When Timmy Nelson isn’t working as a digital design specialist for Wayne State University’s Office of Alumni Relations, he loves to play video games, draw and entertain. These interests are at the heart of his Twitch livesteam, trueTIMfoolery, which he uses to raise money for local children’s hospitals through the nonprofit organization Extra Life.
Since he began streaming in 2019, Nelson and his crew of “fools” have raised more than $17,000 by playing video games and board games — and participating in a variety of incentives aimed at bringing in extra money.
“Extra Life allows me to do the things that I really enjoy, but also teach people that philanthropy can be a hobby,” said Nelson. “You don't have to be a Fortune 500 CEO that's giving all this money out to people. Every single dollar counts. Anyone can do it.”
Nelson’s streams are very lighthearted and meant to entertain viewers. Viewers, for their part, feel good about donating because they know the money raised goes to help children and their families. In fact, Nelson was able to see up close where the money he raises goes when he visited the children’s hospital for the first time earlier this year.
“I got the chance to actually visit the hospital this year and meet one of the miracle children — her name was Mila,” said Nelson, who couldn’t visit the hospital in years past because of COVID-19 restrictions. “She spent more than 130 days in the NICU when she was born, and there was a chance she wasn’t going to make it. Now, she’s a happy, healthy seven-year-old. She’s playing the piano, playing video games and running around. The first thing she did was came up to me, gave me a hug and asked if I played the piano. I didn’t tell her I did at first — I let her play a little, and then I played a song and her eyes lit up. We became best friends right then and there.
“She was laughing and dancing, and you can just tell she now has the entire world in front of her,” Nelson added. “I know that the money I helped raise went to part of her treatment and her medical bills. I met her family, and they are just the nicest people in the world. To see that my money and the money that my community is raising is directly impacting someone is amazing. And without the money from Extra Life, a lot of it might not be possible.”
Nelson originally got involved with Extra Life by setting up a 24-hour stream for the Extra Life Game Day marathon, which is the first Saturday of every November. He set a goal to raise $1,000 in his first year, and through his creative marketing strategy, he raised that amount before he even got to game day.
“I committed to getting my first tattoo if we raised $1,000, and we blew past that before we even got to November,” Nelson said.
His success came, in large part, from the incentives he offered in the lead up to the event — things like personalized drawings (he’s a talented artist) or entries into raffles for different prizes.
On Game Day, there were even more incentives to donate — donations would see Nelson eat mystery-flavored jellybeans (flavors from buttered popcorn to barf) or make him do push-ups on the spot, even if he was in the middle of a video game competition.
“When we put this together, it's like a mini telethon,” Nelson said. “A lot of people don't realize all the planning that goes into it. It could just be one person sitting there and playing games for 24 hours, but I know that I thrive off the energy of my friends, my family and my supporters to build this day. We do things to entertain people who are watching, but it’s also a great way to raise money. Last year, one of our friends brought a bunch of temporary tattoos, so we said if you donate, we’ll will put one on, and I ended up with a bunch all over me. And they weren’t little — I had a giant unicorn on my face. We have all different ways of building incentives and encouraging viewers to donate.”
Around the same time Nelson decided to become an Extra Lifer, he also created his Twitch stream, which he typically uses twice a week — on Tuesday and Thursday nights. These sessions allow him to raise funds for Extra Life year-round.
“I have a weekly Dungeons and Dragons session that I constantly promote Extra Life through,” Nelson said. “And then on the other stream night of the week — or sometimes we also play on the weekends — we play video games, and we might do something like ‘donate and we’ll do a shot of Ghost Pepper hot sauce’ or something. All these incentives are built around the idea that, yes, I'm suffering or I'm doing the thing to make you laugh or to bring a smile to you, but it’s all in favor of Extra Life and supporting the kids.”
Nelson has built up a community of followers on Twitch and also has his own Discord channel. He’s even began designing and selling trueTIMfoolery merchandise. He draws his own logos, which are available on everything from T-shirts and hats to blankets, mugs and mousepads.
“You can order a comfy blanket that literally has a giant picture of my face on it,” Nelson said. “Everything that is in my merch store has an extra $5 built into the cost that I donate back to Extra Life. The idea is that every piece of merch you buy supports me and helps me keep things going, but it also counts as a $5 donation to Extra Life. It's another way to encourage people to sort of wear my merch and get the name out there, build the community, but also support the children's hospitals.”
Nelson calls the members of his community “fools,” and it includes his friends and family. Nelson’s wife, Paolina Barker, and his brother, Philip Nelson, are part of his inner circle that appear in streams and help behind the scenes.
“I couldn’t do it without them,” Nelson said. “And they are always thinking of fun, new ways to stress me out and make sure chaos ensues. The more people laugh, the more they donate — and nothing is funnier than a little chaos.”
To follow Nelson’s progress as he aims to increase his overall money raised to more than $20,000 visit his Extra Life page.