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The rise of crowdfunding has decentralized, and perhaps humanized, the process of medical charity.

In the 20th century, when charity evolved into philanthropy, one of the casualties was that grants shifted away from individuals and towards groups.

This meant that instead of helping poor people, philanthropy fought the “root causes” of poverty, which meant they funded wealthy sociologists studying poor people. In medical research, this meant shifting away from helping sick people pay for their bills towards medical research that helped everyone.

While funding of medical research is, in my view, one of the strengths of philanthropy, American foundations have done a bad job in helping individual people with their giant medical bills.

In fact, with the exception of the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation which helps artists with financial and medical problems, and the Daniels Fund, which helps poor people in the four states it serves, I can’t think of a single foundation that has programs that assist individuals pay for medical debts.

Fortunately, the rise of GoFundMe, YouCaring, and similar online platforms has filled the gap. GoFundMe says it has raised $5 billion for medical bills since 2009, and YouCaring says it has raised $900 million.

Barney Jopson explores the use of crowdfunding platforms in this lengthy article from the Financial Times.[1]

His premise is a simple one: charity in medicine shouldn’t be necessary because “in the US…healthcare is not a human right.” He then goes on to say that it’s all Ronald Reagan’s fault. When Medicare was proposed in 1964, Reagan denounced the proposal as “socialized medicine,” and warned that if it passed, “behind it would come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it.”

Jopson finds Reagan’s prediction appalling, but Reagan was, in fact, accurate.

One can argue that health care is too expensive and co-pays too ruinous, but that is the system we currently have in the U.S. And while in Europe and Canada unaccountable bureaucrats whose decisions cannot be questioned or challenged make medical decisions—including rationing—crowdfunding decentralizes and humanizes the process of medical charity.

Jopson does note that there are traditional medical charities, and spends some time discussing Remote Area Medical, which I wrote about in Philanthropy Daily. But most of his piece is devoted to crowdfunding platforms.

According to Jopson, pleas on crowdfunding sites are “a sympathy market where sickness is on sale.”

What this means is, that like most grant applications, some people are more successful than others. One study from a team led by University of Washington (Bothell) professor Nora Kenworthy looked at 200 GoFundMe campaigns and found that nine out of ten didn’t meet their fundraising goals. I’d like to know if Kenworthy and her colleagues found that the crowdfunding goals proposed by campaigns were reasonable, but her study is behind a paywall.

What she found, according to Jopson, was that campaigns were more successful when they were about “discrete medical problems with comprehensible cures.” Campaigns for chronic illnesses such as heart disease were less successful.

Who gives to crowdfunding campaigns? Jopson interviewed Ana Vitoriano, who makes her living helping companies deal with health insurance but who, along with her husband, decided to donate $5,000 a year to crowdfunding donations.

She likes the idea that she can make a personal connection with recipients. For example, after a breast cancer scare, she found on Instagram an account called “baldballerina,” which explained how Maggie Kudirka had to cut her career with the Joffrey Ballet short when she found she had Stage 4 breast cancer at age 23. After smaller donations, Vitoriano decided to support Kudirka’s deductibles, and currently donates $1,500 towards Kudirka’s chemotherapy. The two women have become friends.

“Vitoriano is not concerned by the fees on crowdfunding sites,” Jopson writes. “What she dislikes is the idea of giving to charities that could channel donations towards rent, wages, or administrative costs.” Vitoriano says she supports YouCaring because “the money you give is going straight to the person who needs it.”

Donors to crowdfunding sites, like all donors, have to perform due diligence. One useful resource is Go Fraud Me, which Adrienne Gonzalez, an animal welfare supporter, says she started the site after someone claimed to be raising money to help a cat but was spending the money on other things.

She pulls no punches; I enjoyed reading the story she headlines, “Minnesota Moron Accused of Faking Cancer to Smoke Weed and Play Video Games,” about a gentleman (who I will not name) that prosecutors say took money he claimed he was using for his “terminal cancer” and spending it on paying off credit card bills, buying stuff on the video game “Clash of Clans,” and purchasing a lot of dope.

The Birmingham (Alabama) News reported in November that District Court Judge Virginia Hopkins sentenced Jennifer Flynn Cataldo to a 25-year sentence and mandatory restitution of $81,270 for using two GoFundMe accounts and other social media accounts to raise $200,000, allegedly for cases of “terminal cancer.” Cataldo’s attorney said that she created the fraudulent accounts while using prescription painkillers after her brother’s death.

Though these stories of fraud stand out, they are outweighed by the vastly larger number of people have been helped by GoFundMe and other crowdfunding organizations.  The decentralized nature of crowdfunding shows the strength of American civil society, not its weakness.


[1] Jopson’s piece shows the strengths and weaknesses of the Financial Times. It is a very well written newspaper, with news that would not appear in American publications. But it is also very far to the left, and Jopson’s bias is a very blatant one.

8 thoughts on “Giving to individuals rather than organizations”

  1. Susan says:

    I am doing a fundraiser to help my small business. I put so much back into the business and am making strides. My hope is someday owning a real home. I agree giving to individuals is best. Even Jesus said that. (Matthew 5:42) What I find sad is we accuse a person of a when the money goes right to them, but trust a non profit or corporation. I am on gofundme and its slow but moving. I am not relying on it and even putting more on my credit card to get things done.

  2. TIONDI Luga David says:

    This exciting and extremely valuable information. I hope to continue reading as well as updating myself with relevant data that improves my scope of understanding resources available elsewhere for supporting some individuals in need.

  3. Susan Luerssen says:

    I have been trying to help search for funds to pay for surgery for a friend’s 3-year-old grandson who has recently been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The surgery is meant to eliminate the spasticity in his legs which is getting worse as he grows. The family has tried crowd-funding and have only accumulated about one-tenth of the money needed for the surgery and travel costs. Many friends have donated, but none of us are people with large amounts of resources. Any suggestions you may have for finding money for this surgery (approximately $35,000) would be so appreciated.

    Thank you.

    Susan Luerssen
    Denver Colorado

  4. Scott says:

    It’s a great idea if it the giving really gets to the people who are truly in need.

  5. Michael D Pump says:

    Hello ,I’m Michael Pump my wife and I have been homeless two times since June 2014. That one lasted 10 months . The second time it took 16 months, thank God it just came to a end. We moved in September 28,2018. Its starting to become habitual. We are both disabled her 18 years and me 3 years. We’ve been married for 34 years and have been through a whole lot. But not like this ever and I don’t know what to do .On January 18,2018 my wife was diagnosed with throat cancer all in car. She’s been through 35 radiation treatments and also chemotherapy. I was talking her for PET scan, dropped her at door. I pulled out and accident now we have no car. To go to the Dr.,pharmacy. Errands. The biggest thing I am afraid of is becoming homeless again at our ages and conditions. This is not a scam. So many out there . We can confrim everything . Get this while my wife was getting radiation treatment. The Largo ,FL and Pinellas county sheriff’s kept a secret Book on us and our whereabouts and such. Many agencies (Daystar, St Vincent DePaul, Homeless Leadership Board, various churches). But none of them would help us. American cancer Society won’t help either.,Redcross, United way, too mention a few. I’ve CONTACTED them all. Thanks for your support. Peace out!!! And God Bless. Michael D Pump

  6. Mary M Barson says:

    I appreciate the donors who take the time to look at crowdfunding sites. I don’t have a crowdfunding campaign going, but I am very ill and am trying to think of a way to raise 50k to move from rural TN to my homestate of MI. I have been considering crowdfunding, but I would much rather do something for contributions than just ask for handouts. I have a rare hereditary blood disease that nobody here treats, and a serious lung condition that came on a year ago after a major case of bronchitis. I am suffocating to death and the blood disease is speeding it up. I am allergic to every tree and weed in TN. I haven’t left my house, except for the Dr’s, in almost a year. I need to get back to MI ASAP. U of M is one of the few universities that is implanting the endobronchial valve. With the valves I will be able to breathe and live a long life. Without them, I will continue to suffocate daily. I can also get treated for my blood disease at U of M. I have a house here in Athens, TN I am too sick to put on the market. It was completely remodeled in 2016 so I could sell it and move closer to Knoxville for healthcare. Than I got sick. So I am trying to buy a house in Michigan and move there and start the process for the valve implants. And also put the house in TN on the market. We were only approved for 94k for a VA home loan with 0 down. You can’t buy much with 94k in MI. I won’t make a penny off of my house sale because I borrowed 40k+ for the remodel, and need to pay it back within 10 days of the house selling. I previously had it on the market for 2 years. Not one offer. So I had a few realtors come through and tell me what needed to be done. So I am trying to find a way to raise funds for a 20% downpayment so our payments will be lower, and money to be able buy a livable house with central AC for my breathing. A basement and 2 car garage. Renting is out because I can’t control the environment. If the people in the apt. next door smoke, I will get very sick. So, I do agree that giving to organizations is wonderful and much needed and appreciated. Giving to individuals is also much needed and appreciated. I have a volunteer animal rescue group and 2 Facebook Lost and Found Animals’ sites. My illness has made it impossible to work in the field. Right now my heart is broken because I can’t be in NC rescuing animals people left behind when they evacuated Hurricane Florence. I know that the country will join together to raise the victims up and help them rebuild. The voiceless furbabies and the animal shelters need help too.

  7. Howard says:

    People don’t have 501c3s. Especially poor people. Organizations do. End of story.

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