Parpan Column: We’re living in a gofundeverybody world

02/27/2016 7:00 AM |

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 1.07.21 PMGoFundMe describes itself as the world’s number one personal fundraising site, with over $2 billion raised in its first five years in business.

It’s a crowdfunding source that has no doubt done a lot of good in our communities and elsewhere in the world. 

Yet I can’t help but have very conflicted feelings about the site. Perhaps my biggest concern with the platform is another word the company uses in its marketing materials: easy.

“There’s no easier way to share your story and attract support,” the website claims.

Just about every week I’m notified of a new GoFundMe campaign popping up nearby — through social media or readers who email us in hopes that we’ll write about a particular campaign — and sure enough within hours that cause has typically raised hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

Raising funds shouldn’t always be this easy. Take, for example, a campaign launched last week to help Kanye West get out of debt. The campaign’s goal was to raise the $53 million the rapper was said to be in the hole, a number even he has since disputed.

More than 825 donations over eight days generated more than $8,000. On the seventh day, however, the campaign’s organizer announced that “Kanye’s team has refused the money, so note that any donations going forward for sure will not be going to Kanye West directly. I’m awaiting a response from GoFundMe as to how to proceed.”

Nevertheless, a man named Adam Simpson donated $20 that day with a note saying, “No worries.”

Perhaps a lot of my concerns about the site have to do with my role as a community newspaper editor. A big part of my job is sifting through idea pitches and deciding what rises to the level of a news story.

And as easy as GoFundMe campaigns are to create, they’re even easier to write stories about. The donation pages often include heartfelt pleas from the organizers, and the amount raised and people’s comments are easily accessible.

A reporter can write a piece on a GoFundMe campaign without asking a single question, and many media outlets often do this. These pieces almost always attract a lot of eyeballs and they play really well on social media. But does that make it responsible journalism? I would argue no.

As a newspaper editor, I often find myself having to be a filter between the cause and the community, deciding which campaigns are appropriate for the newspaper to promote and which are not.

Locally, most GoFundMe campaigns appear to be created by well-intentioned people and I have no reason to believe the money is being used for anything other than what the organizer is pledging. That said, there’s really no way to say for sure.

Last year, we did a story about a GoFundMe campaign to pay for the funeral expenses of two people killed in Wading River. We had no contact with surviving family members and no way of knowing if they even needed the financial support, but we also had no reason to doubt that the money was being put to good use. I believe we made the right call.

Other GoFundMe efforts we’ve mentioned in stories have received some public scrutiny. People questioned one recent campaign to buy a new car for a local woman who was the victim of a carjacking. Personally, I don’t have a problem with people wanting to help a victim of trauma, but I can also see why other people might criticize that effort.

This week, we decided against publishing a story we had been crafting on a GoFundMe proposal to raise $40,000 toward the renovation of a Greenport business to convert it into a performance hall, like it had been used decades earlier.

Our concerns were that the campaign was not being organized by the owner of the building, but rather his brother. And also because $40,000 is such a small fraction of what will ultimately need to be raised. Many more dollars would have to be spent just to get the building to the point where such a use could even be entertained.

By writing about this campaign, it could be interpreted that on some level the newspaper endorses the project and feels its readers should contribute.

While I certainly don’t mean to imply that these funds wouldn’t be put to good use or that the organizer isn’t well-intentioned, I do believe it might be a bit premature to suggest to our readers that the overall goal of this particular fundraiser will ever be realized. Simply put, this project is more dream than reality at this point.

Ultimately, when it comes to GoFundMe, I believe in the expression “to each his own.” If you find a campaign worthwhile, then you should contribute. It really doesn’t matter what other people think.

I recently donated to a GoFundMe campaign for the first time. It was for close family friends to pay medical expenses in an effort to get pregnant. It’s something my wife and I want very badly for them.

It was just one small donation to one of the thousands of GoFundMe campaigns. And for me, it was the best way I could have spent that money.

It’s safe to say I’ve come across many other campaigns I would still never donate to. “Help Jah get to Vegas in May,” “Tired of being broke” and “I need plastic surgery” are among those I might ignore. “Get Kanye out of debt” is another.

Grant Parpan

The author is the executive editor of Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected].

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