Lifesaving Livestreaming: One nonprofit's RAD fundraising strategy

Lifesaving Livestreaming: One nonprofit's RAD fundraising strategy

February 14, 2020
35 minutes

Jason Docton · CEO, Rise Above the Disorder | Listen to a knowledge-packed chat about livestream fundraising with an organization that has provided over $702 million in mental health services through this innovative strategy.


Livestream fundraising has more in common with traditional fundraising strategies than you may know.

If you've been looking for a new-yet-familiar fundraising frontier to dip your toes into, here are a few quotes that'll pique your interest:

  • “Q: What did you do to raise $1M? A: We did next to nothing.”
  • “Your organization literally has zero effort to get started.”
  • “Livestreaming fundraising is much more intuitive and much further reaching. It's just as simple, if not easier [than traditional fundraising].”

Discover a wealth of livestreaming knowledge from Jason Docton, CEO of Rise Above the Disorder, an organization that relies on livestreaming to fund almost all of their lifesaving efforts.

Listen in to a cliche-crushing, perspective-bending discussion of modern fundraising between Jason and Justin Wheeler, Funraise CEO and Co-founder. This conversation will stick with you, we promise. (And yes, we recognize the irony of watching a recording about livestreaming...)

Once you're ready to try livestreaming yourself, talk to a Funraise fundraising expert to find out more about how Funraise can support your organization.


Justin: Jason, thanks so much for coming in to the office today to talk about livestream fundraising. So it's been a pleasure to get to know you over the last, it's only been a few days.

Jason: Yeah!

Justin: Your story has inspired me in many different ways and so what I'd love to do is just kind of first start off, introduce yourself, tell us who you are, what you do, what your organization does and then we'll jump into some of the livestream fundraising questions that we'd love to get your advice on.

Jason: Sure. Yeah. So my name is Jason Docton. I'm the CEO of Rise Above the Disorder. I've been doing this for almost 10 years now, it seems like. It's been a long process. I started to Rise Above the Disorder back in 2013, but I didn't start it as RAD. I actually started it as this nonprofit called Anxiety Gaming. And we were like this tight-knit World of Warcraft guild that was really excited about helping people who struggled with depression and anxiety and welcoming them into our guild. Finding ways for them to get support, providing some of that support and watching as people grew all over this platform.

Justin: For people who don't know what a guild is, what do you mean by welcoming them into your guild?

Jason: Essentially like an online community within this game, World of Warcraft, for a long time, it was one of the most popular video games on the planet. And you could create these little communities in there that work together, that fought monsters together, leveled up together. And you build such a great relationship with people within these communities, these little guilds, as we call them. And that kind of created the first really great layer to talking with people about mental health, right?

In gaming, you don't say have like the visual connection that people use to build relationships, but that creates a certain level of safety, especially for the vulnerable. You know, online you can kind of be who you would like to be and present yourself how you would like to be. And consequently, if you don't like how you've presented yourself, you can withdraw at any point and just cease that connection. And so a lot of people surprisingly come forward with who they really are.

Justin: Got it. So fast forward a couple of years to Rise Above the Disorder or at least the transition from that to where you're at today. Tell us about what your organization does and why you're so passionate about it.

Jason: So, I struggled with mental health issues for many years, and that pushed me far enough to want to find a way to better how mental health care is. But it wasn't until we got this particular individual that reached out to us that I had really become impassioned with mental health care. We had had this individual who had recently suffered the loss of both of their parents and grandparents. And, you know, they had reached out to us hoping that we could help them in any way. And they didn't know and really neither did we, how we could begin to help them. But we knew that they were feeling suicidal and we knew that gaming was really the only safety net that they had had at the time. So, you know, we set out to try and find them local resources. And the only thing that we could find was an hour away in the nearest metropolitan…

Justin: And by resources, you mean basically money to pay for the care?

Jason: I mean, at this time, even just a therapist. Just find anything that that would anybody that could help them since we're just a bunch of people in a video game. And we set out to find something and we found this mental health facility. It was a nonprofit, and they wanted about $10,000 to work with this person. But they'd get to live there. They'd get food and they'd get treatment. And seeing as this person had had become homeless after the loss of of their parents and grandparents. I mean, it was critical that we found them something that in-depth.

So I worked with this nonprofit over the course of a week, and I managed to get them to agree to see this person for a $1,000. And, we would recommend people in their direction to subsidize that. And so, you know, we had a goal. We set out to raise $1,000 to help this person. But we had no idea how to fundraise. We had no idea what we were doing. We were a bunch of people on disability struggling with their own mental health issues and trying to fundraise. And the first week we got about $285. The second week we got about $600. And partway into the third week, a friend of theirs had reached out and told us that they had taken their life. It’s just, you know, they... I know that they appreciated that we were trying to fundraise. But when you're in this situation where so much happens to you so fast, that overwhelming tragedy, it gets to you. And they were isolated and we could only help so much. But it just really stuck with me that the cost of this person's life was $1,000. That was the difference between them getting the help that they deserved and them, unfortunately, taking their life. And ever since then, we've just been completely about this idea of universal mental health care.

So we piloted several programs. We made it happen. And to this date, through the gaming community, actually, we've been able to create and sustain a universal mental health care program that's helped 30,000 people get free mental health care. So, In the last few years, RAD has basically provided critical support for the over 30,000 people who have sought out your guys' services. And all this came really through an online community in the gaming space. Which all kind of started, incidentally. Is kind of what I'm gathering. Yeah, the power of a couple of people buying computers is incredible. It's I mean, and this is very inclusive in terms of coverage, you know, everything from transportation, whether they need a ride to and from therapy to medication if they are using that and can't afford it. And of course, the the actual healing process itself, the psychotherapy, all of that gets covered.

Justin: What I love about RAD is you guys have an amazing mission. And, you know, the results speak for themselves in terms of just the overall efficacy of your guys activity and work and then combining it with the methodology that you use to actually fund that work. I think most nonprofits today, when they go to the drawing board to create a fundraising strategy, livestream fundraising is not even close to being discussed or talked about.

Jason: Sure.

Justin: And for you guys, it's your main strategy. I mean, you've raised millions of dollars through live stream fundraising. And so what I'd like to do over the next few minutes is just kind of talk about how this is a whole new concept for a million, million-plus nonprofits that are out there. Right? You know this best. You've been in this space for a while, but help, kind of just distill and break down the myths that like livestream, fundraising isn't for every nonprofit and maybe even before we do that, let's talk about what is livestream fundraising? What is it that you guys do that is so effective at raising funds through platforms like Twitch and other livestream services?

Jason: Sure. So livestream fundraising is looking at it from the most basic terms. It's going in front of a camera. It's hitting a button that directly connects everything in front of the camera to a live website and doing what you would normally do.

Justin: So that's where I think lots of nonprofits are like, OK, doing what you normally do. Who is going to watch a stream of me doing what I normally do? So maybe unpack that a little bit. What do you mean by just that, raw live stream, of what you normally do?

Jason: Yeah. I mean imagine a telethon. You know, the groups that watch a telethon are watching it live on TV. And the beauty of when you talk about live is that that solicits a unique audience, not a small number of audience, but a unique hunger from an audience to engage and interact and be involved with what you're doing. When you go live, you're offering people an opportunity to be a part of what you're doing in real-time and not just after the fact. And that's, I think, the best way to demystify it, because we oftentimes think of livestream fundraising as this kind of scary process where, where are the viewers coming from?

Why would anybody want to consume this? But the reality is they're platforms that exist that source the viewership that you're already existing donor base is probably curious to see how you do what you do. And is even very forgiving about the learning curve of doing what you do. Things like syncing up the audio, or things like that. Viewers actually enjoy that Because they feel like they're apart of it.

Justin: You guys recently raised almost $1,000,000 or just over $1,000,000 through a streaming campaign.

Jason: Yes.

Justin: What did you guys do to raise those funds? Like how long did it take? And what was the thing people were watching that caused $1,000,000 to be donated?

Jason: So the great answer for a lot of the nonprofits listening is we did next to nothing. We actually never went live ourselves at any point. Instead, what we did is we started up this small campaign where our hope was to raise enough to enter our normal workload into free therapy. We have couple hundred people reach out that we can afford to cover. We wanted to make sure they're taken care of. And what we did was we went onto a lot of the preexisting live streaming websites and we found people that we felt connected to. People who would briefly touch on mental health. People who would be more open about themselves and their experiences. And these people are the broadcasters, the people who had live streams?

Justin: So you went to a site like Twitch, found individuals that were streaming found individuals that were streaming and reached out to them to say, hey, this is our mission. This is what we do. Would you raise some funds for us on one of your streams, basically?

Jason: Yeah. I mean, think YouTube. Think general celebrities. You find somebody who's clearly passionate about something. And the beautiful thing about broadcasters across, whether it's Twitch or Mixer or Caffeine, is that they're very accessible. They have their business email usually built into their profile. They're the one that checks it themselves. You reach out to them and you just let them know like this is what my mission is and I would love for you to get involved. And they often want to take it away themselves. They want to be involved there. Yes, absolutely. And they have an incentive to be in this, too. Right? Because it's good branding on both sides.

Justin: Yeah. And I mean, basically, that process that you just explained of finding a prospect, finding someone that seems like they would be a good fit because their values align with what you're doing as an organization. And then reaching out and saying, "hey, like we think there could be a great partnership here, we'd love for you to help promote what we're about." I mean, that's very traditional fundraising. Right?

So if you think about how most fundraisers are raising funds today, is they're finding people that care about the thing that is that they're doing, they reach out and ask them to support. And what you've done is you've just taken that concept and have used it to find people in the streaming space to use their gifts and talents to raise funds through their medium.

Jason: Absolutely. Take something that's also, you know, a little bit newer in terms of fundraising, but starting to become very established like peer to peer fundraising. Livestream fundraising is not any different than peer to peer fundraising. It's actually, I think, much more intuitive and much further reaching. Through a peer to peer fundraiser through, say, something like Facebook.

You might empower one of your existing donors to invite their friends across Facebook and some of their friends invite some of their friends. And, you know, you're watching that social reach grow between that. And it might cross some divides, but relatively, it's going to be located to a specific area where people grew up, went to school, etc. What you might not realize is that plenty of your donors are probably also broadcasters. There's millions of broadcasters on Twitch. On Twitch allone, and on Mixer and Caffeine, we're talking tens and tens of millions of people who go live sometimes not even to any audience other than their friends that like to watch them.

But so somebody goes live, starts almost like a peer to peer fundraiser, but on Twitch or Mixer or Caffeine. And then they have their friends join in and they watch them go live. And they might do challenges like you would on a peer to peer fundraiser, like getting pied or, you know, they have to color, a name in marker on them or something. But now people from around the world start to tune in and they start to view this content. And it snowballs like any peer to peer campaign. The more people that view this content, the further and further it grows. And now Twitch, noticing some of this growth might highlight that. Might put it on the front page. And now you have thousands upon thousands. And, then you can ignite other people in peer to peer fundraising.

So maybe a broadcaster who has a successful broadcasting career isn't just, you know, somebody who's chosen to try going live for the first or, second time, but somebody who does this 10 hours plus a day notices this fundraiser and also chooses to get involved. And now this peer to peer fundraiser has grown exponentially. As a fundraiser and as a nonprofit, you're always looking for force multipliers. These livestream fundraisers give you the best opportunity for force multipliers. Especially if your initial investment is just doing what you already do and that's turning people on to your cause. turning people on to your cause.

Justin: Yeah, I like that concept of force multipliers. I mean, in your guys' case and the $1,000,000 that that you've raised, how many individuals was that that gave? That made up that $1,000,000? I imagine it's a lot of low dollar donations. Do you have any like any rough estimate of how many people actually participated through those efforts?

Jason: Yeah. So this is the effort of roughly 130 broadcasters and the average donation being around $4. The reason that that is is a lot of broadcasters set $3 as, if you donate $3 an interaction shows up on the screen that all of the people watching can see and some set it as $5. So it ends up being a little bit in between there. But people want to do that and they donate.

Justin: They like that social recognition, right? So like, if I donate above the minimum, then my name or whatever the creator might have decided to put up on screen, when something happens, when a donation of this amount happens.

Jason: Sure.

Justin: You get that recognition from the community, from the people watching. And it's another traditional fundraising tactic in the sense that like social pressure we know is an effective way to get people to give. This is what you see at know big galas and events. It's people raise that paddle or people put their hand up and say, I want to give in front of 200 people. They'd like that recognition. In this case, in this example, it's very much kind of the same concept of getting recognized and in a fun way that other people can see.

Jason:  Sure. I mean, collectively, we might have tens of thousands of donors across these 153 broadcasters and in no small donations really add up. But for them, you know, they love that level of interaction. You imagine, let's say you're a big, well-scaled nonprofit. And, you know, somebody like Ryan Reynolds. Imagine if people could pay $3 to get Ryan Reynolds to say their name or just acknowledge them. They're gonna do it.

And that's exactly how this goes. Except each broadcaster has their own unique community that they've cultivated over time. That really is incentivized to engage with them to show their support as a community member. It becomes very tribal. Everybody wants to be involved in what the tribe leader, this broadcaster is doing and will pay to do that.

Justin: OK, so $10,000 donors across 130 or so broadcasters.So, I would have to assume, as like you just said, these are like loyal, fans of the broadcaster, right? So they want to engage and interact with the broadcaster. So how do you take the step from the individual giving $3, $4, $5 to introducing them to your organization and now becoming like a committed donor to your cause? I imagine there's, just like in peer to peer fundraising, a lot of times people are giving to the person that's asking maybe doesn't know much about the organization itself. So what are the steps that you guys take to bridge that gap and to try to convert those stream donors into RAD donors?

Jason: You know, there's a couple of different tools that you can utilize right out the gate. is a very popular giveaway platform or sweeps is the preferred one for us is how you approach it. But this actually rewards potential donors with things like giveaways and even interaction on stream for providing their email information for signing up with social information. So you can start to aggregate a good amount of data about the people that are invested in the cause to that level.

Through the fundraising sites that you can utilize, I think the problem that we've run into is we typically just get emails. And we usually get those emails through PayPal. And so we'll try and send a request to add some of these people from the emails through PayPal and Stripe and whatnot to solicit them for further donation. But it wasn't until we began talking that we found that Funraise is a tool where we can actually pull all of that information and be able to understand and convert a lot of these people from just donating because they found us through a broadcaster that they like. To being able to give them the critical information that they need to stay involved with our org and stay supportive.

Justin: I think the, the thing to understand with this strategy is you get 10,000 donors and if you can convert 10%, 20% of those people to be long term donors. That isn't an incredibly effective fundraising strategy. Right? It's very low cost. I think like if you look at like maybe like the processing fees that you guys paid, it was maybe, 10% of the total raised. You had to pay out in credit card fees. But even then, like for every $1 spent you, you produce $9 or $10 in return.

And that's like a that's a very good ratio. And when it comes to fundraising and the goal is, OK, we cast this wide net. We got a bunch of new donors. And now as an organization let's focus on individuals that we believe can be long term supporters and donors. Whether it's through like monthly  giving program or other ways to engage them. So for organizations that are watching and they're considering, you know, going live this year to raise. What are like some practical steps? Where should they get started? What are the first three things that they should do to ensure that they're go live is successful and they raise the funds that they would hope to raise?

Jason: Yeah. The first thing that we had to get settled is the brand narrative. It needs to be good. It needs to be strong. It needs to be consumable. And that's for that's for the brand narrative for reaching out to the broadcasters? Just your nonprofit. Your nonprofit brand narrative is the most important step here. Because the next step is to find people who can carry this brand narrative, who can communicate it, who relate to it, who are impassioned by it. And then to simply give them the tools that they need to succeed. Which is often an extension of step one. You have this broadcaster. They love the narrative. They feel empowered by the narrative. They relate to the narrative. And then you give them the same tools to impassioned their community on that narrative and you step back.

Justin: What you're teaching me is that livestream fundraising really isn't all that different than traditional fundraising. You basically have a story to tell. Right? Be a good storyteller as a nonprofit organization. The mission of your organization needs to be able to be told in a way that inspires people to get involved, to give and to potentially even help raise support for the organization itself.

And so what you're saying is to run an effective streaming campaign, live stream fundraising campaign, is understand your brand, understand the narrative, reach out to individuals who already have the influence and the reach on platforms that you've mentioned asking to support your cause. And during one of their livestreams, their normal livestream events, if you will. So that's essentially how to get started is what you would recommend.

Jason: Yeah. I mean, if you're fundraising in any other way and finding success and you're not fundraising through live streaming, I think it's a misstep because it's just as simple, if not easier. And instead of treating the broadcaster like a talent or an influencer, treat them like a donor, they are just as invested in fundraising for you as their community is. And if you continue to cultivate that and impassioned them and empower them, they're not going to do a one-off fundraiser. They're going to do it annually. They're going to do it monthly. They're going to continuously do that. There are some people within the community whose whole niche is that they're charitable broadcasters. All they do is fundraise for charity. And they make thousands upon thousands of dollars with every broadcast. If you plant the seed with your mission within the livestreaming platform, the more seeds you plant, you're just going to reap tenfold what comes forward. Let people figure it out for themselves. You don't need to hire an agency. You don't need to double down and pay broadcasters, or influencers to be involved. You just have to find the people that relate to your cause the most and give them the tools that they need to fundraise.

Justin: Does the amount of viewers have any correlation for the amount that you could raise through a broadcaster? Or are there other metrics that someone should look at to determine the broadcaster to partner with?

Jason: Yeah... absolutely not. Viewers don't necessarily correlate to funds raised. Especially as it relates to talent. It's really the talent that's going to inspire their community. And I'm saying talent in this sense,because we're used to coaching a talent, for example.But it's that one donor. It's kind of like a Facebook giving platform. You might find somebody with a ton of friends. That doesn't necessarily mean they're going to get much funding from those friends, but somebody who consistently posts and has a strong connection to all of these people. Sometimes that means somebody with a small amount of friends who they're very close with who would be involved with something like this.

We've done broadcasts that have gone live to 100,000 concurrent viewers, and that's certainly brought back a decent amount. But we were surprised by what the ratios were. There was multiple broadcasters involved and two of the biggest broadcasters involved brought in the least amount. And then we've worked with small groups who they come together and this is their first time fundraising for a nonprofit on Twitch or Mixer or Caffeine. And they only have like a dozen or so really supportive viewers. But those people come in and they're giving $5 and then $20 and then $100 and then $1,000. And they're all about it. They're very invested.

Justin: You've run several campaigns now and you've worked with hundreds of broadcasters. If you were to say this is like one thing you have to make sure to do, like what is it that inspires people to give… through a livestream? Is it like funny incentives? Is it something different?

Jason:  What have you seen to be basically the biggest influencer to the most amount of donations? Interaction. I think interaction is what makes live streaming successful. For context, for people that are watching this Twitch, which is the largest broadcasting platform, is bigger than YouTube. It occupies far more bandwidth on the internet at any given time. That's a lot of people that are watching live content.

But what keeps them involved in it is the interaction that they can have with the person broadcasting. They watch this person. They know their life. They care about them. They are concerned about them. For them to have a way to interact, means a lot. And they get that acknowledgment straight away. As a nonprofit, you might have a postcard that you send or a bag or a t-shirt. You might have something to emotionally connect somebody in a tangible way. They don't need that. They just want the broadcaster's interaction. And that is enough to do that.

It also cements emotionally their connection to the nonprofit because the nonprofit is what connected them to the broadcaster on a deep emotional level. So when you're setting up these fundraisers with broadcasters look at interaction. Is there a way that they can just simply say their name? Could they add them to a whiteboard in the background? What if the broadcaster was able to get some kind of plaque or memorabilia and it had all of the donors names. Find ways to associate that level of interaction between the broadcaster and the person that's donating.

Justin: So once an organization finds a broadcaster that aligns in terms of mission. What else does the organization need to do to activate that individual or what resources does the organization need to be able to pull off a livestream fundraising event or something similar?

Jason:  Sure. You know, if you're a smaller nonprofit, you're just getting started and you're looking for really great ways to raise funds. Nothing.That's how we started.

Justin: Nothing?

Jason: No incentives. No. Just, "hey, you know, this is what we're like, cold emailing." we're like, cold emailing."

Justin: So a streamer will basically say, "Yeah, I'd love to raise funds for, nonprofit... A. I'll do it on my next stream." The organization doesn't have to do anything? The streamer we'll take it from there in terms of using the technology that's needed to raise the capital, raise the dollars for and then the funds get distributed to that to the nonprofit accordingly. So the organization literally has zero effort to get started?

Jason: None. I mean if that's your available resource, is nothing, and that's totally fair. That's totally fine as a nonprofit. You know, sometimes that's our resource. Nothing. That works.If I want to invest more and I see this go exponentially further, I get involved. I ask them, do you have any questions? Here's an FAQ about what we do. Would you like to interview one of our members on stream?

So we can come and talk about the cause? Talk about a way to force multiplier, right? If you're a good storyteller now, you can empower all of these people. And they're not just community viewers. They're now your donors because you'vehad the direct connection.There's no broadcaster between that. Giveaways… Those kinds of things can be great raffles and whatnot. If you have those resources to do them, but to be mindful.

The more that you give away, the more you incentivize with products, things like that. These kinds of viewers, they're much younger. They're more savvy. They understand that they're being solicited in that way and they'll, they'll get involved for the giveaway. That doesn't necessarily mean they care about the cause. They might follow it for future giveaways. So if you're going to add resources, one of the things that I like to keep in mind mentally is you either have time or money, but they substitute one another.

If you don't have a lot of money to give the broadcaster anything to give away, give your time and give your voice. Give that as a resource. It'll go a very long way. If you do have the money, brochures, resource packets about your organization, T-shirts, team up with other product sponsors that you may have and use that to empower and draw viewers to your broadcast.

Justin: Interesting. So what about like. You talked about the interaction, and so would something like this be effective if you have like a streamer that basically was like, hey, I'm going to raise funds annually for this organization. It's my favorite nonprofit. I'm going to do three, four or five different streams throughout the year? And maybe they communicate to their following. By the end of the year, whoever donates the most through my fundraising streams. They're going to join me and we're gonna go actually visit the impact of the organization that we're supporting. Would that be an interaction that you think would be effective? Or does the interaction have to happen on stream for it to be impactful?

Jason:  So, I mean, you've hit both because you've driven people to compete for the attention of the broadcaster, which is a very smart tactic in this situation. And they will they will compete because you're constantly getting notoriety or constantly getting the broadcasters attention. You're regularly interacting. And then that final interaction is met with a beautiful, capturable, content-driven moment.

It is something that we have utilized before and can be really powerful. I think the only thing that I would look at in that specific scenario is consent from the broadcaster and their level of comfort. Some broadcasters do have unique experiences with viewers in person, or don't want to have those things, but creating experiences, which nonprofits usually really love to do anyway, is a powerful way to drive interaction.

Justin: Got it. Cool. Well, Jason, thanks so much for coming in today. I know from my perspective you have done a great job distilling what livestream fundraising is. I think it's a lot more accessible than most people would think. It doesn't require a big investment upfront with either money or time. And you've just helped us understand in a much more significant way the impact of livestream fundraising. So thank you so much for coming in and sharing your knowledge with us. We really appreciate it.

Jason:  It's my pleasure. I really hope people can take advantage of this new approach to fundraising that will help us to change so many lives.

Justin: Awesome. Thanks, man!

Thanks for listening to this episode of Nonstop Nonprofit. This podcast is brought to you by your friends at Funraise. Nonprofit fundraising software, built by nonprofit people. If you'd like to continue the conversation, find me on LinkedIn or text me at 562-242-8160. And don't forget to get your next episode the second it hits the internet. Go to and sign up for email notifications today. See you next time!