YouTubers have surpassed their goal of raising $20 million to help the Arbor Day Foundation plant 20 million trees, with the help of more than half a million donors and some wealthy tech executives. The charity campaign began nearly two months ago, when hundreds of YouTubers, led by Jimmy “MrBeast” Donaldson, teamed up to fight climate change and prove that YouTube “isn’t just a drama fest.”
Donaldson partnered with some of YouTube’s most popular creators to promote the “Team Trees” initiative, including Mark Rober (8.7M subscribers), Guava Juice (14.6M), Marques Brownlee (9.5M), Smarter Every Day (7.4M), Ninja (22.4M), Jacksepticeye (22.9M), and more. More channels participated after Donaldson and friends announced their plans on October 25th.
Through organizers’ videos and charity streams, the initiative quickly found its way to the halfway mark. By October 31st, more than $10 million had been raised, with donations coming in from some friends in very high places. Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk donated $1 million, which was beat by Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke, who donated $1,000,001. Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey seemed to make two donations, one for $150,000 and another for $200,000 (representatives for Square and Twitter declined to comment). Naturally, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki also donated — she gave $200,000 to the campaign and made a video with Rober highlighting the cause.
Raising this much so quickly makes Team Trees one of the fastest-growing environmental fundraising initiatives, according to a representative for the Arbor Day Foundation. Trees planted as part of the fundraised will absorb and store 1.6 million tons of carbon, according to the representative. They’ll also help to remove 115,000 tons of chemical air pollution.
Team Trees used social media sites like Twitter and even a spot on Jimmy Kimmel to spread awareness outside of YouTube, but they made concerted efforts to ensure news about the initiative spread on YouTube itself. Flooding YouTube with videos about Team Trees on the initiative’s launch day was meant to game the algorithm to promote their content on the homepage. Ensuring that each video was tagged as being about climate change and a charity initiative could have also helped videos reach more viewers.
The fundraiser was built around a joke started by Donaldson’s fans, who suggested he celebrate passing 20 million subscribers by planting 20 million trees. The joke turned into a charity drive — but it’s also been great for YouTubers’ channels. Donaldson’s own video on the initiative saw more than 35 million views, while other creators also saw tens of millions of views on their videos about the fundraiser. It’s one of the more positive moments on YouTube, and a sign of what creators can do when they work together for a good cause.
“We want to show that YouTube isn’t just a drama fest,” Donaldson said in a private video for YouTubers ahead of the campaign launch, as seen by The Verge. “We actually have real influence and can make real change.”
Trees will start to be planted in January 2020, according to an FAQ for the project. The goal is to have all 20 million trees planted “no later than December 2022.” Although the Arbor Day Foundation operates both within the United States and internationally, many of the trees will be planted in national parks around the US.
Of course, just because the $20 million milestone has been reached, it doesn’t mean donations have to stop.
“We know that 20 million trees isn’t going to cure climate change,” Rober said in a private planning video. “But the point here is to end the decade on a super strong note. It’s a constructive way to send a message to the politicians that it’s freaking time to do something about climate change.”