Revolutionizing Charity: MrBeast’s Innovative Approach to Giving Back

Redefining Generosity in the Digital Age: The Phenomenon of MrBeast’s Philanthropic Empire

Henri Klein
8 min readFeb 12, 2024
© Dickson, E. (2022, April 19)

I. Introduction

With more than 238 million subscribers, the 24-year-old YouTube celebrity James Stephen “Jimmy” Donaldson (aka MrBeast) is the most-subscribed individual on YouTube (, 2024). Since starting in 2012, Donaldson has created a unique media-based philanthropy model “literally funded by your eyeballs” (Read, 2023). His network includes five distinguishable YouTube channels, merchandise, and a chocolate bar brand alongside a burger chain. It is run by over 250 employees to “give back 100% of earnings”. Moreover, with great success: As of February 2024, 37.9 million USD was returned or invested in philanthropic projects worldwide (, 2024). In his videos, he passes his moral values to his multimillion followers online and displays how his philanthropy can impact millions. In the following essay, I will discuss the decisions that led to his success, how his network operates, and his industry-unique approach to philanthropy.

Donaldson, raised in Greenville, North Carolina, U.S., describes his childhood town as a “wired place [to] grow up in” (Dickson, 2022). Growing up in a strong Christian household, he claims to have been taught that “gay people are the reason God’s going to come and burn this Earth,” and he would consider anti-LGBT rhetoric to be normal. Later, Jimmy claims that he never really fitted in and that that was the reason he would be a lot online. By 2013, he would start producing short YouTube gaming videos under the alias MrBeast6000 with little success.

II. Studying the Algorithm: Cracking the Code for YouTube Success

In 2016, he graduated from Greenville Christian Academy and enrolled at Carolina University before he dropped out three months later to pursue a professional YouTube career (Leskin et al., 2023). He differentiated himself by cautiously analyzing the YouTube algorithm to deduce how to go viral.

“There is a five-year point in my life where I was just relentlessly, unhealthily obsessed with studying virality, studying the YouTube algorithm. I woke up. I would Uber Eats food. And then I would sit on my computer all day just studying shit nonstop with [other YouTubers].” — Donaldson (Dickson, 2022)

III. Video Genres: supercharging the YouTube Algorithm

According to Miller et al. (2023), Donaldson would eventually deduct three video genres likely to attract high user impression rates. The first genre was “stunts”. Modestly, he would start with “100 Layers of Saran warp and toilet paper!!” (Aug 23, 2016) or with a video titled “Microwaving a microwave” (Dec 9, 2016). Finally, a video called “I counted to 100,000” (Jan 9, 2017) showed initial success in understanding the YouTube algorithm and how it suggests videos, with millions of views and large follower gatherings. This video genre proved effective for Donaldson, allowing him to build and increase his brand awareness and fellowship while remaining in a low-cost production environment.

Initial earnings from the YouTube AdSense program (i.e., monetarization of views) now allowed Donaldson to expand into a second video genre that fellow scholars call the “junkyard” video genre. Donaldson believed in success in gathering masses of one product, which could then be employed in numerous, silly ways. Implementing this belief, Donaldson collected 20.000USD in pennies and uploaded a video called “I put millions of pennies in my friend’s backyard” (Dec 8, 2018). He also “[…] built a giant house using only Lego” (Dec 2, 2018) and “[…] ate $100.000 golden ice cream” (Jan 22, 2021). Financed through personal savings and sponsorships — be it through capital or receiving free products — Donaldson differentiated his videos dramatically from the rest of YouTube, landing one viral hit after another. “I would stay up all night just thinking of ideas.”, Donaldson later recalls in an interview with Rolling Stones.

According to the paper by Miller et al., the third genre, and the true catalysator of his YouTube channel, MrBeast, was “giveaways”. Eventually, this genre would become MrBeast’s trademark. However, for this segment to work, Donaldson first had to grow his audience to allow for more extravagant giveaways, proven by his initial tries in 2016, which failed. “24-hour explosion giveaway! Win gift cards” (Sept 5, 2016) did not meet his initial expectations. “Giving a random homeless man $10,000” (Jun 16, 2017) created considerable impressions, nowhere near Donaldson’s expectations.

V. Philanthropy: Using Power to Do Good

“The proudest day of [his] life” was when he donated his mother 100.000 USD on Dec 2, 2017, (MrBeast, 2017). He later recalls this day to have had an unimaginable impact on his life when his main goal was no longer increasing subscribers, “how can I transform this money into something good?”

Donaldson realized, “Just giving away money isn’t enough” (Dickson, 2022).

Donaldson’s: “You’re probably wondering, why are we gamifying charity like this?”

Tyson: “I have no clue”

Donaldson’s: “Because that will make them watch the video so we can get more views so we can get more sponsorships like Ziprecruiter so we can get more money to help people.” (Beast Philanthropy, 2022: 03:55–04:08)

In response, with ever-increasing views and budget, “Last to leave ramen noodle pool wins $20.000” (Sept 13, 2019); “Last to leave revolving door wins $50.000” (Jul 2, 2019); “Last to stop swinging wins $1.0000” (Sept 4, 2021). Subscriber numbers increased drastically, alongside the MrBeast Team members and production sets (, 2024).

In 2019, to honor his 20 million subscribers, Donaldson created a campaign to plant 20 million trees under the name #TeamTrees (TeamTrees, 2024). His ambitions led to public donations of more than 24 million USD being donated, and a respective plantation of 24 million trees. This remarkable success was followed by an initiative called #TeamSeas, which promised to remove one pound of trash from the ocean for every dollar donated (TeamSeas, 2023). Donaldson continued, “just giving away money,” even though viewer rates were lower. In a video called “If you press this button, I’ll pay” (Feb 12, 2021), for the first time, Donaldson shows the impact viewers have by watching his videos. His approach to growth is known as “cause-related marketing.” According to this theory, the knowledge that one’s consumption is sustainable and does good substantially increases their chance of consumption. This way Donaldson can drastically increase his channel’s views and retention rates.

“For the entire year of 2021, every time someone subscribes to this channel. I am donating ten cents to charity. Last month, three million subscribed to the channel which means I’m going to give away this three hundred-thousand-dollar mountain of money to people in need.” — Donaldson 2021 (Miller & Hogg)

Seconds later, he announced the opening of his very own charity, Beast Philanthropy, where from now on, he would spend money towards sustainable projects bettering the lives of the marginalized. Thus, he reassured that the main channel continued gamified versions of money giveaways as his proxy to increase awareness and budget.

[Note. View the Appendix for a list of all Projects.]

VI. The Fusion of Entertainment and Philanthropy

Now, the question might arise: How can this all be financed? Indeed, someone has to pay. This section of the essay will discuss how Donaldson’s philanthropy model is genuinely disruptive and different from anything ever seen. Traditionally, Media Outlets may ask watchers to donate money for projects, with relatively little success (Arvidsson & Bonini, 2014). Regarding to Arcidsson et al., this is because there was always a “looser” to charity — the person paying. However, Donaldson’s model can only work if all stakeholders in the transaction are happy and perceived as winners. Consequently, Donaldson believes he must monetize the audience commodity for charity to achieve genuinely great projects. This is how he sets himself apart from other philanthropists who donate money directly.

Alongside the income from both main channels and sponsors of those videos, Donaldson created multiple side channels; Beast Reacts, MrBeast Gaming, and MrBeast 2, to increase revenue. Those chancels also generate AdSense returns and feature sponsors, creating massive earnings while creating relatively low production costs. Further, sells merch and has generated more than 3 million USD until Dec 2022 (Scherson, 2022). Since Jan 2022, Feastables has launched an in-house chocolate brand that, in the first quarter, returned 15 million USD in the US alone (Beer, 2022). Further, the network tried to diversify with MrBeast Burgers, a fast-food franchise that is now being discontinued (Sato, 2023). All those revenue streams are distributed to MrBeast and Beast Philanthropy to support ever-more-ambitious projects.

VII. Conclusion

Donaldson did to YouTube what Apple and Nike did with their ProductRed series: giving people a good feeling while monetizing their ethical consumption. Because of how the network is set up, no one is paying for the projects but himself. This cause-related marketing sets itself apart from anything else on YouTube or conventional media networks, allowing audience commodification and subsequent revenue for meaningful projects. Donaldson’s network is now estimated at around 500 million USD, and he is listed among the top 40 highest-earning celebrities on the planet (Brown & Freeman, 2022). However, he lives a humble life and receives joy not by going on luxury trips but by making people smile and cry for happiness. From what I can see from his videos, Donaldson is a very analytical, hard-working, and purpose-driven “guy” who wants to be called by his first name and might live next door.

Works Cited

Arvidsson, A., & Bonini, T. (2014). Valuing audience passions: From Smythe to Tarde. Http://Dx.Doi.Org/10.1177/1367549414563297, 18(2), 158–173.

Beast Philanthropy. (2022, April 8). Anything You Can Fit In The Circle I’ll Donate To Charity — YouTube. Beast Philanthropy.

Beer, Je. (2022, January 29). MrBeast goes full Willy Wonka, launches his own Feastables food brand.

Brown, A., & Freeman, A. (2022, January 14). The Highest-Paid YouTube Stars: MrBeast, Jake Paul And Markiplier Score Massive Paydays. Forbes.

Dickson, E. (2022, April 19). Who Is MrBeast? Meet the YouTuber Who Wants to Change the World. Rolling Stone. (2024, February 1). MrBeast Giveaways February 2024 Guide — 7 Pro Tips to Win Big. GiveawayListing.Com.

Leskin, P., Delouya, S., & Varanasi, L. (2023, August 9). Who is MrBeast? Meet the 25-year-old YouTube star who’s famous for giving away millions of dollars to strangers. Business Insider.

Miller, V., & Hogg, E. (2023). ‘If you press this, I’ll pay’: MrBeast, YouTube, and the mobilisation of the audience commodity in the name of charity. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 29(4), 997–1014.

MrBeast. (2017, December 2). Giving My Mom $100,000 (Proudest Day Of My Life). YouTube.

Read, M. (2023, June 12). How MrBeast Became the Willy Wonka of YouTube. The New York Times.

Sato, M. (2023, August 7). MrBeast’s burger company is suing him for $100 million — The Verge. The Verge.

Scherson, A. (2022, December 13). MrBeast’s Shopify Empire: $3M Monthly Store. Pipadas.$3m-per-month-store-on-shopify/ (2024). MrBeast Live Subscriber Count | Real-Time YouTube Subscriber Analytics | SocialCounts.Org.

TeamSeas. (2023, February 10). #TeamSeas. TeamSeas.

TeamTrees. (2024, February 10). #teamtrees. TeamTrees.




Henri Klein

Youth Council Member @wef | Alumni @TheKSociety & @Prematch | 🇺🇳 🇩🇪 🇬🇧