Crowdfunding donations: Is giving me your money a good idea?

August 1st, 2012 by

microtask_crowdfunding_money_okWhen people ask me “What’s your dream holiday?” I usually lie to them. I say some exotic holiday destination that makes me sound normal. I don’t say space or the moon or the bottom of the sea, because I’m nervous it might make me sound like a dreamer or full of myself. Which I am (not).

But the truth is I am a lot like Richard Branson, Ashton Kutcher and James Cameron. OK, I’m not famous or rich or mega-successful, but if I was, instead of visiting the Bahamas or Thailand I’d be travelling to the bottom of the ocean or space. Now that’s a holiday.

Unfortunately, unlike Richard and his pals, I don’t quite have the money to build a spaceship or even rent one (yet). Or so I thought, until I came across GoFundMe, a crowd based fundraising site. On it people can raise money for just about anything at all, from “Accidents & Personal Crisis” to “Travel & Adventure”. Could crowdfunding be the answer to my lofty ambitions? Does this sort of crowdfunding have the potential to really take off?

Below I present to you what I see as the pros and cons of the concept. I’ve tried to be as impartial as possible. (If, after reading it, you’re in favor of the site, we can talk about how much you want to donate to my “Get Tommaso Out of This World” fund.)

Pro: The spirit of charity is alive and well

Even in today’s depressed global economy, it’s heartening to see so many people willing to donate money to complete strangers. For example, one charitable soul donated to a woman stricken with cancer, posting this on her micro site: “I know I don’t know you, but I know cancer…and I want you to kick its butt!” In a world that sometimes seems overrun by bloodthirsty dictators and soulless investment bankers, it’s nice to know that humanity isn’t going to hell in a ’78 Pinto just yet.

Con: Another avenue for fraudsters

For as long as charitable causes have existed, so too have fraudsters. GoFundMe is up front about the possibility that causes may be fake, and advises against donating to unknown people. Even so, it seems many people do donate to strangers. One hopes their money isn’t going to a charitable version of the “West African scam”.

Pro: Help draw attention to society’s failings (and maybe fix them)

The woman I mentioned earlier racked up an ER bill of $10,000 for what turned out to be an incorrect diagnosis. Other similar stories of unbelievable financial hardship abound on the site. Along with helping these people out, hopefully GoFundMe will draw attention to situations which society as a whole could remedy.

Con: A lack of personal responsibility?

Despite my intro to this blog, the “Travel & Adventure” section of the site makes me uncomfortable. I snooped around and found two pages to support my skepticism. One is for a person who hopes to travel to Italy for a theater program, and the other is for a person who wants to hike the Appalachian Trail.

As far as I could tell, these are two grown, healthy adults, with no physical or mental obstacles preventing them from supporting themselves. And while I’m glad they’ve set themselves some goals (mine are better), I’m unclear as to how their “needs” justify a donation page. Even if I was a close friend of one of these people, I would think that they might be better off just saving up for their trip like the rest of us do. To me the whole category seems out of place amongst the other categories dedicated to helping people in genuine need.

Overall, I think GoFundMe is a good thing, with the potential to change a lot of people’s lives. If you have a minute and a few spare dollars check it out. Help someone in need. Either that or send a nice, young, not-yet-famous, Italian lad into space.