Crowdfunding started as a way of raising capital for entrepreneurial projects, and then it also became a fundraising tool for non-profit initiatives. Now, fueled by a growing wealth divide and the lingering effects of the Great Recession, crowdfunding is turning into a popular medium for individuals to launch pleas for money to meet unexpected and sometimes dire personal expenses. Some campaigns are started by people who are trying to help friends and family members in need.
Many such requests are posted to Facebook. Using sites such as GoFundMe, they request individual donations to cover medical bills, rent, burial costs, educational expenses, and the like. The funding goals usually are in the four and five figures. I’ve seen a few for six-figure amounts. Because the crowdfunding campaign is almost always posted by an individual, donations are rarely tax-deductible as charitable gifts.
I have no idea what percentage of crowdfunding appeals for individual expenses are successful, but my guess is that there are many more misses than hits. Many, if not most of them, carry a voice of desperation. Those launching these campaigns feel like they have run out of options, and so they are asking others for support to keep them afloat.
Welcome to today’s privatized, casino-style form of “public” assistance. As the bottom continues to fall out of America’s middle class, and our safety net increasingly shows its holes, we’re going to see more and more crowdfunding campaigns on behalf of those who are trying to make ends meet.
The successful appeals will be compelling in voice and substance and supported by a network of friends. The unsuccessful appeals will be unpersuasive, sound questionable, or naively assume that lots of strangers are waiting for reasons to give away their money. In other words, something of a twisted “meritocracy” will develop between those who are successful and unsuccessful at pitching for money to help them survive.
Perhaps this is a logical, unsurprising result of a society that has bought into the notion that the “free market” is a panacea and the solution to all of our problems. A reality TV show pitting those in need against each other cannot be far off.