In the old days, like the 1990s, if you wanted to raise money for an individual you had to either go person-to-person, or get a sympathetic reporter to do a story on you. I was a real Ebenezer Scrooge about those stories in my reporter days. I mean, if some family’s home got burned out, I was all over it. But stuff like college tuition or kids wanting to play soccer in Israel? Forget it. Like, one time we got a call from a “family friend” wanting us to do a story so people would give money to this girl who got into Harvard, but couldn’t afford to go there. No way, I told the editor. You think I didn’t get into places I couldn’t afford to go? I had to LIVE AT HOME during college! F**k her!

And even if you did do a story, there was no guarantee anyone would shell out. It was unpredictable. My story about that poor burned-out family attracted zilch. But someone did a story about a kid who supposedly saved his little brother from choking on a French fry (all entirely according to the family, who called in requesting the story), and some local business paid for them all to go to Disneyland.

Now sob stories are everywhere on news sites and blogs with little or no investigation — but always with links to a funding site. You get some presentable, charming kid like Griffin Furlong, who has a pretty blond girlfriend and a GoFundMe titled “Homeless Valedictorian: College Fund” (he hasn’t actually been homeless since he was 8 or 9, and he actually lives with his aunt and uncle or maybe grandmother, the details differ among stories), who managed to attract interest from feel-good outlets such as HuffPo and People and Diply. So far, he’s collected nearly $110,000 with no strings attached. As a reward for saying he’s poor, he now gets to be rich.

I guess you can’t blame people for trying after seeing that. I’ve been on Facebook for six years, and until recently, I’d only been asked for money once: for funeral expenses. A former classmate died of cancer, leaving three young children. I kicked in, using a Paypal account another alumna set up. That was three years ago.

Within the past several weeks, the requests have multiplied. And they’re getting — in my opinion — progressively less worthy. They’re not made personally. They come from crowdfunding sites such as GoFundMe.com, one of the main offenders.

The ones I gave to: 1) 3-D printer for science class at my kid’s school. 2) Classmate’s son’s Eagle Scout project, something about school supplies for poor kids. See, these are the causes I think of as classic fundraiser material.

One I ignored: Former classmate’s kid wanted to go to Africa for the summer to help some wild animal foundation. That’s nice, but don’t we all? I guess the charity part comes in with the non-profit foundation, so really it’s like a modern version of missionary work, only without the restrictions on sex and drinking.

One I’m on the fence about: Friend of a friend wants help with legal fees for a family law case. It involved a relative getting temporary custody of a mom’s kid, then moving away and leaving no forwarding address despite the court order. It’s believable because I’ve seen it happen. It’s stretching my usual views of the purpose of fundraising, but I sympathize. Then again, I don’t know the people.

This one made me feel a little uneasy: Single mom seeking donations so that she can bring her father from Cuba to meet his grandson. I mean, I feel bad she never got to meet her dad in person. But passing the hat to acquaintances to fund a trip? I couldn’t do it.

And here’s the one that really got me: Wine bar operator raising funds to expand the restaurant in her wine bar. Her justification seems to be that her business will be good for the community, and she promises to help promote worthy local causes, so therefore her endeavor is worthy of charity. If you donate a certain amount, she’ll provide you with free life coaching geared toward building your dreams. Her coaching philosophy appears based upon The Law of Attraction, you know, where if you visualize money, the power of your thoughts attracts money to you. If that’s true, I don’t see why she’d need crowdfunding.


Category: Bank, Home, Newsroom

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8 Responses to When did it become totally OK to panhandle on the Internet?

  1. Peter says:

    And then there are the tip jars proliferating in just about every business.

  2. trumwill says:

    I wonder how many of the people who sent money to Justin Ross Harris are really regretting it now.

    • stone says:

      If only he’d figured out a scam before he killed his kid; then he wouldn’t have had to fake a hot-car-forgetting to collect on the insurance money. Who has insurance on a one-year-old?

  3. CGHill says:

    I just want it on the record that I didn’t send anything to that guy with the potato salad.

    • stone says:

      I read about that! I suspect the site didn’t update the amount, so people didn’t realize how their donations were mounting.

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