When Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) eventually gets a $1-million donation from comedian Drew Carey, they can blame Drew’s cancer. Not that Drew, but Drew Olanoff.
A Los Angeles-based blogger, Olanoff decided to auction off his personal Twitter account name, @drew, and donate the proceeds to the foundation. He hoped for $10,000, and Carey, the comic and TV show host, initially Tweeted a bid of $25,000 before offering $100,000 if he reached 100,000 followers on Twitter by Nov. 9. But then “The Price is Right” host raised the stakes: a $1 million donation to LAF if he could get 1 million Twitter followers by year’s end.
Initially, Carey planned to prorate his donation, giving $1 for each follower, if one million was not reached. Then, in the final days of 2009, he Tweeted another twist: When @DrewFromTV and @Livestrong reach one million followers combined Ð no matter the date Ð he’ll donate $1 million to the foundation. As of Feb. 1, Carey has more than 396,000 followers and @Livestrong almost 61,000. Olanoff launched www.blamedrewscancer.com and @blamedrewscancer on Twitter after being diagnosed with cancer this past May. Visitors can blame anything they’d like on Drew’s cancer — “the boring lecture,” “the idiot driver who took out the retaining wall, causing the power to go out and make me late for work,” “Tony Romo’s turnover problem,” “for not having a permanent job” — anything really, from the mundane to the serious to the silly.
“My number one digital asset was my Twitter username,” Olanoff said during a Skype interview with Carey on CNN. He was hoping for some famous Drew — perhaps actress Drew Barrymore or New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees — to notice his campaign and see the value of cancer research. The day after the Oct. 13 interview, comic Carey had almost 94,000 followers on his username, @DrewFromTV. That was up from 76,000 the previous evening. By Friday morning, Oct. 16, he was closing in on 100,000 followers.
“I just felt compelled in the moment, it was one of those things. I didn’t talk to my agent or my accountant,” Carey said during the CNN interview. “It’s a good foundation, not some fly-by-night foundation that’s not going to use the money properly,” he said. Carey was intrigued with the idea of so many people Tweeting, ReTweeting and asking for followers, in the name of raising money for charity, a process that can take just a few minutes.
Carey anticipates doing something this year as well, perhaps with another charity. If he had to do it again, Carey said he would have Twitter users follow the charity instead of him. “I’ll work on a plan and figure it out by the end of the year,” he told CNN. “It’s great to see friends asking, ‘Who’s Drew and why are you blaming things on his cancer,’” said Olanoff, praising the simplicity of using online tools to raise awareness and raise money, likening it to Lance Armstrong leveraging his name and celebrity after his battle with cancer.
As Carey’s numbers continue to increase, LAF President and CEO Doug Ulman said the Austin, Texas-based nonprofit has been brainstorming creative ways to promote the campaign. “Since it’s prorated, we’re grateful for his generosity. I’m hoping there’s a tipping point,” he said, a threshold at some point that once it’s reached it keeps skyrocketing. Ulman, who has more an one million followers of his own on @LivestrongCEO, was charged earlier this year with a similar task by a donor. When he still had but a mere 10,000 followers, Ulman was challenged to get to 25,000 followers to secure a $25,000 donation. He since has been placed on Twitter’s suggested people to follow list, which grew his followers exponentially.
“It’s interesting because there’s this debate in the community, is Twitter something that you can use to raise money,” Ulman said. “The answer is yes, but not in a traditional way. If you’re just out to raise money, people are going see right through it. These creative ideas have seemed to work,” he said, adding that Carey has been “phenomenal coming up with any number of ideas” for the future. “The level of his engagement has been incredible. It’s just exciting to see someone who’s super creative and wanting to do things a little differently and find a way to help,” he said. LAF learned about Olanoff when he launched the Blame Drew’s Cancer initiative, said Ulman. LAF’s “online community evangelist,” Brooke McMillan, immediately reached out to him, playing Drew’s cancer game, Tweeting it. She and Drew really developed a great friendship. They spoke at a couple of conferences together and became close friends, he said.
“He expressed interest in getting more involved with LAF, which was great for us,” said Ulman. Olanoff has since spoken at events for the foundation, including the LivesStrong Challenge in Philadelphia this past August, as well as some guest blogging. “We’re grateful for his support,” he said. “His story is one of a classic young adult with cancer, who was really looking to get connected with a community of people. That’s what Brooke has been able to do in partnerships with him. It’s a perfect medium for bringing those together,” Ulman said.