Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Okay, the title is a little misleading. Let me give you a little context.
MrBeast, the 9th biggest YouTuber in the world, teamed up with another popular YouTuber and former NASA engineer, Mark Rober, to save the ocean. The initiative, #TeamSeas, in partnership with Ocean Conservancy, removes one pound of trash from the ocean for every $1 donated. Their goal was $30 million, which would remove 30 million pounds of trash from the ocean.
I donated $1.2 million to this cause, because I want to save the world. That’s actually the whole reason I started Great.com — the world’s first online affiliate that donates 100% of its revenue to charities.
Beyond the “saving the world” motive, I also donated because I saw it as an opportunity. An opportunity to challenge the way people think about philanthropy, to raise more awareness to #TeamSeas and honestly, to grow my brand. Let’s take a deeper look at these points and what entrepreneurs can learn from my experience.
Related: 4 Strategies to Build a Stronger Brand Through Philanthropy
Before we dive into the lessons, I feel that I should explain what happened. I came across the #TeamSeas project and was interested in contributing to the cause. I’m also a huge fan of MrBeast and Rober as well as the brands they have each built. Being in the business of brand-building myself, there is a lot I’ve learned from these two and a lot more I could learn if we met.
So, I reached out on Twitter with a proposal: I’d contribute $1.2 million to the initiative if they’d agree to let me hang out with them and their team in person.
.@MarkRober @MrBeast @teamseas Love what you are doing! I’d like to make a $1,2 million donation on the condition that I can come and hang out with you for a few days. You guys are a big inspiration for me! Let me know ❤️
— Erik Bergman (@smilingerik) October 31, 2021
MrBeast and Rober responded immediately, agreeing to the proposal. So, I donated $1.2 million. Then, I flew out to North Carolina to hang out with their team and help with MrBeast’s Slap-A-Thon live stream for #TeamSeas.
The whole experience was a whirlwind, from the original tweet going viral and being discussed on Jimmy Kimmel Live to spending time with MrBeast and seeing the work that goes on behind the scenes. So, what did I learn?
Stop being scared to talk about philanthropy
I’m not sure who decided that charitable donations should be a closed-door activity, but it’s time to rethink that approach to philanthropy. We’re comfortable sharing awards, vacations, expensive clothes and other luxuries on social media and in conversation, but rarely do people share their charitable donations. In fact, four out of the top 10 largest donors to #TeamSeas labeled themselves as “anonymous” when submitting their donation.
Donating isn’t something to be ashamed of, it should be celebrated and encouraged. Generosity and altruism have been scientifically proven to increase happiness, improve health and reduce stress — areas in which everyone, especially entrepreneurs, could use a little boost.
Philanthropy in business doesn’t just help the donor and cause, studies have also found that corporate giving can increase productivity throughout the entire organization. One study from the University of Southampton found charitable donations increased employee productivity by 13% on average and by 30% in the lowest-performing employees.
Research on social influence has also shown that people will copy good deeds if they feel others are doing them. In today’s society, entrepreneurs influence more than just those within their immediate circle. Many, myself included, have a large network of followers on social media and are frequently asked to participate in podcasts, interviews and other public forums. We’re considered innovators and thought-leaders, so if we don’t change the perception of philanthropy, who will?
Related: The Power of Social Influence
Sometimes you need to give to get
Entrepreneurs are usually risk-takers, so we’re not afraid to ask others for advice, money, time, etc. This level of courage has its advantages, but if we’re only focused on what we wantit can put a strain on the relationship and decrease the chances of getting what we’re asking.
In my case, I wanted to get the opportunity to hang out with MrBeast and his team. He has multiple YouTube channels, a whole crew of employees and even his own burger restaurant. Does he really have the time to hang out with some random affiliate marketer from Sweden? Probably not, but he still said yes.
Why? Because I knew what he wanted at that time — donations to his cause. Instead of just asking for what I wanted, I gave him what he wanted first. I was willing to prioritize his interest, even though I wanted something from him.
While donating $1.2M may be a bit of an extreme example, entrepreneurs can still practice this exercise at any scale. If you want mentorship, spend time engaging, commenting and complimenting another entrepreneurs’ work before asking them to mentor you. If you want to land a client, focus on the added value you provide and not strictly what your goods or services do.
By putting the other person’s interests first when you’re asking for something from them, you can level or even tip the value exchange while also showing awareness, appreciation and understanding.
Charity can be a powerful networking tool for entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs are always looking for new techniques or tools to help them grow their networks. While you may have never thought about it this way, charity can be one of these tools.
Growing my website for the last four years has helped me develop a better understanding of charity, particularly effective altruism. Along the way, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with some incredible innovators in a number of different spaces. Thanks to the recent donation to #TeamSeas, that list now includes one of the most influential people in the world, MrBeast.
Charity and philanthropy, in general, can be one of the most effective networking resources. Networking requires many things, but the most important is a mutual interest, a shared cause or belief. I founded my website with the goal of saving the world, and we have focused our efforts on donating to high-impact environmental causes, like removing trash from the ocean. The #TeamSeas initiative aligned perfectly with our mission. Donating to the cause was an opportunity to not just help the planet, but to network with MrBeast and his team.
As an entrepreneur, look for causes that you care about and dive into the charities working within that area. Keep a pulse on others contributing and working in that space, and connect with the ones who align with where you want to grow professionally. Getting involved with causes you believe in will not just open more doors for networking, it will give you additional purpose and drive.
When I landed in North Carolina, I had no idea what to expect. After all, the only exchange we really had to that point was through a Twitter thread. However, he and his team were amazing. Not only did they welcome me with open arms, but MrBeast and I had some really incredible conversations. We even played a charity poker game.
The lessons I learned from this experience and the rapport I developed with him and his team are invaluable. Who knows where this relationship will lead? But for now, it makes for a pretty crazy story.
Related: Corporate Charity Is What Inspires Greater Employee Engagement