If you’re acquainted with a kid — any kid — you’ve probably heard of Minecraft, the build-your-own-world video game that’s sold 122 million copies and partly owes its massive popularity to gamers who play live on YouTube and other social media sites.
Public Citizens for Children + Youth (PCCY), the 37-year-old multi-issue child advocacy organization that lobbied for the passage of the city’s controversial beverage tax, picked up on that trend. It’s now using it to fundraise for a new PCCY grant to bring teacher-led tech projects into Philly schools, similar to its Picasso Project grant program for the arts, as well as for the organization’s advocacy work.
The nonprofit aims to host 1,500 kids age 5 to 17 — plus their families — for a massive block party this September at University of the Sciences. Called Block by Block Party, the event will feature three sessions of collaborative gameplay plus the more standard block party fare such as vendors, STEAM programming and Minecraft Karaoke. (OK, not so standard.)
So far, the PCCY team has seen enthusiasm from their target attendees: “Kids literally start shaking when I hand them the flier,” said Executive Director Donna Cooper.
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The idea for having a Minecraft-themed event came from the PCCY team chatting with the kids in their own lives about what they’d want to see. They also did on-the-ground research by attending Oaks, Pa.’s Minefaire (like Comic Con for Minecraft fans) and formed a Minecraft Leader Team made up of 18 kids who inform the day’s plan.
Gaming is “a unifier,” Cooper said — interest in it spans racial and economic lines — and this game in particular “isn’t about killing someone, it’s about building something,” which she sees as analogous to PCCY’s policy work.
The event is a form of peer-to-peer fundraising à la Bread and Roses Community Fund’s Giving Projects or the Susan G. Komen Philadelphia Race for the Cure through which participants ask, yes, their peers to financially support their involvement.
Beyond buying a $35 ticket, non-participants can donate so others can attend Block by Block, or kids can fundraise their own way to the event through PCCY’s website: “Building agency very young is part of what we’re trying to do here,” Cooper said.
While most of PCCY’s fundraising work involves chatting up high net worth individuals, Cooper said this event aims to reach a new, and arguably more important audience — the families for which PCCY advocates.
It makes sense: Catch the kids’ attention with the game they love, draw their parents in with an event, sell them on your mission and gain some new advocates. It’s about “marrying who we are and raising money” at the same time, Cooper said. (The fundraising goal? A cool $200,000.)
Nonprofits can take note of one of Cooper’s biggest lessons from planning Block by Block: Think creatively about how to design an event that’s both close to your mission and capable of building new partnerships.
Because this event is attractive to PCCY’s target demographic, the opportunity exists to educate attendees on PCCY’s advocacy work. Minecraft is for children, by children. It’s a more organic fit than, say, a fundraiser run.
It’s also attracted likeminded partners PCCY didn’t know existed before.
“When you start doing things in the technology space, you meet a lot of new Philadelphians,” Cooper said. “The benefit of the Minecraft event is we’re meeting all sorts of tech companies, gamers, who we would have never met if we did a run.”-30-
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