I used to be sceptical about gaming. Then lockdown changed my mind.
My two primary school-aged children struggled with not being able to see their friends, yet they came to life when they played Minecraft and Among Us.
It was a way for them to socialise (while following the rules we’d set about who they connected to) and also to gain new skills. Listening to their excited chatter as they played, I realised that they were learning how to negotiate, problem-solve, plan and work in teams.
Gaming offers charities benefits too, especially when recruiting the donors of tomorrow. The UK mobile games market has grown by 50 per cent since the onset of the pandemic, equivalent to 8.6 million new gamers, with spending on games reaching £4.4bn.
Warchild has raised £2.5m through gaming, while the suicide prevention charity Calm is running a Gaming for Calm fundraising initiative, leading to its branding and messages being added to the latest update to the Fifa football game.
Matt Smith, senior consultant at Think Consulting Solutions, thinks that gaming is a gateway to streaming (streamers broadcast themselves in real time while playing video games).
"We expect both to become massive income streams in the years ahead, as they offer such visceral and engaging ways for supporters to interact with their friends and raise money by doing something fun, from gaming marathons to regularly hosted challenges, livestreamed quizzes and music events," he says.
Melanie Kane, digital marketing officer at Cats Protection, is part of a team that spotted the potential of gaming in 2019, when a growing number of gamers began to involve their cats in livestreams.
In response, Cats Protection created Pawsome Players, where participants livestream themselves playing games on platforms such as Twitch, YouTube or Facebook and invite their audiences to donate to the charity.
“There are about 130 people in Cats Protection’s Pawsome Players community and they have raised over £65,000, which has helped thousands of unwanted and abandoned cats in Cats Protection’s care,” says Kane.
Gaming can also give charities international reach. Pawsome Players has brought Cats Protection a global audience, with supporters from 50 countries donating via the fundraising and gaming platform Tiltify.
As with any other fundraising activity, it’s only sustainable if charities build a community around shared, inclusive values.
Kane discovered that the gamers they worked with wanted to discuss ideas and collaborate on meeting goals. She learned that they had a range of interests from cooking to cat behaviour, so she and her team organised a variety of streaming activities to meet these needs.
Kane encourages charities to research gamers and streamers on Twitch and Twitter to see if they are the right fit for your charity, to offer them fun ideas and resources so they can build communities and to create a Discord server so that you can engage on a regular basis with your community of gamers and livestreamers.
While researching this piece I spoke to a gamer called Spanners from the Twitch channel In the Toolbox. He and his partner brought together a group of gamers from around the world who recently fundraised for Stand Up to Cancer.
“This became a month-long and very personal charity fundraising effort for the group,” says Spanners. “We ended up raising $6,201 (£4526) over the whole month, which blew us away considering we had set our first target at $1,000.”
Spanners’ story shows that there is a big community of potential fundraisers out there who want to support charities like yours.
Gaming is a world of possibilities for charities if you’re open to innovating and trying new ways of using digital.
Zoe Amar is founder of the digital and marketing consultancy Zoe Amar Digital @zoeamar