Author John Green harnesses the power of YouTube for good

Jay Busbee
Yahoo Produced

John Green, bestselling author and video blog maven, has done the near-impossible: he’s marshaled an army of millions of devoted Internet followers … and he’s using them in the service of good.

Green, author of the acclaimed and soon-to-be-a-movie “The Fault In Our Stars,” is in the midst of his seventh “Project For Awesome,” a two-day online fundraiser which combines video creativity with philanthropy in a way that’s only possible on the Internet.

“The community that’s built up around our videos has always been about decreasing world suck and increasing world awesome,” Green told Yahoo News, “and we thought it would be fun to hijack Youtube for a day and make it about charity instead of about cats riding Roombas.”

Conceived by Green and his brother Hank in 2007, Project for Awesome's idea is simple: visitors to the site can post their own short video advocating for a specific charitable cause. Their gifts initially go to Green’s foundation, whose straightforward name embodies its ethos: “The Foundation to Decrease World Suck.” The foundation then passes along all the money, less necessities like credit-card fees and manufacturing costs for perks, to multiple charities.

Last year’s effort raised more than $400,000 that was divided among 10 charities. As of 4 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, Project for Awesome had already topped last year’s total, raising more than $540,000 in 39 hours. 

Charities involved can include everything from an endeavor building housing low income people in Argentina to “Free Rice,” a website which “generates” grains of rice whenever visitors click on various games and activities on the site.

“The great thing is that a lot of the organizations we’re involved with are looking for ways to improve their online outreach,” Green says. “One of the coolest thing that comes out of the project is that people make videos about causes they’re passionate about, and then those causes use those videos in their own outreach.”

At the center of it all is the boyish, hyperkinetic Green. In publishing circles, he’s drawn praise for his young adult novels. His vlogbrothers video channel on YouTube, which he runs with his brother, traffics in gleefully good-spirited anarchy, where you’re likely to see Green draw on his own face in Sharpie or dine on carrots slathered with his young son’s drool while brother Hank explains the Egypt crisis.

Along the way, Green has amassed millions of followers, dubbed “Nerdfighters,” across multiple social networks. It's a powerful, responsive online armada. Has he ever considered using the power of that crowd for evil?

“If you’re asking whether I’ve thought of doing a sponsored tweet, the answer is no,” Green laughs. “I’m a big believer in unironic enthusiasm, and celebrating things I love rather than throwing shade at things I dislike.”

So far, it’s paid off. “The Fault In Our Stars” was a New York Times No. 1 bestseller, and a movie version will arrive in theaters next summer. The first poster for the movie hit the web, coincidentally enough, on Wednesday.

“The great thing about ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ movie is that everyone involved in the movie cares so much about the book. They’re so committed to the story, the entire cast and crew in Pittsburgh – I’m so glad I got to be a part of that.”

But that’s a story for next summer. For now, Green’s just trying to survive his charity drive. “For the 48 hours of ‘Project for Awesome,’ there’s no way to keep from going insane,” he laughs with a slightly unhinged quaver in his voice. Beyond that, he’s already at work on his next novel; an excerpt from that, “The Racket,” is one of many incentive prizes available to Project for Awesome donors.

He’s also got the decision of what to do with the six figures’ worth of charitable donations flowing into the Foundation to Decrease World Suck … which is a good problem to have.

“It just keeps growing,” Green says. “I’ve learned not to underestimate the Nerdfighter community. It’s pretty astonishing what they’ve done this year.”

Visit the Project for Awesome website to learn more. Contact the author of this article at or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.