Crowdfunding is digital panhandling

Victoria Zawitkowski
Staff Columnist

To post a video on an online forum stating that the GoFundMe you started is for the purposes of asking others for money to save you from going further into college loan debt is to preach to a choir, especially when the forum is full of other college students who are drowning in debt.

Illustration by Dan Nacu.

Crowdfunding sites have become another platform for our generation to forgo the path of working toward a goal in favor of instant gratifcation. Users are overusing this application to pursue wants rather than needs. This process was designed to fund events or causes through the contributions of a large number of people, usually via the Internet. These sites are swamped with people clamoring for the money and kindness of strangers, when they do not necessarily deserve it. Crowdfunding became posssible with the induction of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act in March 2012. President Obama signed the bill into law with Congressional support to encourage small business owners and make it easier for them to obtain funding. Since then, Entrepreneur.com says crowdfunding has grown to raise about $2 million per  day — this translates to $87,000 per hour and $1,400 per minute.

Crowdfunding is a democratic fundraising process which has opened the door to many host sites for this process, and reached millions of participants. According to the Crowdfunding Centre, 90 percent of the world’s online population has access to sites like Indiegogo, Kickstarter and GoFundMe. There are 50,000 pledges to crowdfunding campaigns per day, covering more than 160 countries. The United States is the most popular country for these campaigns.

The idea was made with the best intentions, and brought out the best in some people. It allowed others to pursue goals such as raising money for charity, for the sick who cannot afford their medical bills and many others in desperate situations who are in need of help. In return, many could commit an act of generosity for causes they were either passionate about, or simply help people who really needed it. But not all goals are created equal. Most of these sites are now overcrowded with people trying to fulfill frivolous and even selfish wants.

While individuals are responsible for choosing which campaign they would like to aid, many of these just and noble causes are lost in the shuffle of millions of pointless campaigns, like Zack Brown’s Kickstarter to make potato salad, which received $55,492. Although Brown eventually donated the proceeds to charity, his campaign obscured other genuine ones. Even worse are the ones like “Devin and Luke’s Outrageous Adventure” which funds two boys’ vacation to Los Angeles, or students asking other students to help with paying their own tuition. People are using crowdfunding platforms to ask for things they have not earned, but expect others in the same financial position to want to contribute to.

I once saw a group of VCU students near Monroe Park, holding signs that said they were in need of money. When asked what kind of situation they were in, they unabashedly admitted they were just art students who needed extra money for supplies. Their use of the word “need” is problematic. We are all students who have to pay for school and room and board one way or another, and it is selfish to imply that you are more deserving of help, especially when all of your actual needs, like food and shelter, are being met. It’s this same principle that turns me off to crowdfunding campaigns made by our generation.

I appreciate the role crowdfunding campaigns play in fostering random acts of kindness and generosity, especially from complete strangers. These sites have helped so many recover from tragedy or prevent new ones, so it is disheartening that they are being abused. Crowdfunding has become a place for online panhandling.

4 Comments

  1. If I may ask – have you ever run a Kickstarter? Or donated to any? Because judging by what you've written here, it sounds like you've had only second-hand experience with crowd-sourcing. Otherwise, you wouldn't call it panhandling.

    Sure you have outliers such as the potato salad Kickstarter, but make no mistake, that's all that they are – outliers. There are countless more legitimate projects run, managed and funded via crowdfunding, and even five minutes of research could have proven that. If you want examples, I could list dozens from memory. Hell, even here at VCU, there are departments where the students relay on such funding to finance their senior projects due to lack of funding within the department.

    Because you ran into some pandhandling hipster and read about the potato salad kickstarter on the news feed is no excuse for dismissing what is proving to be a grand experiment in economics.

    • That is absurd, and the epitome of online panhandling. It is not anyone else’s job to fund a senior project. You listed 0 from your memory of dozens. The truth is that a need is life or death, a want is what you are describing. No one needs to do a senior project at VCU and asking strangers to fund it is begging.

  2. GoFundMe is becoming more and more like a internet panhandling media that is allowing people to ask for money to buy mortgages things that they would figure out another way to do that puts the responsibility on them where it belongs instead of asking for money from other people to shore up your shortcomings I believe it is nothing more than glorified panhandling and it has become ridiculous and is despicable

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