Brittany Jill

Brittany Jill at Joe Sippers in Effingham, Illinois. In addition to enjoying the coffee, Jill uses the cafe to work when she needs a change of scenery from working at home. 

The comments on Brittany Jill's TikTok videos are filled with emotion.

"Girl you make me cry."

"This makes me so happy."

"Thanks for sharing this with the world, such an inspiration for others."

They are responses to one of Jill's "Venmo Challenges," a series she produces for her social media platforms, where she asks her followers to give her 25 or 50 cents through Venmo, a money transfer service. Then, with the pooled donations of thousands of her followers, Jill goes to a restaurant and tips her server hundreds of dollars.

"I do it because it makes me feel good," Jill said.

In an age of polarized and negative media, Jill wants to create positive content.

"People want to see that happening," she said.

So far, Jill has raised and given over $10,500 to servers at restaurants around Effingham, Illinois – including Niemerg's Steakhouse, Gopher's Grill, Gabby Goat, Puerto Vallarta, Fujiyama, Chili's, and Joe Sippers. She's also visited restaurants in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

Her videos have reached thousands of people. A video of her tipping a server at Gabby Goat has more than 539,000 views.

In an effort to ensure that she is doing the most good possible, Jill has called restaurants ahead of time to ask if anyone has been struggling recently. She then goes to the restaurant when that person is working and sits where she knows she'll get them as a server.

At Gabby Goat in Effingham, Jill gave a $1,000 tip to her server, Kae Lynn Hoyt, in early August. Hoyt is a single mom and second-year student in Parkland College's occupational therapy program.

She was preparing to cut back hours to accommodate a heavier school schedule and was stressed about income when Jill came to the Gabby Goat, ready for a Venmo Challenge.

"It came at the perfect time for me," Hoyt said. "I was trying to hustle as much as I could."

"I was in shock." Hoyt said, adding it took until she arrived home for her to realize that it really happened. "I'm extremely grateful for what she did.”.

Even when Jill can't do research ahead of time, she finds that it's easy to be surprised.

"Everybody is struggling right now," she said.

At one out-of-town restaurant, she wasn't sure if a big tip would be a good idea. The servers looked like they were all doing well. After tipping $300, her server said, "You don't realize how much this helps us."

"Even when you think somebody doesn't need it, they might surprise you," Jill said.

Tipping servers isn't all Jill has done with her crowdfunding skills. She took a few weeks in August to gather donations to help fight child trafficking.

"I really fell down a rabbit hole," Jill said, explaining how she couldn't stop reading things about trafficking. "It really just made me sick," she said. "I was sobbing."

Turning to her social media fans, she asked them to give money to support nonprofits Fight to

End Exploitation, Operation Underground Railroad, and Rapha International. She raised $6,200.

Jill didn't just stumble into viral internet success by having a good cause and a camera. Viral internet success is her job.

Jill works full time in social media marketing for GSM Outdoors, a company that sells hunting accessories and outdoor gear under almost 30 different brands, including Stealth Came, Walker's, and Muddy. Jill manages these brand's social media accounts.

She also uses her personal social media pages for business. She has relationships with several companies, like the gun company Browning. She makes posts featuring products the company gives her.

"People consider me an influencer," she said, though she added she doesn't like that description.

Still, it's a fitting one. Her rise to internet notoriety has even extended to her pet.

"My dog gets free stuff now," she said. To be fair, the dog has its own Instagram following at @kiptheduckdog.

The trend for brands to partner with social media accounts who have high followers and good "engagement" has become more and more popular over the past few years.

In December 2019, Business Insider used data from consulting firm Mediakix to project that influencer marketings will be a $15 billion industry by 2022, up from under $1 billion in 2015.

Jill knew this trend could help her. When her Instagram account reached 10,000 followers about four years ago, she made a choice.

"That's when I started treating it like a business," she said.

At the time, Jill hadn't broken into the social media management industry, so she needed to demonstrate that she could grow an audience and build engagement with followers. She did that on her own pages. Since she is an avid hunter, Jill decided to trim her pages content to focus on that niche.

After several afternoons doing nothing but fishing and posting on social media, she was worried what her in-laws thought of her.

"They probably thought I was the biggest piece of work," Jill said.

Still, it worked out in her favor. She has 31,000 followers on Twitter, 59,000 followers on Instagram, and 76,000 followers on TikTok and manages 29 brands' social media accounts.

Jill got the inspiration for her tipping after seeing another content creator, Lexy Burke (@lexilately on TikTok), do a Venmo Challenge.

"I watched her do it," Jill said.

She started by asking her followers on Twitter to giver her money for the project.

"My Twitter followers are very interactive," she said.

Some might view Jill's Venmo Challenges as a way to further grow her follower base or to get likes, but Jill doesn't see it that way. She sees them as a way to bring the thousands of donors with her to give the money away.

"I'm just the lucky one who gets to be there with them," she said. "The reason why I'm filming is because I'm gathering money from other people."

Jill doesn't plan to stop her Venmo Challenges. She spent late October trying to track down a local Effingham woman's work schedule, all while trying to keep it a secret.

You can find Jill on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok at @britt_jill_ and if you want to contribute money to her ongoing challenges, go to venmo.com/brittany-jill

Andrew Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 132 or andrew.adams@effinghamdailynews.com

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