How $1M In Venmo Beer Donations Got Charitably Out Of Hand

Authored by Michael Scott via SafeHaven.com,

How do you raise $1 million for charity accidentally and turn into one of the best unwitting promoters of a giant beverage company at the same time, and then witness a massive fall from grace, embarrassing all involved?

As it turns out, it’s easier than you might think thanks to social media, fintech and global streaming.

ESPN's ”College GameDay” on September 14th between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Iowa State Cyclones accomplished all of that in record speed: In the sea of people, one stood out, starkly: The previously unknown Carson King, a regular college football fan, holding up a sign that said: "Busch Light Supply Needs Replenished."

He also included his Venmo username - a key ingredient for what was to come next...

By virtue of this sign, much to King’s surprise, he ultimately ended up raising over $1 million for beer and getting a lot of free, viral advertising for a payment giant and the beer king.

Less than two weeks later, after having his face even appear on Busch Light cans as an “Iowa Legend”, Busch cut ties with Carson King after the social media monster dug up old racist tweets that tarnished the unwitting charity fundraiser’s image.

Things started off in a wave of unexpected celebration for all involved.

No sooner had the game started on the 14th than King’s Venmo account started to ping out of control with notifications, quickly reaching $400. That prompted the unwitting beer beggar to consider ways to distribute those funds in a more socially responsible manner.

After speaking with his family, he decided to splurge on a single case of Busch Light and donate the rest to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital.

"The University of Iowa's Stead Family Children's Hospital does amazing work for kids and families all over the country," King was quoted as saying at the time. "I just wanted to help them out in any way I could."

"We can't think -- our minds are blown by all of this!" the hospital said in a tweet on Saturday. "Thank you to everyone who helped reach this milestone! We're so grateful!

As word spread of his plans to donate the money, more people decided to contribute. Busch Beer and Venmo raised the stakes by pledging to match his contribution.

Busch is one of America’s most iconic companies, behind some of the country's most recognized brands, including Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob ULTRA, and Stella Artois, as well as a number of regional brands. In 2017, Busch announced a $2 billion investment in U.S. facilities through 2020. 

Venmo, a mobile payment service owned by PayPal, handled $12 billion in transactions in the first quarter of 2018. As of last year, Venmo had an estimated 7 million users, and the mobile payments app handled an estimated $50 billion-worth of transactions in 2018.

It was a free advertising flurry until a reporter at the Des Moines Register called attention to a 2011 tweet by a then-16-year-old King with racist undertones.

King has publicly apologized for the 2011 tweet, calling as „hurtful and embarrassing“.

Busch and Venmo will still honor their commitment to match contributions to the Iowa children's hospital, but have cut ties with King.

An Anheuser-Busch spokesperson confirmed in a statement to local media:

“Carson King had multiple social media posts that do not align with our values as a brand or as a company and we will have no further association with him. We are honoring our commitment by donating more than $350,000 to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.”

King's last-minute campaign #FortheKids has now reached over $1.4 million.