Changing the World Through Online Fundraising

When you think about exploring how online fundraising can contribute positively to your efforts, you might want to start by spending time online reviewing the work of GoFundMe Chief Executive Officer Rob Solomon who, Smart Company suggests in a headline to a story about Solomon, “wants to change the world.”

  Solomon, writer Denham Sadler reports in that article for Smart Company, “says GoFundMe, a crowdfunding platform for personal causes, is creating real change in the world and using the power of the startup capital of the world for good.” It is a website and an organization that centers around the efforts of individuals willing to go online to seek financial help from others to meet personal needs (funds for school, funds to cover medical expenses, and myriad others) as well as larger needs, such as obtaining millions of dollars to support the March for Our Lives project and providing funds to families affected by the Parkland/Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings; collecting $22 million for the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund “to provide legal support to people who have experienced sexual assault and harassment in the workplace” [the most successful GoFundMe campaign in 2018], and helping numerous others all over the world.

As is the case with so many other social media tools we can explore, it is a service and an endeavor very much grounded in the art of inspiring action through storytelling; people are moved to contribute through the heartfelt descriptions provided by those organizing and managing the various campaigns showing how donors make positive differences through their generosity and willingness to collaborate with people they didn’t previously know.

“The biggest surprise is how much positivity there is in the world,” Solomon said in an interview, with Shubert Koong, that was published on the WePay blog. “News cycles and the social web often present a barrage of negativity. Yet I’ve been surprised by just how much people are compassionate, sympathetic, and empathetic—they genuinely want to help. And the power of the people collectively—which we’re happy to support—can have an impact that is massively outsized even compared to some of the largest foundations and individuals in the world.”

It clearly does not operate in a vacuum; the most effective campaigns, regardless of the fundraising goals set, reach potential donors through the use of a variety of other social media tools (including Twitter and Facebook), other mainstream media resources (e.g., newspaper articles; news coverage on television locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally; and radio programs), and numerous, creative outreach efforts from individual to individual and organization to organization. It is one of those social media tools that can be integrated easily into other social media tools to extend the reach of the messages posted and requests made. And as is the case with any good fundraising effort, it requires honest, well-planned, and well-executed campaigns that leave no doubt as to the veracity of the stories told and the positive impacts donors can have by giving at any level that is comfortable to them.

GoFundMe also provides a magnificent infrastructure for those using its services. It offers easy-to-assimilate guidance on how to set up and manage campaigns; provides plenty of ideas on how to reach the largest possible audience for any campaign posted on the site; and maintains a dynamic set of pages listing current campaigns as well as documenting campaigns that have reached successful conclusions. It reminds you, once again, that one of the best ways to understand social media is to explore it to see how others use it successfully to further their causes and reach their goals.

An example cited by Solomon during a 2016 Startup Grind Global session involves James Robertson, a 56-year-old factory worker in Detroit who could not afford to buy a car, so was walking twenty-one miles every day to go to work and return home—leaving him with just a couple of hours every night to sleep before beginning another excruciatingly long walk and work day. Evan Leedy, a 19-year-old who became familiar with Robertson’s story, was moved by Robertson’s plight and his commitment to not losing the job he had struggled to obtain, so he started a GoFundMe campaign with a $25,000 goal to help Robertson buy a car and obtain payments for automobile insurance for at least a few months. Donations began pouring in almost immediately, and by the time the campaign was terminated 51 months later, more than 13,000 people had donated a total of $350,044 to change Robertson’s world in a positive way—and brought Leedy and Roberton together at a personal level that would never have occurred if GoFundMe hadn’t been—and provided—a vehicle to connect them.

 An obvious lesson learned from GoFundMe success stories is that small dreams and plenty of hard work can and often do produce huge results. Online platforms like GoFundMe can help you obtain the funding that supports the changes you are attempting to foster.   

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the nineteenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.

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