can become active participants.

Combining the mass appeal of video games with the ability to easily livestream, the charity gaming space has become an attractive opportunity. The growing popularity of this method allows anyone with the right recording setup and enough games to start collecting money for their cause.

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The History of Charity Gaming

One of the first charity marathon events dates back to 2010, with an event called Games Done Quick. The first Games Done Quick raised $10,000 for the humanitarian organization CARE, and the event has grown significantly every year since. What started as a small event in a basement has now become a large, multi-million dollar fundraising event.

Games Done Quick does exactly what the title suggests: participants, called “runners,” play their game as fast as possible. Participants must audition for a spot in the marathon. Once picked, they practice for months, often achieving world-record times in their games. The pressure of the live performance is a thrill for audience members to watch and it drives donations.

The in-person event averages over 2500 people in attendance, including staff, volunteers, runners, and attendees. They encourage their viewers to donate during the stream by reading donation messages and constantly updating on-screen trackers and goals, as well as offering incentives like raffle prizes.

This past January, Games Done Quick ran their event entirely online due to the pandemic and still managed to raise $2.75 million for the Prevent Cancer Foundation.

A screenshot of a gaming marathon shows a crowd of people watching behind gamers playing as well as a stream of online comments.
Games Done Quick raised a landmark $3 million during Summer Games Done Quick 2019

Many events like Games Done Quick start small, raising a few hundred or a few thousand dollars and attract a small but loyal viewership. Over a few years, however, they can gain momentum due to word of mouth, quality of the stream, and high-level gameplay. Fans of these marathons look forward to the yearly events and become more willing to put down large sums to keep the games going as well as to help out a good cause.

Other gaming fundraising events have adapted the Games Done Quick model with great success. One more recent charity gaming marathon called Gaming Community Con (recently rebranded from GuardianCon) focuses more on the “loot shooter” gaming community. This event offers a rich in-person experience with panels and award shows, in addition to its fundraising marathon livestream. And it seemed this model worked – they raised a staggering $3.7 million for St. Jude’s in 2019 over one weekend.

Zeldathon is another charity gaming marathon that has grown tremendously since its formation in 2009. In their bi-annual event, participants play every title in the The Legend of Zelda franchise, as long as the donations are coming in. Their mission is to not only to provide excellent gameplay, but a highly entertaining broadcast for the whole family. Fans of the marathon enjoy the banter and camaraderie between the dozen or so friends who come together for this event every year. In the last ten years, Zeldathon has raised over $2.6M for charities across the world.

How Can I Get Involved?

The good news is that a nonprofit or charity doesn’t need to be related to video games to join this space. Looking back at successful charity gaming marathons, there’s usually no connection between the charitable cause and the gaming-related nature of the event.

If you’re interested in getting your nonprofit involved in this space, there are a few different ways to start. First, you can try reaching out to local gaming communities or gamers who have participated in an event in the past or plan to in the future. Ask if they’d consider partnering with your organization to run a charity gaming event.

If you have gamers in-house who are familiar with livestreaming, try hosting or participating in a gaming fundraiser yourself!

First, the livestream is an integral piece to set up, as it helps your organization reach the broadest audience of potential donors.

You can easily set up a Twitch account and use their free streaming app Twitch Studio to get started. Twitch Studio provides a guided and intuitive set-up, too. Be sure to have a high-quality web camera and a fast connection speed!

You may want to review how to stream from your favorite game console to your computer. With a bit of set-up, the process is relatively simple.

Then, be sure to have your GiveWP form ready to point donors to. The GiveWP tools allow you to create a form as a page to collect donations with easy-to-use design tools that you can scale with your giving needs. Having a donation goal visible on your stream is a great way to raise money over a weekend event. It’s often smart to set a small goal at first, as viewers love seeing that amount surpassed. It also allows you to add on “bonuses” for hitting the goal!

If your event is hosted on Twitch, then you can take advantage of their command feature to lead viewers to your site. By tying a phrase to an exclamation mark (such as !donate), viewers can be easily linked to your GiveWP donation form right through the livestream chat.

Once you have your GiveWP page ready to receive donations, and your stream is set up, just link the donation form in the chat, and you are ready to start your gaming marathon!

Joining the Charity Gaming Space

If the concept of playing video games for charity is new to you, you may want to check out a few past successful fundraisers for ideas before diving in. It can be overwhelming at first, but the level of viewer engagement and enthusiasm for raising money makes it worthwhile!

Additionally, as you consider gaming marathons, prepare to start small. Rarely are events huge successes on their first go. You may want to consider running your gaming event for multiple years in a row before momentum builds.

While the idea may still seem outlandish for some, charity gaming marathons have proven to have surprising appeal and staying power.

As long as the gaming is entertaining and there are incentives built in for viewers, your event will have appeal. Plus, the technology around livestreaming and online gaming is rapidly growing, making this an exciting new way to connect to donors around the world. So pull out those old games, dust off the controllers, and get to gaming!

Are you ready to game for a cause? Let us know your thoughts on charity gaming events in the comments.

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