A Tough Year Inspired Imagine Dragons' Ben McKee to Do More Active Good
Ben McKee ’09, the bassist for the band Imagine Dragons, spent much of the last year as did millions of others: isolated and frustrated. But instead of just “watching the world crumble around me," McKee says he decided to redirect his energy into something positive.
In February, he launched a campaign to give away $1,000 to various causes every day for a year. Over the past several months, he’s funded a wide range of organizations, including those that help animals and wildlife, the environment, women, people with disabilities, young people, LGBTQ+ people, and many others.
He typically starts his days by reading a newspaper, and if he sees something that doesn’t feel right, he’ll look for an organization that is doing something about it, and add it to his spreadsheet of groups he plans to donate to. He posts about each day’s donation on Twitter.
"Doing this first thing in the morning, I have one thing that I can look back on and be like, ‘Hey, you know what, at least I did that.'"
By making a donation to these groups, and drawing attention to them, McKee says he’s able to use the platform his fame has given him in a way that feels meaningful and empowered.
His inaugural donation, to the Tyler Robinson Foundation, an organization Imagine Dragons started in 2014 to help families pay for all the unforeseen costs that they face when a child is battling pediatric cancer, expenses such as transportation and housing.
Robinson was a young fan of the band. When he was 16 and going through chemotherapy, his older brother snuck him into an 18+ Imagine Dragons show. The brother put Robinson on his shoulders and the teen sang “It’s Time” with vocalist Dan Reynolds. Afterward, Robinson met the group and they stayed in touch.
After his death, the band launched the foundation, holding its first annual gala in 2016. The year before the pandemic, the gala raised just under $3 million, McKee says. Last year, the foundation was unable to hold the event because of COVID-19.
“It's been the most meaningful part of our career, for sure, and it’s my favorite thing that I’ve ever been a part of,” McKee said.
Growing up in Sonoma County, California, surrounded by redwoods and near the ocean, McKee is particularly drawn to causes promoting animal welfare and those that work to mitigate the effects of climate change. As a kid, he’d help raise nestlings and would care for wildlife when it was injured. “It was just very much like a Disney movie,” he said. “And seeing how much care these animals need and how much they’re affected by their interactions with people, and not having their environments maintained and respected the way they should be, really made me...I really have a big place in my heart for animals and for wildlife.”
He’s also been influenced by growing up in a family that was active in promoting social causes. McKee’s grandmother was involved in Planned Parenthood, and McKee would go with his family to deliver groceries to people with HIV and AIDS.
Now McKee gives to Planned Parenthood and to organizations that help people who are dealing with illness. He says that his daily practice of giving has had positive knock-on effect for him as well.
“I’ve been feeling more, just, optimistic,” he said. “Doing this first thing in the morning, I have one thing that I can look back on and be like, ‘Hey, you know what, at least I did that, even if I screwed this other thing up, I started the day off with this thing, and I am completely behind that.'"