Big ideas often start with small steps, and that’s exactly the case with an idea that surfaced back in May on YouTube.

First, some background. A popular YouTuber who goes by the name Mr. Beast (MrBeast6000 is his actual channel name) was gaining more and more subscribers with his clever, quirky videos. In one video, he counted to 100,000, which took him 40 hours. In another, he counted to 200,000 and sped up the video so viewers could watch it without spending too much time on YouTube. Then, he posted a video where he watched paint dry and another spinning a fidget spinner for an entire day.

Attention-grabbing and entertaining? Apparently, they are, because Mr. Beast has become a YouTube sensation, garnering over 27 million subscribers. Mr. Beast’s real name is Jimmy Donaldson, he’s 21 years old, and has been producing YouTube videos since he was 13. Although he started out small, his subscriber base grew to over 1,000 and increased each day. Word spread through social media and he gained more followers and subscribers. Soon, it was in the millions.

In May, a fan got in touch with Mr. Beast and suggested how to celebrate reaching 20 million subscribers: raise funds online to plant 20 million trees. Mr. Beast took the idea to heart and spent several months brainstorming with his friend and fellow YouTuber, Mark Rober. Rober’s background includes working for NASA as a mechanical engineer and later, starting some entrepreneurial ventures, and they both have a lot in common. They kept at it, tossing ideas around and collaborating with other social media folks.

Ultimately in October, the two friends launched Team Trees and announced a goal to raise funds to plant 20 million trees by Jan. 1, 2020. They envisioned that for every dollar donated, one tree would be planted by the Arbor Foundation, an established organization. They figured it would be a positive thing for the environment even if the goal wasn’t reached. According to one scientist, 20 million trees would take up nearly 70 square miles of land, absorb approximately 1.6 million tons of carbon, and remove 116 thousand tons of air pollution from the atmosphere.

Within hours of launching Team Trees, people on social media spread the word and it gained momentum. The first donations were $1 each, then Team Trees caught the attention of some well-known folks from the business and philanthropic world. Elon Musk donated a million dollars, then Tobi Lutke, CEO of Shopify, committed $1,000,001 to top Musk. Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce donated $900,000 and a video game series, Plants vs. Zombies, donated $500,000. Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, contributed $200,000 followed by Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square, who chipped in $350,000. Big donations showed up online from companies like the Discovery Channel and Verizon along with small contributions of $5, $10 and $20 from viewers worldwide.

Donaldson has already spent a substantial portion of his YouTube profits to good causes. He donated $100,000 worth of items to homeless shelters in December 2018, $32,000 to the Veterans Army Wounded Warrior Program, $70,000 to Saint Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and $10,000 to an animal shelter in Los Angeles. He’s given money away to strangers on the street and helped small business owners by providing needed cash. Before starting his career as a YouTuber, he attended college, but dropped out to focus on YouTube. His brother, CJ Donaldson, also has a YouTube channel, called Mr. Bro.

With the help of word-of-mouth and social media, it only took 55 days for Team Tree to go from $0 to $20 million in donations, reaching their goal on Dec. 19. This month, Team Trees will start planting the trees in national parks in collaboration with the Arbor Day Foundation and they plan to complete the effort by December 2022. Eventually, they hope to plant trees on every continent, focusing on planting the right types of trees in the appropriate climate. It will require lots of coordination and logistics but seems like a feasible and positive goal to accomplish.

As of the day this column was finished, Team Trees had raised enough funds to plant 20,400,432 trees and they don’t plan on stopping. I can’t think of a better way to start off the new year than dreaming of 20 million green trees growing over the years. To find out how the effort has continued, visit

Julie Richman is a freelance writer, project manager and consultant. She and her family have lived on Colorado Springs’ northeast side for 21 years. Contact Julie with comments or ideas for her column at

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