Company: Arbor Day Foundation and YouTube
Agency partner: Zeno Group (media relations)
Duration: October 25 to December 31, 2019
Jimmy Donaldson, known on YouTube as MrBeast, teamed up with fellow YouTuber Mark Rober and the Arbor Day Foundation to raise $20 million by 2020 in order to plant 20 million trees.
After Donaldson’s YouTube channel hit 20 million subscribers in May, he asked fans how he should celebrate. On Reddit, a fan suggested he plant a tree for each of his subscribers, an idea that quickly gained traction. Donaldson ran with the concept, partnering with Rober. The duo then reached out to the Arbor Day Foundation, a global nonprofit group dedicated to planting trees, to see if the plan was feasible.
For the next five months, Donaldson, Rober and the Arbor Day Foundation worked together to prepare for an October 25 campaign launch. This included developing a planting plan, preparing video assets, which featured footage from tree planting events and building an easy-to-use donation website that could handle the anticipated traffic.
One of the most important elements was "making sure we were ready to fulfill the tree planting," said Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation. The nonprofit partnered with organizations in the U.S. and internationally; it plans to plant trees on every continent excluding Antarctica.
Donaldson and Rober reached out to their connections in the YouTube community, enlisting other influencers to spread the word once the campaign launched. On October 25, Donaldson released a seven-minute video announcing the TeamTrees collaborative fundraising challenge, which pledged to plant one tree for every dollar raised.
The response was immediate and intense.
"There was a cascade of other YouTubers creating messages for their followers and encouraging them to be part of the initiative," Lambe said. "It truly became a viral campaign. People started posting, challenging friends to be a part of it."
As the donations flooded in, the campaign began to generate interest from the media, particularly as high-profile tech backers started giving money. Tesla CEO Elon Musk pledged $1 million - along with briefly changing his Twitter handle to "Treelon."
The campaign has raised more than $17.87 million from more than 500,000 individual backers. In addition to Musk, backers include Shopify CEO Tobias Lutke (who donated $1 million), Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff ($900,000), YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki ($200,000), and some of YouTube’s biggest names, including PewDiePie ($69,420) and Jeffree Star ($50,000).
#TeamTrees broke multiple records. It experienced the fastest ever climb to $5 million in individual online donations to an environmental cause, and is responsible for the largest four-day total of individual donations in Arbor Day Foundation history ($6.3 million).
Donaldson’s initial video announcing the campaign received more than 36 million views, and a clip from the video made it into YouTube’s annual Rewind compilation, which has been viewed more than 55 million times.
#TeamTrees was covered widely by the media, generating articles in Business Insider, BBC, The Verge, Forbes, HypeBeast, Wired and The Sun. It has garnered 1,285 earned media placements.