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  • We've Been Investigating Influencer Charity Streams. One Company Is Already Threatening to Sue Us.

We've Been Investigating Influencer Charity Streams. One Company Is Already Threatening to Sue Us.

We learned that a charity fundraiser used by some of the world's largest streamers took a big cut of the proceeds.

Softgiving CEO Matt Pfaltzgraf, right, at a conference (Photo via Matt Pfaltzgraf / LinkedIn)

Last week we announced a two-week content blitz, bookended by a longform investigative feature I have worked on for two and a half years that I’d planned to publish today.

On Monday, I reached out to the subject of that story, Atlanta-based marketing agency Brandfluence, formerly known as Softgiving, asking to speak to them about our reporting. Its CEO did not respond. Then, on Wednesday, I received an email from an attorney representing that company, stating that he had begun the process to file suit against me in Georgia, and demanding that we not publish our story.

We’re hard at work updating our story with relevant details from Brandfluence’s allegations, but in the meantime, I want to offer a teaser.

In the last few years, the relationship between charities and influencers has been questioned by donors and many others of the public. Most notably, the popular YouTube creator Jirard “The Completionist” Khalil has been criticized for reportedly failing to appropriately manage money his family’s foundation had raised. (In YouTube and X videos, he’s denied intentional wrongdoing.)

Our story focuses on Brandfluence, a marketing agency that has connected charities with influencers since 2019. Our work will show that in 2020 and 2021, when Brandfluence was called “Softgiving,” the company collected a significant percentage of donations raised for events by the influencers they worked with, according to public records and partnership paperwork we’ve seen. In several cases we identified, less than half the money reportedly raised in charity streams actually made its way to the actual charities.

These financial agreements were included in paperwork between Softgiving and the charities. But, prior to the beginning of our investigation in summer 2021, the company’s donation pages did not directly contain a disclosure about what fees it collected or how it compensated influencers.

Some of the influencers who interviewed for this upcoming piece on-the-record also say that Softgiving misled them about how it made money off of these campaigns.

For the past two and a half years, Hunter Cooke, a fellow reporter, and I have tried to find out why. We’ve dug into hundreds of pages of public and private records and interviewed more than a dozen sources, including influencers, their agents and managers, charities, academics, non-profit industry leaders and others.

Brandfluence claims that I conspired with three non-profit industry leaders, one of whom runs a competitor to Brandfluence, to defame the company and create an advantage for that competitor. That allegation is false.

We are fortunate to be working with one of the First Amendment groups at one of the most recognized journalism and law schools in America. We will not bow and we will publish our story.

We believe in investigative journalism, and particularly in the multibillion dollar gaming industry and creator economy. Unfortunately, not many of our colleagues are afforded the opportunity to take their time to do this complex form of work. If you feel like supporting us and allowing us to continue doing that, subscribe to our Patreon.

We look forward to sharing more soon.