How can gaming contribute to philanthropy, and why is digital fundraising so important?
We previously featured a blog post from undergraduate student Tori Hawkins about how gaming livestreams can benefit charities, but what are other ways that gamers can help raise funds for charity, and what can fundraisers learn?
Deanna Kerns, associate director of corporate partnerships at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Illinois appeared on a podcast episode with Women’s Philanthropy Institute director Jeannie Sager. Kerns shared how she became involved with philanthropy as a student participating in the University of Iowa’s Dance Marathon, and how dance marathons have engaged students in the power of philanthropy and giving back early in their careers.
As part of her current position, Kerns works with the dance marathons that support Lurie Children’s Hospital. She and her team partner with the gaming community through a program called Extra Life, which unites thousands of gamers worldwide to play video games in support of their respective local hospitals.
As background, Kerns shared the story of Victoria, a young girl with leukemia. During one of her stays in Texas Children’s Hospital, she formed a strong connection with a local radio host named Doc. During an extended hospital stay, Victoria shared with Doc that she loved playing video games, and people from all over the country sent video games for her to play. She then donated many of them to other children in the hospital. After Victoria passed, Doc created Extra Life so that gamers who loved what they do could participate in fundraising opportunities.
Since becoming a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital program, Extra Life has raised over $70 million. The money raised by gamers stays in the communities where they live and work.
Kerns explained that Extra Life has helped Lurie Children’s Hospital connect digitally with donors.
“Gamers have taught us a great deal about the digital world, and who is out there and willing to help,” she said. “It’s an amazing community that is so willing to come together to celebrate the work that we do at the hospital.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, knowledge from Extra Life and the gaming community influenced how Kerns and her team tackled digital fundraising in place of normally large and prevalent spring dance marathons.
“We were able to come together and host two very successful university college Zoom dance marathon events,” Kerns said. “And so students, who normally pour their passion into the in-person event operated in creative contexts that allowed them to connect with others online. So they did Instagram Lives, Tik-Tok videos, Zoom sessions, and more.
“They shared the story of Lurie Children’s Hospital in a beautiful way to create digital connections that they would normally do in-person. They made us feel like we were celebrating together.”
Kerns hopes to take these digital tools and use them in combination with in-person events in the future.
“For example, if someone can’t attend in-person, but they could be with us virtually, what would that look like?” she wondered.
Moving forward, Kerns and her team will continue to look into digital fundraising and how they can increase engagement surrounding the ease of giving.
“We need to continue to help our donors make a quick, impactful gift. Donors in general, and gamers and students in particular, have taken our message and led with technology,” Kerns said. “They continue to ask questions and share resources that we haven’t explored yet. So, we can learn from them about ways to encourage, ask for, collect, and steward the digital donations that we receive.
“Now, we’re just skimming the surface of what digital fundraising can look like. Other organizations and fundraisers can continue to listen to the resources that they have, think about the power of donors and the feedback that they give, and allow your organization to make those decisions strategically moving forward.”