Video games are a powerful medium. Not only do they provide players with experiences that allow them to escape from the stress of everyday life, but they also bring people together – forming tight-knit bonds between people in the video game community.
It’s that ability to unite people that sees video games used for good causes, such as raising funds for people in need. One of the best groups in Australia at harnessing this ability is GenerOZity – a charity that has raised over $200,000 for different causes since its inception in 2016.
GenerOZity is the brainchild of Joel Rennie, who also serves as the charity’s director. I ask what inspired him to start the organisation and his answer is symbolic of someone who wants nothing more than to help others.
“You can either do something nice or not do something nice. Might as well do something nice and that’s where GenerOZity started.”
Rennie reveals the idea for GenerOZity came to him when he was working in IT for real estate company Raine & Horne while installing a network in their training room.
“While patching cables I looked around and realised it was an incredible venue – direct street access, lockable doors with three distinct areas, a massive open space next to a fire exit, and right in the middle of The Rocks in Sydney Harbour – it would be amazing to run something there.”
The catalyst for the charity’s first event was Rennie’s desire to help one of his close friends who was struggling a lot from depression and the attached stigma.
“I’ve never been a great communicator, so I decided to run an event to try and help show them that it’s something that can be talked about and should be talked about,” says the GenerOZity founder.
It’s this type of mindset and drive to help others that has seen GenerOZity continually grow each year, and while Rennie may have got the organisation’s wheels spinning, he has not been alone in taking GenerOZity to the level it is at today. There’s Ashley Hull, who joined the organisation over three years ago is the current secretary, a position he’s held for a little under six months, as well as Austin Adamson, who is the Head of Show Sponsorship and Co-founder. The charity currently has a seven-member board of trustees, including Rennie, Adamson and Hull, as well as a team of lawyers, accounts and auditors who all help the charity out on a pro-bono basis.
Like with any other brand, having a catchy name is a massive boon, and it would be remiss of me if I didn’t give a shoutout to the incredible wordplay with the GenerOZity name. Rennie reveals that the name came to him in the spur of the moment after brainstorming names for months.
“I accidentally picked up a phone call in a public bathroom and it was a games industry contact calling to ask about the show,” Rennie laughs.
“They asked what the name was and, in a panic, I said “Generosity but with a z, so like, oz-ity. I ran straight to a computer to go see if that name was already taken and amazingly it wasn’t.”
Ashley Hull – GenerOZity’s Secretary
Austin Adamson – GenerOZity’s Head of Show Sponsorship and Co-founder
“You can either do something nice or not do something nice. Might as well do something nice and that’s where GenerOZity started”
As mentioned previously, the charity has raised over $200,000 in donations in total. Rennie tells me that every show has raised more money than its predecessor, with the record raised being $69,000 in February 2020 for the fire and rescue services. Amazingly, every single cent the team has raised has been donated.
GenerOZity has raised funds for a number of causes and charities over the years.
“The first few shows donated money for Child’s Play, a charity which raises money for buying consoles and games for children in hospitals, and we’ve raised money for mental health with Checkpoint, and the recent shows have raised money for Cure Cancer Australia,” says Hull.
In fact, GenerOZity has an event happening in a matter of days where donations raised will be going into the Cure Cancer Australia coffers. The event, which takes place from April 28 to May 2, will be a ‘Slumber Party’, and will see a team of content creators get together in their pyjamas to raise money for the charity.
Rennie explains that the team are very diligent in making sure they are aligning themselves with the right causes.
“We make sure to talk to their teams and ask for access to the financials to make sure that they are the right charity for us. We want to have similar objectives as effective altruism, as in we want to push the donations’ effect as far as possible.”
On paper, it reads as if GenerOZity is at the height of its powers, which is largely thanks to it finally being recognised as a registered charity, a goal it had been chasing for a long time. Up until December 2020, GenerOZity was listed as a not-for-profit organisation, but now it’s registered as a Public Ancillary Fund, which permits GenerOZity to raise money for other registered charities and causes in Australia.
The move from a not-for-profit organisation to a charity lines up with the group’s vision for the purpose of the charity.
“GenerOZity is an attempt at pure altruism,” says Rennie. “The dream of being able to take a dollar in donations and give that same dollar over to the charity we are raising money for.”
“Being a registered charity allows us to dream bigger,” continues Hull.
“It opens doors to people and brands, as well as access to a variety of free services to keep our costs down. Plus we’ll finally be able to provide tax-deductible receipts for donations – if we see a project or initiative worth supporting, we can jump in and fundraise.”
“This allows us to start our philanthropic fundraising engines on very short notice to respond to the needs of society and our community,” adds Rennie.
As most people can imagine, running an event can be expensive – so how does the charity cover its costs given it donates every cent it receives? Rennie explains that the charity looks for sponsors to cover the operational costs of each show, which gets a sponsor’s logo on-screen during the event while allowing GenerOZity to supply food and other bits and pieces for people involved in the show.
But while finding sponsors for the shows is fairly easy these days, Rennie admits that in the charity’s infancy it was a challenge finding brands to partner with, so much so that he funded the first few shows out of his own pocket.
“I spent around $8,000 of my own money on the first five shows as sadly in the early days not that many sponsors wanted to take any of the Operational Cost sponsorship options,” Rennie reveals.
— GenerOZity (@GenerOZity) February 23, 2021
“GenerOZity is an attempt at pure altruism. The dream of being able to take a dollar in donations and give that same dollar over to the charity we are raising money for”
The fact that Rennie persisted with the shows despite having to cough up the cash for them for no financial return is a testament to his character and a reason why GenerOZity is what it is today. But he isn’t the only one who has helped out financially, with Rennie recalling an event where a company stepped in to help.
“For GenerOZity 5 we included 3D-printed logos and products as part of our sponsorship and prize packages. Everyone was into it, and more sponsors came on board than we had planned for. It’s a good problem to have, but the supplier we were talking to upped their quote, meaning any sponsorship money coming in to support the event ended up being eaten up by the 3D printing costs. Then this company BuildBee, thanks to our mate Fletcher Thompson, stepped in to cover the printing and software deployment for free. GenerOZity exists and runs because of people like Fletcher.”
“We’re very thankful to the people who supported us while we were finding our feet,” says Hull.
However, GenerOZity is nothing without the on and off-screen talent that help provide entertainment to the event’s viewers.
Hull reveals that between an event’s content creators, volunteers and the odd friend there to hang out, there are normally around 100 people involved in the production. Content creators the team has worked with include names like Loserfruit, JamesTurnerYT, TolgaTTV, Townie, Phizzie and more, with Rennie telling me that GenerOZity has worked with hundreds of talented people including streamers, artists, musos and gamers over the course of the journey.
But what’s it like having all that talent in one place?
“It’s an incredible feeling,” says Rennie.
“The mixture of excitement and nervousness from people who haven’t been at a show before coupled with old friendships rekindling as people who haven’t seen each other in a while all come together is amazing to be around.”
“Streamers spend so much of their time on their own in front of their camera,” continues Hull. “We want GenerOZity to be a place for streamers to meet and mingle as well as relax and have a good time outside of work.”
Ain’t no party like a GenerOZity party
GenerOZity’s doors aren’t just open to established streamers, with the charity happy to work with up-and-coming content creators. In fact, Rennie says that they love to pair experienced and budding talent together to “maybe spark something.” Speaking of sparks, Hull tells me that several couples started dating after meeting in the event’s green room.
According to Rennie, GenerOZity shows in the past have reached between 200,000 and 900,000 unique viewers alone on Twitch, however the number that watched the charity’s PAX shows is unknown – but he says being hosted on Steam’s front page would have only been a good thing.
So what is it about video games that the members of GenerOZity believes brings people together?
“Video games are for everyone and that means when you find a game you love, you’ll find other people who feel the same – and that means friends for life,” answers Rennie.
“Joel and I met in Ultima Online almost 20 years ago,” adds Hull. “The people I’ve met in that game are friends to this day. Some of them are streamers at our shows!”
Rennie also acknowledges that the medium’s power of escapism is another drawcard.
“Every day I get up and think to myself laundry, rent, what work do I need to get done, what are my friends up to, what have I missed – but when I boot up Sea of Thieves it all fades away and I am a crewmate sailing the high seas with a few friends by my side. Fighting the Kraken, digging up treasure and running from other ships together.”
With a myriad of games being played during GenerOZity events over the years, which games have been the most entertaining?
Rennie says that The Sims would be his pick of the bunch, while the event crew always enjoy watching Just Dance.
GenerOZity events are more than playing video games
The gift that keeps on giving
Outside of the video games there have been tons of memorable moments. Rennie laughs as he recounts the time they ordered pizza for everyone but got a call to say the oven had broken down with a pizza inside slowly burning. The pizza belonged to PandaTVoce, who was possibly the hungriest of all streamers, which made it hilarious but also heartbreaking.
Hull remembers running around the Wombat Theatre at PAX Australia in 2019 with GenerOZity’s Austin Adamson. The two worked together on very little sleep for almost six days setting up for broadcasts and working with PAX enforcers, as well as selling pins from the charity’s Pinny Arcade desk. Hull says it was a “whirlwind experience and he wouldn’t have changed a thing.”
Speaking of Adamson, Rennie has nothing but praise for the GenerOZity director.
“If it weren’t for GenerOZity I don’t think we would have ever crossed paths but since that moment, he’s been there for every show – no matter what the task and how thankless it is, he’s there to make sure that the show will go on.”
While 2020 presented many challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, thankfully GenerOZity was still able to run events, with the pandemic actually giving the team an opportunity to test out ideas they had been working on.
“Ashley and I had been brainstorming for years how to run our first 100% remote GenerOZity to help rural streamers be part of the show,” reveals Rennie.
In September 2020, GenerOZity teamed up with PAX Online and delivered an event that raised funds for Cure Cancer, an event that was run from Hull’s apartment in Singapore during a circuit breaker lockdown. Rennie says even though it was sad they weren’t able to have everyone at a physical hub, the event still captured what makes GenerOZity special.
Business up top, pirate down the bottom
With GenerOZity finally securing charity status in early 2021, what’s in store for the rest of 2021?
For Rennie it’s simple: “Make every show bigger and better.” Hull, on the other hand, says that the team wants to capitalise on becoming a charity.
“I’m looking forward to working with partners to let us dream, be more ambitious and raise more donations.”
It’s incredible to look back at GenerOZity’s journey and how it got to where it is today. But looking at the people who are behind it and their passion to help others, it’s no surprise that GenerOZity is continuing to grow with each event. All of the team at GenerOZity and anyone who has ever helped at one of the events should feel proud of their achievements. I’ve got no doubt that GenerOZity will go onto bigger and better things, raising more money and changing more lives in the process.