How Reddit Rocked Stephen Colbert’s World

Colbert Reddit

One might look at the Effectiveness of Celebrity Spokespeople in Social Fundraisers study (sponsored by PayPal for Nonprofits) and draw the conclusion that all celebrity fundraisers are doomed to fail. But though it is true that many celebrity tweets falls short, the truth is they fail because the celebrity is not very well engaged with his/her community, unauthentic about the cause and/or unwilling to invest an effort.

We included one case study in the effort which shows that a big celebrity can rock it, the Stephen Colbert-Reddit case study. Colbert demonstrates that big celebrities can rock it if they are engaged, authentic and willing to work. These should be the three qualifiers of any weblebrity/celebrity fundraiser.

Showing the networked celebrity/weblebrity effect in reverse, a community of Reddit users decided to rally for an educated America as a response to the Republican movement in 2010. The “Restoring Truthiness” campaign was centered on political comedian Stephen Colbert and to encourage Stephen Colbert and John Daily in their rally countering Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally. The fundraiser successfully galvanized Stephen Colbert Report/Daily Show, garnering Stephen Colbert’s direct attention.

The Reddit campaign was started on in the middle of a Monday night in September, 2010. By mid-morning the community had raised $15,000 donations. By the end of the day the campaign had raised $100,000, and had actually caused’s website servers to crash.

The campaign was immensely successful, and soon garnered the attention of Colbert, who sits on the board. He acknowledged the effort on his show, and deferred any possible rallies until Jon Stewart announced his Rally to Restore Sanity.

But Colbert decided to become involved with the campaign because the Reddit community’s generosity was so awe inspiring. He thanked them personally. Then on his October 5 show he said, “Make your donation to show support of my march and to support America’s kids. And keep those donations coming folks, because for every $100,000, I undo another button.”

Once Colbert engaged, the Reddit fundraiser went much further than it could have possibly beforehand. It was the perfect storm of an involved celebrity who had authentic passion for a cause and the impassioned Reddit community. The combination was fire.

After his first response there was another spike in donations. The rally was scheduled for late October in Washington. And Colbert made himself accessible, taking photos, mentioning it on his show, and answered 11 questions from the Reddit community on their site.

The final totals were astounding. When the study was drafted, 11,461 people had donated $613,580 and 291,985 students were reached by the time this report was written. The Reddit inspired Stephen Colbert campaign caught lightening in a bottle.