Charity drive 'Thankmas' shows us the future of fundraising with 3D printed houses

The 2021 Thankmas charity drive logo
(Image credit: Thankmas / Sean McLoughlin)

If you're not part of any online gaming or streaming communities then you may not have heard about Thankmas, a charity drive created by popular YouTuber and streamer Sean “Jacksepticeye” McLoughlin, but its successful launch and subsequent YoY growth are giving us a glimpse of how social fundraising is evolving. 

Thankmas is an annual holiday stream hosted by McLoughlin, described as 'the one day of the year in which all people, regardless of family, race, gender, culture, or religion come together to be thankful for their community and adopted families to raise money for a good cause'. In an interview with us, he states that "towards the end of the year, everyone gets into a giving mood as its the time of gifts and helping each other out. All you have to do is steer that ship in a way."

Back in 2020 Thankmas partnered with the UK charity Red Nose Day, raising over $4.6 million (smashing the goal of $1.5 million) to help alleviate child poverty and food insecurity. In fact, last year marked the first time that Thankmas became a group effort, with McLoughlin, who had until that point hosted Thankmas as a solo, annual fundraiser, reaching out to other content creators across platforms like Twitch and YouTube to help the cause.

As a result, other huge names like Valkyrae and CrankGameplays have also contributed to the fundraising efforts, turning Thankmas from a one-man operation into a community charity drive not too dissimilar to charities like the aforementioned Red Nose Day, though instead of tuning into your TV, you're sitting down to watch and sometimes participate in your favorite content creators streams.

We spoke to McLoughlin shortly before his own stream about Thankmas and its explosive evolution. When we mentioned the success of last year's efforts, McLoughlin said "You said that I almost raised $5 million last year, but I did such a small fraction of that, and even then it was my community that helped raise that amount of money. Having so many creators and so many different people raising money...its going to become massive eventually."

There is no 'I' in Team

Popular streamers and YouTubers Sean McLoughlin and Rachell Hofstetter

(Image credit: Sean McLoughlin / Rachell Hofstetter)

This is far from niche, as proved by this year's efforts which have raised almost $7.5 million dollars to tackle homelessness, with all funds raised going to the nonprofit New Story in partnership with Tiltify.  We asked McLoughlin if he believes that social media and content creation platforms could be the future of community fundraising.

"While us creators could be considered 'pioneers' of the format, even big companies who have raised money in the past using more traditional ways are coming on board," he replied. "There are so many platforms now and so many eyeballs...YouTube and Twitch only grew over the pandemic because people were at home, and not only that but spaces like TikTok now as well that are rising more rapidly than any other platforms at the moment."

"The sheer amount of eyeballs on these platforms at any given time is great, and people do such great work with those platforms with the audiences they've procured that a lot of it goes overlooked. It's such an endlessly wide space, I really feel it's just going to keep growing and growing".

For those who missed this year's efforts, creators raise money during Thankmas by hosting dedicated streams or fundraisers for the cause, adding donation buttons to their pages and involving their own community in the wider efforts. Its unlikely that your grandparents or much of the non-digitally fluent population would be aware of the charity drive, but there's a huge audience for this kind of entertainment, particularly the younger generation.

And as McLoughlin has found, that audience is growing. "I try not to get my expectations too high, because you never really know, but it definitely feels like as the event grows it has definitely spread beyond just myself. When I was reaching out to people before, I had to explain what Thankmas was, but that's not the case anymore".

Charities are evolving too

It's unlikely that the traditional methods of fundraising will vanish overnight, and will more likely co-exist with community-driven streams for many years to come, but where charity drives are using modern technology and applications, the charities themselves are also adapting with rapidly changing times.

New Story, the charity of choice for this year's Thankmas efforts, doesn't just build houses - it prints them. Using giant 3D printing machines supplied by Austin-based construction tech company ICON, an entire house can be printed in 24 hours (incrementally over around seven days). New Story states on its website that "There are more than a billion people across the globe living without safe shelter. To make a dent in that number, we have to build differently. Building 3D printed homes is faster, and has the potential for higher quality, more affordable homes than the current industry standard."

We asked McLoughlin if there was anything that sparked choosing this particular charity. "We change up the charities all the time, it's nice but also I don't want to fatigue my audience. There are so many causes out there that I feel deserve a voice and awareness so we try and spread ourselves out".

"This was really important to us as it was such a new technology that I had no idea it was possible to 3D print a house before I spoke to them. You heard about it in the news over the years when 3D printers were coming out that it felt like a pipe dream. But then they said 'no, we're literally doing this right now, $10,000 builds an entire house for a family in need' and that blew my mind".

Outside of the technology being used, it's clear that this was motivated more out of a want to help build homes, with McLoughlin going on to say that "during the pandemic I feel like homelessness has become more prevalent, and those who were already homeless before have now been hit even harder because of what's going on. It's a strange topic as there are so many different avenues to it and solutions to different parts of it that nothing is one-size-fits-all."

"But then some people see that and they don't tackle it at all, thinking that if they can't help everyone then they'll help no one. Hearing what New Story had to offer and what they can do, it seemed like a no brainer to get involved".

The Thankmass 2021 drive means that almost 750 homes can be built for those in need as a result of donations from gamers, content creators and their fans watching at home. Donations are still live over on Tiltify for anyone looking to try and increase that figure, but if the last few years are any indication, Thankmass 2022 could be an even bigger force for good.

Jess Weatherbed

Jess is a former TechRadar Computing writer, where she covered all aspects of Mac and PC hardware, including PC gaming and peripherals. She has been interviewed as an industry expert for the BBC, and while her educational background was in prosthetics and model-making, her true love is in tech and she has built numerous desktop computers over the last 10 years for gaming and content creation. Jess is now a journalist at The Verge.