Social Crowdfunding: When the Notion of Democratising Campaigning Fails


Since 2009, the founders of GoFundMe, a leading crowdfunding platform, began to notice people were using the site more to cope with crises, including medical emergencies, the Financial Times reported over the weekend. They embraced the trend.

Rob Solomon, GoFundMe’s chief executive since 2015, claims this is a way to break up the old monopoly of charities:

The reality of social fundraising is there’s a need out there, markets are efficient, and the market is saying that this is one of the most effective ways to get [people] help when they need it.

However, academics at the University of Washington who studied 200 GoFundMe medical campaigns found that 90% failed.

Despite crowdfunding platforms allows people with an internet connection to tell their stories, there are plenty of them that end to be unsuccessful. Why?

IAS faculty member Lauren Berliner’s collaborative research with Nora Kenworthy was cited in the cover story of the most recent edition of Mother Jones magazine.  The feature, entitled “Go Fund Yourself: Begging for health care in the new safety net,” draws on Berliner and Kenworthy’s finding that online marketing skills correlate with income, thus reproducing social inequality in social media fundraising environments.  (Source: University of Washington)

According to the brand new research, it could depend on someone’s community. In other words, Nora Kenworthy – one of the University of Washington academics – and co-researcher Lauren Berliner pointed out that

poorer people tend to have ties to poorer people with less to give.

Furthermore, results can also be distorted by prejudicial notions of ‘deservingness’ based on race, class and immigration status.

In other words:

Successful crowdfunding requires that campaigners master so-called medical and media literacies—they must be savvy online marketers of their own tragedy. Because online marketing skills and large social networks correlate strongly with income, crowdfunding reproduces inequality.

Therefore, they conclude:

Crowdfunding seems to be best for people who are of a dominant social group who have fallen on hard times.

Find out more here and here. Read the full study here.