About a month ago, Brendan Gepson, marketing specialist for the Nebraska Humane Society, had an idea.
What if some video gamers would hold fundraisers for the shelter while broadcasting themselves playing Stray—a popular video game about a lost cat who has to navigate, and escape, a world populated by robots. You play stray from the perspective of the cat!
“Are you a local streamer who’s interested in doing a Stray charity stream for the shelter?” Brendan wrote on Twitter. “Let’s chat! Our DMs are open! 🎮🐈”
Are you a local streamer who’s interested in doing a Stray charity stream for the shelter? Let’s chat! Our DMs are open! 🎮🐈 pic.twitter.com/eLzFxQabVG— Nebraska Humane Society (@NEHumaneSociety) July 21, 2022
(Excuse us if this is too basic, but: Streamers are gamers who share live videos of themselves playing, often on the platform Twitch. DMs are messages that people send to each other through the Twitter app. Direct messages, is what it stands for.)
It turned out it wasn’t hard at all! And actually, from NHS’s end, there really wasn’t anything to do beyond agreeing on dates and times for when the streams would happen, setting up donation links on Just Giving the Twitch extension Tiltify, then retweeting and sharing the gamers’ social media posts promoting the fundraiser.
“It doesn’t take a whole lot of work from us to be honest. It’s nice. Other than just letting the streamers know that they have our support,” Brendan says.
STREAMING STARTS NOW: https://t.co/FPFdfK730j— mac (@macaroon1) July 29, 2022
Let's play the cutest game ever and raise some funds for @NEHumaneSociety.
(I heard a rumor that the money is going directly to the NHS cats and will help fund their quest for world domination…) pic.twitter.com/WCNWcFYEgY
Trey, whose fundraising stream was on July 26, got involved after seeing Brendan’s tweet. He lives five minutes from the shelter, adopted one of his cats from there, is a donor himself, and had already been thinking about how he could volunteer. Holding a Twitch fundraiser was an easy call.
“I love cats and my channel has cat emojis and everything,” he says. “It ended up working out real well.”
Just under 450 people watched Trey play Stray over the course of the 4 and a half hour stream—a little more than his usual audience; he figures cat lovers were there to support NHS—and they were generous, donating $1,540. Many gave $25 or $50 donations.
Trey says it didn’t take much work at all to do, outside of coordinating dates with NHS, promoting the fundraiser on social media, popping the donation link into the Twitch chat periodically through the game—and playing the game, which he would have wanted to do even absent the fundraiser.
Elizabeth’s fundraiser was on July 28. She lives in San Francisco now—streamers don’t have to be local—but is from Omaha, and is also a cat lover. Her cat Zoey is a regular on her Twitch streams.
Elizabeth, too, connected with Brendan on Twitter, excited to help out the shelter’s cats and other pets with an activity she loves.
“I jumped on the chance,” she says. “And I told all my friends and my family, a lot of whom were still in Nebraska. And I told my coworkers.” That word of mouth, plus promotions on Twitter—including Elizabeth and Trey retweeting each other, and Brendan retweeting them—is what drew some 315 viewers to her stream, which lasted over four hours and raised $769; nearly double the goal she’d set out to raise.
“And I cannot believe that we were able to do that through just playing a video game online,” Elizabeth says. “This is the only time I have done something like this. But I would definitely do it again sometime, because it was such a positive experience.”
It was an extremely positive experience for Zoey, too. She got a treat for every $100 that was donated. “So she was having a great time. She just got to sit there, take a nap, and then get woken up every half hour for something to eat. I mean, that is like the cat’s dream,” Elizabeth says.
Trey says he thinks that more shelters could, and should, partner with gamers.
“Honestly, I feel like the crossover between animal lovers and video game people is a very, very big crossover,” he says. “They’re easily reachable. Just reach out to some streamers around your community. Ask around. Make a tweet just as simple as Nebraska Humane Society did. ‘Hey, are there any local streamers that want to do a charity stream with this game?'”
Elizabeth agrees—and says she’d encourage other shelters to use Stray or another animal-focused game for the stream, since it’s such a natural fit. Luckily there’s more than a few.
Annapurna, the company that made Stray, donated to the Nebraska Humane Society even beyond what was raised during the two fundraising streams. NHS was able to raise $8,459 through a Playstation code giveaway, then Annapurna donated another $1,035 directly to the shelter. As one headline about the partnership put it, “Cat-centric video game helps fellow strays at Nebraska Humane Society.” And that all happened when Annapurna reached out to the shelter through Twitter.
Brendan came away thinking that, first of all, it’s a good idea to keep your DMs open and also be sure to check them.
And second of all, more shelters should try partnering with video gamers for fundraisers. Brendan recommends putting out queries on social media, and also approaching staff and volunteers. There are approximately 216 million video gamers in the United States and it is a near certainty that someone knows someone who loves pets, and has a following on Twitch.
Beyond that, Brendan says this taught him a good lesson about staying open to new ways of spreading awareness and raising funds, and even to who might be interested in supporting your shelter.
“There are definitely people out there even if they are not the traditional kind of supporters you have,” he says. “I recommend just having an open mind and listening to their ideas and seeing what they want to do.”