How Crowdfunding Changed These People’s Lives
Sometimes you just need some help raising money.
Crowdfunding platforms, like GoFundMe, can make some of the biggest ambitions possible. These platforms allow anyone to start fundraisers to raise money for causes or life events that they can’t otherwise afford.
Crowdfunding can also provide a lifeline for those struggling financially. The Wall Street Journal reports that more than $100 million has been raised for basic living expenses on GoFundMe so far this year, a 150% increase from 2019 and more than any previous year. For some, these campaigns are supplementing their income or helping pay their rent.
Crowdfunding is also becoming a lifeline for Americans grappling with exorbitant health care costs. A recent survey by the University of Chicago found eight million Americans have started campaigns for themselves or a household member to cover medical expenses; more than 12 million have started a crowdfunding campaign to help someone outside of their family afford medical costs.
But those are just statistics. Really, how big of an impact can fundraisers like these have on someone’s life? The answer is clear: Crowdfunding campaigns, and the generosity of those who donate to them, can radically change people’s lives for the better.
To be clear, crowdfunding is often a stop-gap solution to existing societal ills. GoFundMe shouldn’t have to become one of the nation’s biggest health insurers. If you can’t afford food, there should be sufficient social safety nets to help you feed yourself and your family. But that doesn’t detract from the good that can come from these campaigns.
Here’s how crowdfunding impacted three people’s lives.
Being Able To Afford Gender Confirmation Surgery
The surgery alone cost $8,600—money Lurry didn’t have. Since he works in distribution and has a labor-intensive job, he also had to take two months of unpaid time off work to recover. In total, he estimated that he’d need a total of $10,000 to pay for his medical costs and cover his time off from work.
“I’m not in a good financial environment, so it was really important to me to start crowdfunding,” Lurry says.
Lurry turned to GoFundMe to create a fundraiser to help pay for his surgery. He tapped into his platform on Twitter, where had about 7,000 followers, to share his fundraiser. In just five days, he raised $8,500.
“It feels surreal, even thinking about it,” Lurry says. “I would’ve never accomplished that if it weren’t for people helping me and my platform. As a Black trans person, I’ve never seen anybody else’s GoFundMe be reached that quickly in that timeframe.”
His following on Twitter also skyrocketed in a short period of time; Lurry now has over 11,000 followers.
“People like to simplify social media and Twitter and say it’s not useful, but it helps a lot, especially for marginalized people,” Lurry explains. “It’s a matter of community.”
Lurry’s surgery on November 11 was a success. Now, he continues using his platform to bring awareness to the Black transgender community; he says his Twitter is dedicated to raising awareness about “what it means to be Black, trans, poor and mentally ill.”
But overall, he says he owes a great deal of gratitude to his Twitter followers for helping him achieve his goal of gender reassignment surgery.
“It can feel anxiety-inducing [to start a fundraiser] because people who crowdfund, specifically marginalized people, we’re looked at like we’re not trying or we’re begging for money,” Lurry says. “People will denounce you and say things like “If you just get a job, or work harder…” People will always have something to say. Especially if you’re Black and trans. But I reached my goal – that to me is a big accomplishment and I don’t take that for granted at all.”
Rebuilding a Life After a Devastating House Fire
On February 17, 2019, Jennifer Hicks was abruptly woken up after the smoke alarms went off in her home in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Their basement had caught fire after a bad dimmer switch caused enough electrical current to the light to spark.
Billows of black smoke blinded them. The family only managed to find two of their four cats and frantically rushed outside, just six minutes after calling 911.
“It was that moment of, ‘Oh my god, this is real’,” Hicks says. “It’s a really helpless feeling.”
The Hicks family stood outside in icing, freezing rain while fire rescue put out the flames. A few of their neighbors came outside to offer hats, coats and emotional support for the family. Their home was a total loss.
The Hicks spent the night at a neighbor’s house, and then in a hotel for six weeks until they could rent a townhome while their home was rebuilt. Two days after the fire, Jennifer saw a GoFundMe shared on Facebook—it was created by a group of her neighbors. The campaign was to raise money to help them purchase necessities and food as they started to rebuild their life.
“I’m the person who usually would start the GoFundMe. I want to do everything to help people,” Hicks says. “So seeing that I was a recipient was a weird feeling for me—it took me a minute to actually feel like I was okay with it. But the kindness and support and generosity of people everywhere who donated felt like they were embracing me, like I was getting a hug from them and support.”
Hicks says the money was crucial in helping them get back on their feet. They had home insurance, but the reimbursement process was time consuming. Their savings and insurance alone wasn’t enough to replace everything lost in the fire.
“We would’ve been OK for a little bit,” Hicks says. “But when you have to replace literally every single thing that you have and you own, that money goes fast.”
In total, the GoFundMe campaign raised nearly $11,000 for the Hicks family. But for Jennifer, it did more than just help her family financially; it helped her emotionally, too. On the recent one-year anniversary of the fire, she re-read all of the comments and names of the givers on the campaign. She says it helped her continue to process her trauma and grief from the fire.
“It felt like I was re-receiving their support, Jennifer says. “Some people really shined in those moments and became part of our general life-support team. I’m so grateful. I don’t feel like I have the right words or enough to express my gratitude for my friends who put that together for us.”
Raising Funds to Make a Difference in Communities
Priya Shah, 34 of Chicago, started The Simple Good about nine years ago. The nonprofit is dedicated to connecting the meaning of “good” through communities around the world by empowering youth through art and discussion.
To date, over 3,000 kids have participated in the program with about 500 participating ever year in Chicago and internationally. Some of The Simple Good’s programs include helping children cope with community and family violence and intimate healing through art. But none of the nonprofit’s initiatives would have been possible without crowdfunding.
Most of The Simple Good’s fundraising comes from crowdfunding on Facebook, GoFundMe or through its website. In 2019, they raised $10,000 through crowdfunding; this year, they’re running a campaign through their website with a goal of $60,000, and have achieved 60% of it.
Each campaign The Simple Good runs is unique, often with an accompanying video to help convey the mission and goal of each campaign. Shah says crowdfunding through digital platforms is a key component of The Simple Good’s success.
“It’s been really important—it engages a larger network outside of our immediate donors or followers,” Shah says. “It allows people to be exposed to our work that we’re not already connected to and enables us to meaningfully connect with people that we wouldn’t have met without a digital platform.”
Shah adds that crowdfunding is of particular importance now during the pandemic, since in-person events aren’t possible.
Tips for Starting Your Own Crowdfunding Campaign
If you’re short on cash and you’re considering turning to crowdfunding, you might be unsure of how to make the most of their campaigns. These tips can help:
Use your networks. As in Lurry’s example, networks can be a powerful way to spread the word about your crowdfunding campaign and can be a great resource to boost the amount of funds you raise. Consider sharing your campaign on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other social media account you have a presence on.
It can also be helpful to have friends or family share the campaign from their own accounts with a note about why they’re sharing it, and why other people should donate; this way, they’re basically “vouching” for the campaign and proving its legitimacy to others who might not know you.
Make each fundraiser unique. If you’re running multiple fundraisers, consider making each one a unique story that tells something about your brand. Shah recommends creating a fundraiser with a compelling mission statement and call to action; she’s also found campaigns with visually appealing videos also tend to perform well.
If you don’t have the resources or time, focus on really conveying the emotion behind your campaign. Explain your situation and why you’re turning to crowdfunding; you can use this opportunity to be fully vulnerable and transparent with potential donors.
Think about what fundraising platform will be best for you. Not all crowdfunding campaign platforms are created equal. Some platforms charge beneficiaries fees; GoFundMe, for example, charges a payment processing fee, plus $0.30 per donation. If your desired campaign platform charges these fees, consider adjusting your goal to account for them.
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