Monsterful Stuff

Only the best...

The Dark Side of Crowdfunding

Posted by on
  • Font size: Larger Smaller

“They all killed themselves because they didn’t want to be near you.”

Two years ago, video of three 7th grade boys harassing their bus monitor, Karen Klein whose eldest son had committed suicide, went viral. “Making the Bus Monitor Cry” hit a raw nerve with millions of viewers and the mainstream media picked it up. Someone set up a Indiegogo campaign to raise $5,000 to send Mrs. Klein on “the vacation of a lifetime.” The campaign raised $703,833 and people kept giving. They wanted it all to go to her and ended up giving her a nice retirement and the donors felt good about that.

The reasons why people are so generous to one individual rather than an organization that could have more impact has already been written about so I won’t go into it here. I do want to turn a spotlight on what has happened since then that reveals how unscrupulous people have used this phenomenon to enrich themselves.

Waitress Toni Christina Jenkins received an outpouring of support and more than $10,000 in donations when she shared a restaurant receipt with a racial slur. It was soon revealed that the receipt had been doctored. Waitress Dayna Morales put her own twist on a similar hoax and received about $2,000 before the lie was revealed.

Most recently, the young girl who was allegedly kicked out of a KFC because her scarred face was disturbing customers may have been hoax perpetuated by the grandmother. The family had set up a GoFundMe campaign for the girl's medical expenses but had only raised $595. Once the grandmother posted the KFC story on her Facebook page, though, the campaign raised $135,000 within a few days.

Crowdfunding is a wonderful tool for causes and nonprofits but it’s a bit of a wild west and anyone can set up a fake campaign to capitalize on a tragedy. It is certainly a donor beware situation but we can’t sit back and say, “Well these examples didn’t tarnish any organizations. These are just rogue individuals.”

Anything that erodes donor trust is an issue we should be concerned about. A public that learns to be cynical can only hurt the people we are trying to serve. Here’s what we can do to make sure our donors can trust us with their contributions:

  • Be rigorously ethical in fundraising efforts. Never exploit donors or clients.
  • Follow up with donors and let them know how their money is used and its impact in the aggregate and on individuals.
  • Model financial transparency: Make audits and 990 forms available on your website. 

It's part of our role as development staff now more than ever to develop ongoing, genuine relationships with our donors and make sure every one of them experiences the benefits of philanthropy.

Photo credit: masondan Foter Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

For me, fundraising and communications go together like peanut butter and jelly – delicious & filling!

Featured in Alltop