Three days after a 28-year-old man took an AR-15 rifle into a Washington pizzeria to investigate false reports of a child trafficking ring, an online fund-raising effort for the business was already underway.
“Many friends, including those who live in other places, have asked how they can support us and our staff besides drinking and eating pizza with us,” organizers wrote on the GoFundMe page for Comet Ping Pong. “And as a result of recent stories and events, we realize we could use support.”
Just as people turn to online platforms for all aspects of daily life, from food deliveries to job hunting, the same is true of charity. GoFundMe appears to have become synonymous with giving in the wake of catastrophes, crimes and stories that tug at the heartstrings. Some people even fear that this may be siphoning — or, at least, splintering — donations that would have gone to more traditional aid organizations and charities. There’s no clear evidence, and GoFundMe will not reveal annual totals.
According to GoFundMe’s second annual giving report, released Tuesday, the platform has helped campaigns raise more than $3 billion since it started in 2010, with a majority of those funds amassed in the past two years.
“The first billion took five years, the second took nine months and the third took seven months,” Kelly Galvin, a spokeswoman for GoFundMe, wrote in an email on Tuesday.
The top 12 campaigns this year amassed more than $46 million total, according to the report. The ease of creating a campaign and the potential for social media attention has attracted organizers of all types. In November, The New York Times also created a GoFundMe account to publicize its Neediest Cases Fund, a fund-raiser in its 105th year. It has raised more than $2.58 million toward the $6 million goal for this year.
According to the yearly report, about two million organizers set up shop on GoFundMe in 2016. They created fund-raising pages for everything from the floods in Louisiana ($11.2 million raised) and the Pulse shootings in Orlando ($9 million raised).
There were also countless low-profile efforts, including people who needed a little extra help with rent money, or campaigns created after everyday interactions that blossomed into quickly widespread feel-good stories, like the story of Fidencio Sanchez, an 89-year-old paletas vendor in Chicago, who was photographed as he was stooped over and pushing his cart.
The photo, attached to the GoFundMe page, prompted an outpouring of emotion. A campaign, started by a stranger, ended up raising more than $380,000 for Mr. Sanchez.
Of course, GoFundMe takes a cut. The platform takes 5 percent and adds another 2.9 percent for payment processing services. And there is some concern over whether it is siphoning funds from more established aid organizations like American Red Cross, which counted $503 million in contributions in 2015. Ms. Galvin said that GoFundMe would not release its total contribution numbers and instead pointed to the billions amassed over time.
In August, as disaster struck Louisiana, aid agencies said they were having difficulty collecting money to support flood victims. The funds were instead going to GoFundMe, according to The Advocate, a newspaper in Baton Rouge.
“There are thousands of them related to this particular disaster and many of them are worthy, but you can split up the dollars in so many ways that none of the accounts are sufficient enough to have the impact you want them to have,” Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana told the paper.
But GoFundMe and the Red Cross have officially taken the stance that when it comes to donations, more is more. The Red Cross raised $28 million for the floods, according to Elizabeth Penniman, a spokeswoman.
“In most large disasters, there are usually more needs than any one organization can meet,” Ms. Penniman wrote in an email, “so if GoFundMe can make money and serve as a platform for donations, that provides the potential to help an even greater number of people.”
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