I am a pragmatist, but I am either cursed or blessed, sometimes both, with a too-tender heart. I have helped many over the years, both financially and in other ways, and will continue to do so as I am able. I cry when I read of injustices and to this day cannot speak of 9/11 without tears. I believe that when people need help, they should be able to ask for it without being ridiculed or shamed. All that said, I am stunned by the number of people using a relatively new (since 2010) internet service called GoFundMe to solicit cash donations from people, presumably friends and family.
Wikipedia defines GoFundMe as “a crowdfunding platform that allows people to raise money for events ranging from life events such as celebrations and graduations to challenging circumstances like accidents and illnesses.” GoFundMe allows users to create their own website to describe what they are raising money for. During this process, members can describe their fundraising cause, the amount they hope to raise, and upload photos or video. Once the website is created, GoFundMe allows users to share their project with people through integrated social network links (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and email. People can then donate to a user’s cause through the website using only a debit card or credit card and track the progress of their funding. Those who donate can also leave comments on the website in support of the project. GoFundMe generates revenue by automatically deducting a 5% fee from each donation users receive. If the user receives no donations, then no charge is made. In 2015 GoFundMe announced that the site would no longer support legal defense funds on their platform. The news came after the site suspended funding for the defense of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a bakery that was fined for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. Well, at least there are some values here.
Yesterday, a family friend was soliciting funds through GoFundMe for a friend who is undergoing a serious illness. A worthy cause, most assuredly, however there are other, more reliable means for obtaining assistance with medical bills. Then today, a casual acquaintance notified me that his daughter is soliciting funds (requesting $6,000) to get her vehicle repaired. This is really just a simplified version of begging. Simplified, that is, for the solicitor … he or she does not have to be bothered to call a friend or relative, explain the situation, and ask to borrow money. Which brings me to my next point …
Donations through GoFundMe are just that … donations. I have no problem with a friend saying, “my car is broken and I cannot afford to get it fixed right now. Can you lend me $500 to help me get it fixed?” In most cases, if I can spare $500 at that time, and if I know this person will do their best to repay me in a timely fashion, I will gladly lend him the $500. And I will expect to be repaid based on whatever terms we agree upon. But with GoFundMe, there is no commitment to repay, no intent. It is a handout, plain and simple. Since I donate regularly to a local Food Bank, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and a local ‘no-kill’ shelter, I am not inclined to donate to individuals who are asking for a handout for a prom dress, car repair, or a trip abroad (yes, I have one friend who solicits funds for a ‘missionary’ trip to Europe every year!). I even saw one request for money to throw a birthday party – for herself!
What bothers me most, I think, is that the people asking for these funds are not the truly downtrodden, the people who are almost completely without hope, who are trying to raise children with no job, but these are people not much different that myself, who may struggle from time-to-time, but could find a way to solve their own financial difficulties if they tried. But since there is GoFundMe, they apparently think it is simpler and less stressful to just ask for money through the internet, then there is no face-to-face commitment, no obligation to repay in any way. In doing some research, I found that many of the GoFundMe projects are requesting donations of over $100,000, and some as high as $800,000. There are, indeed, many worthy causes, but this still just feels wrong to me. Furthermore, there is really no way to know if that cause that sounds so worthy is really legitimate. I would be willing to bet that there are some that are simply people hoping to get money to buy a luxury car or take a cruise to the Bahamas.
As with anything else, let the buyer beware. One other thing … neither GoFundMe nor any of the projects or people using it are registered charities, so your donation is not tax-deductible. As for me, I think I shall continue to ignore these requests.