There’s a lot to say about Hank and John Green.
Like the fact that they’re basically founding fathers on YouTube, where they’ve been creating original content as the Vlogbrothers since 2007 and have built a small empire of educational channels that, together, get about 60 million views a month. Or that they’re both best-selling authors (John wrote the YA sensation The Fault in Our Stars) who like to spend their free time making TikTok videos answering such pressing questions as “Why do some people have extra nipples?” and narrating simulated car crashes.
The popularity of their videos — which include crash courses in world history, explanations of “Everything a Normal Person Needs to Know About Helium” and the occasional tangent on cat names — has launched a devoted community of fans called Nerdfighters. (Their motto? DFTBA, or don’t forget to be awesome.)
But what landed the duo on our list of Changemakers is actually one of the lesser-known aspects of the Green Brothers Cinematic Universe. Over the last 15 years, they’ve raised millions of dollars for people in need.
The brothers support organizations around the world in a variety of creative, and often weird, ways. Profits from their Awesome Coffee and Awesome Socks clubs, both subscription services with ethically sourced products, get donated to charity. As does the money made from Pizzamas, a yearly holiday based largely around selling T-shirts and other limited-run merch printed with a graphic of a frowning, mustachioed John.
The Greens have their own nonprofit, the Foundation to Decrease World Suck. And in 2019, they announced a $25 million fundraising initiative to aid Partners in Health, a nonprofit that works to reduce maternal and infant mortality in Sierra Leone.
The brothers’ passion for using their platform(s) for good — and knack for mobilizing anyone who comes across any piece of content they’ve produced — makes them stand out on the often-depressing internet. They genuinely seem to care about these causes, approaching philanthropy with the same enthusiastic attitude as they do soccer or beans.
“When we imagine the problems of the world’s poorest communities as entirely separate from ‘our’ problems, we make a ‘them’ of the world’s most vulnerable people,” John said in a 2019 video. “And I don’t want to do that.”
As part of the brothers’ annual Project for Awesome, an event they’ve hosted for 15 years, scores of people make videos highlighting charities and donate money in exchange for “perks” like a meteorite or a potato autographed by Hank. Viewers vote on which organizations receive funding during a 48-hour live stream that’s known to involve Sharpies and peanut butter.
The Green brothers’ strategy is wacky, but it works. The 2022 Project for Awesome raised $3.2 million for groups including Save the Children, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Trevor Project and World Central Kitchen. Other grant recipients include the Prison Book Program, an initiative that’s received more than $40,000 to send prisoners free books, and Earthjustice, a public interest environmental law organization that’s gotten over $102,000 to fight climate change.
Prep work has already begun on the 2023 Project for Awesome event. Meanwhile, ground has broken on the Maternal Center of Excellence at Koidu Government Hospital in Sierra Leone, which will provide improved care for mothers and infants with resources like surgical suites and blood banks while also training new nurses and doctors.
There’s nowhere this progress is more evident than on the Vlogbrothers YouTube channel. In a January 2022 video titled “After 15 Years on YouTube, THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING THING,” John announced they were officially on track to achieve their $25 million goal.
“That we’ve reached such an ambitious fundraising target faster than even our rosiest projections is a real testament to what communities like Nerdfighteria can accomplish,” he said. “And in a time when so much is so terrible, I am really heartened by the generosity and solidarity I have seen.”
In November, just 11 months later, John had to release another update. The community is now on pace to blow past that target, set to raise more than $35 million for Partners in Health.
“Never underestimate Nerdfighteria,” he quipped.
And never underestimate Hank and John Green.