2016-12-22 / Front Page

Most — not all — requests worthwhile

County causes use GoFundMe
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff

The GoFundMe website bills itself as the “World’s #1 Personal Fundraising Website.”

And no wonder. Since 2010, more than $3 billion has been raised by 25 million donors for people and causes around the globe.

Online fundraising campaigns are started by a person who needs help or by their friends and family, with the top five usage areas being medical, educational, volunteerism, personal emergencies, and sports and teams, according to information found at the GoFundMe site.

Donations are made by those who know the person or project needing funds and sometimes include a little message of hope.

Other donations are anonymous.

Most requests are for worthy causes, like the $28,048 that was recently raised to help Zane Barnes and his family of Kasson Township with expenses related to his cancer. Barnes died this week, leaving a wife and four children.

Others are questionable, like that of the Lake Leelanau man who was asking for $400 in donations to put together a “Nerf gun arsenal,” or the $30,000 request from the suspected Empire bank robber that was started about a year ago to fund his “Eden” environmental film.

Last year more than $20,000 was raised in less than six weeks to help Olivia Kinker’s family with expenses when the Northport graduate got her new heart.

The campaign was started by Northport teachers Jenny Evans and Donna Wilson.

“When (Olivia) was diagnosed with a life threatening heart illness and needed a heart transplant, I felt so helpless just sitting on the border peering in as the story unfolded,” said Evans, who described Kinker as an exceptional student and person.

“GoFundMe offered an easy way for everyone in our extraordinary community to help out. Everyone was able to feel like they were helping in some small way.”

Evans said the site raised far more than they thought it would.

“It was truly remarkable,” she said. “The monies it raised kept coming in and it was such a huge help for the family. Even after I closed the page down and sent out personal thank-yous to all involved, I still received emails from people wanting to help.

“Some of the folks that donated didn’t even know Olivia or her family and just saw the GoFundMe page. It filled my heart with so much love to see all the selflessness of humankind.”

Another $4,815 was raised for the Leelanau Summer Laundry Project that helps people wash their clothes at a local laundromat, and the Leland Zebrotics team raised $1,425 earlier this year to help fund a trip to the robotics World Championship held in April in St. Louis.

The owners of GoFundMe take about 8 percent of every campaign for administration and processing fees. Of the $3 billion raised by the site, that comes to $240 million in fees.

Suttons Bay Congregational Church made a donation of $500 to the Summer Laundry Project. Pastor Robin Long Carden said the church doesn’t normally donate through sites like GoFundMe because of the overhead costs, especially for local causes where you can just write them a check.

“In this case we were trying to publicly show our support,” Carden said, something that they hoped would inspire or compel others to give.

“We thought that if people were seeing that an established organization supported the project they would get on board,” she said.

Evans said that people running the site need to be paid and that it is still a good way to raise money for a cause.

“I run lots of fundraisers and I have never been able to reach as many people and raise as much as this site provided with such ease,” Evans said.

The Lake Leelanau Nerf gun man, who did not respond to a request for an interview, has not raised any money.

William Minore, who has been charged with armed robbery and has been in the Leelanau County Jail since his arrest in September, has raised $25. The donation was made about a year ago.

Evans said she doesn’t think things like Nerf guns are within the realm of the site’s intentions.

“However, it is open for anyone to start a fundraiser,” she said “I feel like this only embarrasses the person who requests the generosity of others for something of such little importance. Fundraisers should be selfless and for the benefit of others, not for oneself and for silly things.”

Leelanau County sheriff’s deputy Greg Hornkohl and Nico, a 5-year-old German shepherd, make up the county’s K-9 team. A GoFundMe campaign to raise money to support the K-9 team was set up in October and has raised $1,285 to date.

Undersheriff Steve Morgan, who set up the campaign, said many people today like to make their donations online. It’s quick and easy and they don’t mind that part of their donation goes for fees.

“Because of the day and age some people would rather do it that way than send a check,” Morgan said. “We’re surprised overall that people have donated as much as they have, but the K-9 program has a lot of support all over the county.”

In all, about $4,500 has been donated to the program for veterinary care for Nico and for specialized training for Nico and Hornkohl.

It will also support the program going forward, Morgan said, as the county would like to have a working K-9 team for many years to come.

Nico was originally purchased with a grant from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. The grant also paid for equipment and training.

Viewers can report a GoFundMe account if they feel the person who organized the fundraising campaign is committing fraud, though the organization will not get involved in personal disputes.

Fraud includes intentionally using factually incorrect information on their campaign, not using the funds for the stated purpose within a reasonable time, and impersonating someone else or copying an existing campaign, according to information on the site.

Evans said that even with sites like GoFundMe, it is still important to hold fundraising events where people can gather, talk and support each other.

“That’s important for those coping and dealing with the crisis,” she said.

Return to top