Following the revelations of the Jirard the Completionist scandal involving the Open Hand Foundation, the gaming and streaming communities are facing yet another tumultuous wave of scrutiny. This time, the focus shifts to a charity event involving prominent Twitch streamers and a marketing company named Softgiving, which was later rebranded as Brandfluence. This case, initially brought to light by investigative journalists Jacob Wolf and Hunter Cooke, appears to be yet another domino in a series of unfolding controversies surrounding charity events in the gaming world.
On March 29, 2021, a group of Twitch's top streamers, including Asmongold, Mizkif, Esfand, Nmp, and Rich Campbell, engaged in an 8.5-hour Pokémon card unboxing event in Austin, Texas. This event, which featured members of the gaming organization OTK (One True King), was not just a spectacle for viewers but also a charity fundraiser. The streamers succeeded in raising over $600,000 for Games for Love, a charity that provides video game therapy for terminally ill children. Remarkably, this amount far surpassed the charity's typical annual fundraising efforts, which had never previously exceeded $50,000.
However, beneath the surface of this successful fundraising endeavor lies a web of complexity and ethical concerns, primarily involving Softgiving. The marketing company, central to orchestrating this event, was responsible for a substantial part of the funds' allocation. Shockingly, of the $6.2 million raised in 2020 and 2021, Softgiving claimed approximately $2.6 million — around 42% of the total donations — as commission and expenses. This sum included payments to influencers, a detail not always transparently communicated to donors or the public.
The founder of Softgiving, Matt Pfaltzgraf, had a history rooted in charity work and seemingly leveraged his experience to tap into the charity marketing sector. Initially, Softgiving offered its services to charities free of charge, later monetizing through donor tips and commissions from the funds raised. However, the methodology for handling these donations raised eyebrows. Funds first went through the Giving Foundation, a third party, before being allocated to the intended charities. This indirect route for donations is not a common practice in online fundraising and has sparked concerns.
The lack of transparency regarding influencer payments and the high commission rates have drawn significant criticism and scrutiny. Entities like the National Council of Nonprofits have expressed disapproval of commission-based fundraising, citing potential conflicts of interest.
The intricate and often murky intersection of influencer marketing, charity fundraising, and corporate profits goes far deeper than many first thought. It underscores the growing need for transparency, ethical practices, and fair allocation of donated funds in influencer-led charity campaigns. As the gaming and streaming community grapples with these issues, it becomes increasingly clear that the road to responsible charity engagement is fraught with challenges that demand immediate attention and action.