A Toronto community organization makes Jeff Bezos an unwitting fundraising ally

Who: The Jane/Finch Centre, with Angry Butterfly for strategy and creative.

What: “Bill it to Bezos,” a big, bold Robin Hood-esque fundraising initiative that uses a mostly overlooked donation option in Twitch to divert money from the pocket of one of the world’s richest men, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, to the community organization. With a total fundraising goal of $20,000, it won’t make a dent in Bezos’s rocket or super-yacht budget, but it’s a significant amount for the organization and the community it serves.

When & Where: The campaign is live now, anchored by a dedicated Jane/Finch Centre channel on the Amazon-owned streaming service Twitch. Twitch influencers are helping drive to the channel, and there’s also a YouTube video, social posts, and a dedicated website, BillItToBezos.org.

Why: The campaign’s primary goal is to generate awareness of the organization beyond the Jane-Finch neighbourhood it serves, with the ultimate goal of securing donations from across the city, said Amadeo Ventura, manager of strategic development with the Jane/Finch Centre. “It’s a profile-raising campaign as much as it is a fundraising campaign,” he said.

According to its most recent annual report, the Jane/Finch Centre served nearly 17,000 community residents through services including mental health and social support, financial empowerment and settlement programs. Most of its approximately $4 million annual operating budget comes from the three levels of government and the United Way, with personal donations currently comprising a minor part of its funding.

While a standard awareness campaign could have led to donations down the road, Angry Butterfly partner and chief creative officer Erin Kawalecki said the agency wanted to create something that actually had a donation component baked right in—not to mention something with the potential to create broader awareness of the organization’s services and continued need for donations.

How: The campaign is exploiting a feature in Amazon Prime, which gives every member a free monthly Twitch Subscription Credit of $3.50 that can be directed to a favourite Twitch streamer by subscribing to their channel.

However, the vast majority of Prime members (about two million in Canada) are either unaware of the feature or don’t use it, meaning that those unused funds simply revert back to Amazon and, ultimately, Bezos. So Angry Butterfly created a Jane/Finch streamer account on Twitch and is asking Prime members to send their $3.50 there.

“When our team discovered the loophole on Twitch, it just seemed like not only a great way to get donations, but it’s also an interesting way to start a conversation about income inequality, which is pretty topical right now,” said Kawalecki. “It felt like it could get [the Jane/Finch Centre] donations through Twitch, but also have broader appeal which raises awareness about the centre and gets more donations through traditional channels.”

The Jane/Finch Centre’s Twitch channel is showing an overview of the centre’s services, interspersed with a video featuring a 3D rendering of Bezos urging people to subscribe to the channel. In the video, Bezos talks about how the other week he wanted a yacht, so he got one. And then he wanted a rocket, so he got one of those, too. “What Jeff wants, Jeff gets,” he says. “And now Jeff wants you to take his money.”

The rendering of Bezos was created by Angry Butterfly’s 3D and motion lead Liam Murphy. And while there’s software capable of mimicking the voices of well-known people, Kawalecki said it sounded too robotic. Instead, they recruited to director Sean McBride of Someplace Nice to provide Bezos’s voice. “Somebody on the team actually said ‘Oh my God, Sean actually sounds a lot like Jeff Bezos,’ so we asked him to do the voice work,” said Kawalecki.

The accompanying YouTube video begins with the super “The following message is not approved by Jeff Bezos. Not at all” before showing the rendering of Bezos, who informs viewers that if they’re seeing the video, Amazon has been hacked and that the people have decided it’s time for a man with an estimated net worth of $139 billion to give back. He then explains the loophole that enables users to direct their $3.50 to the Jane/Finch Centre.

The video shows Bezos in a space suit like the one he wore on the maiden space voyage of his rocket Blue Origin, as well as a comically oversized cowboy hat like the one he wore after Blue Origin touched down, and led to him briefly becoming an Internet laughingstock.

Angry Butterfly has also created a series of videos in which the 3D rendering of Bezos urges his ex-wife, novelist and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, and fellow billionaires Elon Musk and Bill Gates to match his $20,000 donation goal to the Jane/Finch Centre.

And we quote: “When we heard the idea from the Angry Butterfly team, we were both excited and nervous. Once we learned more about how the mechanics worked, we realized it was an incredible and innovative way to not only raise money through the platform, but also generate buzz, and in turn raise awareness (and further donations) for the centre.” — Michelle Dagnino, executive director, Jane/Finch Centre

Chris Powell