Poor Crowdfunding Etiquette or Reasonable Request?
On October 15th we featured a blog about crowdfunding sites being used for purposes other than raising capital. In our article about crowdfunding for entertainment, we wrote about crowdfunding being used for paying off damages to a college football field, bringing a superstar band to a small town and funding a movie for a diehard fan base. Although these are unconventional forms of crowdfunding, they all make sense because the crowd has or eventually will benefit from what they are paying for. The majority of contributors have or will be personally rewarded for their monetary contribution.
Donation-based crowdfunding is a real thing and is typically used to “help others who can’t help themselves.” For example, if a loved one needs money for cancer treatments or their house flooded, one shouldn’t hesitate to donate. After visiting the homepage of GoFundMe.com (the results may be different by the time you visit) I saw campaigns for funeral expenses, hospital bills, a house that burned down and a stolen car recovery fund. Unforeseen (and costly) tragedies can ruin the lives of some people so donating money to take away the pain feels like the decent thing to do. We have all been down on our luck at some point and know what it feels like to benefit from the kindness of others.
But what about using crowdfunding sites to ask for money to take classes? Or go on a destination honeymoon? Or a European vacation? These are definitely not “life or death” situations or a hardship in any sense of the word. A recent crowdfunding article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted four examples of people using crowdfunding sites for vacations and other very personal reasons which begs the question – why can’t they save their money or take out loans like everybody else? There are two sides to every discussion so to be fair I chose to discuss three cases individually and ask for your opinions at the end.
Crowdfunding for School
College is not cheap and this notion goes far beyond tuition. Books, rent, utilities and other aspects of college life add up quick. For the majority of students without rich parents, student loans (tens of thousands of dollars of eventual debt) is their only way to earn a degree. These are just the modern facts of life. Some people do, however, earn scholarships, work two jobs or save money before going to school to support themselves.
The first case is Varia Chan, a 26 year old from East Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Ms. Chan wants to attend circus school in Seattle and opened a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign for $3,000 to pay for it. On one side you can say you are helping her fund her dream, but on the other she is already a young adult who could reasonably work hard and save the money herself. There are many single-parent or foster children with college dreams who have no legitimate support system or money coming from anywhere. Do you see this as a reasonable request or should Ms. Chan take out a loan or save until she can afford it on her own?
Crowdfunding for Honeymoons
Funding a wedding and planning a honeymoon is stressful and can break down the strongest person you know. Many people want a luxurious wedding or honeymoon, but after pricing everything out, their attitudes change quickly.
This brings me to Case #2: Gerald and Rachel Monaco. To fund a lavish honeymoon, this San Francisco couple chose to ask their wedding guests for $9,000 instead of traditional wedding gifts. The money would pay for a trip to Finland where they would sleep in igloo bedrooms at Kakslauttanen, an Arctic ice resort. They set up a campaign on the crowdfunding site Tilt and unfortunately only raised $1,900. They now plan to add the Tilt donations to their monetary gifts and cover the rest with their savings.
Given the fact they did not use a traditional registry and only wanted money for a honeymoon, this appears to be a reasonable use of a crowdfunding site. It seems like a 21st century way of saying, “Please give us cash/checks for our honeymoon.” The Monaco’s might have enough toasters and vacuums so they wanted money for an extravagant honeymoon instead. What do you think?
Crowdfunding for Vacations
The third and final example is another excellent case for discussion. Deborah Behrens, a 55 year old dealing with a recent layoff, wanted to go to Italy after being inspired by films such as “Eat, Pray, Love.” The purpose of the trip was to find “what’s next” and the article mentions “she has been taking notes, may write a book and has connections with journalists in Florence and Rome.” With that said there have been trips to coastal mansions and pergolas in the countryside, which is understandable since you’re already out there. But the campaign and the trip were intended specifically for business and soul searching.
To make the trip possible, Behrens figured she would need $5,000 plus airfare and someone to sublet her apartment. The most shocking part of it all – she needs it all in 16 days. Can you imagine a roundtrip ticket to Florence with only two weeks notice? Lucky for her, Deborah’s friends gave her frequent flier miles, cash and help with subletting her apartment. She was able to make the trip.
While Behrens made it to Italy and the Monaco’s supplemented their crowdfunding effort to make their honeymoon happen, the real question is: how do people feel about them now? Behrens admitted, “I’m sure there were silent negative responses. Some people I thought I was close to never mentioned the trip at all.”
That is the potential blowback to asking friends and family to use crowdfunding sites to fund your personal life. Yes, they may give money now, but after your trip is over the negative undertones may linger for years. When the WSJ article was published, Ms. Chan had only raised 20% of the $3,000 she needs. She is hoping “anonymous strangers” will make her dream a reality, but how realistic is that? One side will say “get a job, you’re 26 years old” and the other side will say, “here, go make your dreams come true!” The first side is entitled to their opinion and the second side is also free to do whatever they want with their money. All three of my examples are free to use crowdfunding sites how they please as well – this is America after all.
I don’t usually do “opinion blogs” but I thought I would try to stir up a conversation on this opinion-heavy topic. Thank you for reading and please leave your comments and opinions below!