Organized Panhandling

Ashlely Loza / Managing Editor

By Ashley Loza
Managing Editor

We’ve had a lot of talk around this office lately about GoFundMe accounts, and none of us seem to be able to pin down how we feel about it. We see the necessity, we want to believe it works, but there’s something about it that many of us just don’t understand.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of crowdfunding through a site like GoFundMe, it’s essentially fundraising online instead of in person. You start an account for your cause, share it on social media, and watch the donations roll in.

We’ve seen plenty of GoFundMe accounts around the valley lately. They pop up from private residents in need of things like healthcare, fire relief, and animal assistance, but also as a donation tool for larger projects like the George & Darlene Randall Skate Park. We’ve recently seen one created for maintenance of the Kern Valley Golf Course, and of course, the Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce’s bid to continue the annual fireworks show is near and dear to our hearts.

But the question we’ve all been asking is, “Do these even work?”

The answer we’ve been running into is, “Well…sort of.”

You can withdraw funds from the accounts as soon as you start seeing donations, and they all see a surge in support right away. Those close to the cause are always more than happy to pitch in, and even the smallest donations help.

But even with the best social media warriors backing the cause, we all start to glaze over a little bit when we see that GoFundMe post roll by in our news feed for the seventh time. It begins to feel more like organized panhandling.

They seem to quickly lose steam and shudder to a stop long before they reach their goal.

So how many of the local accounts reach their goal?

As far as I can tell? Not many.

If I had to guess why, I’d say that handing someone your money is a pretty personal endeavor. We can pretend we are saintly, but the truth is that giving away hard-earned money makes us uncomfortable when we can’t see its destination. The impersonal nature of the online world seems to increase our distrust.

And if you want me to get really cynical, maybe a lot of people don’t want to help as much as they just want to appear sympathetic. Post your GoFundMe online and count how many prayers you get versus donations. Don’t get me wrong – prayers will help you through some tough times. But please let me know which health care provider takes them as payment.

Or, here’s a simpler reason: a lot of us just can’t do it. We’re spread thin as it is, and donating is the least of our concerns. The only thing I’ve donated lately is my time. Again, while valuable, it’s not exactly keeping anyone’s medical bills at bay.

Good vibes and volunteer time are necessities, but money does rule the world.

If you can’t figure out which side I’m on, it’s because I’m not sure what to think. Seeing someone’s plight in the news feed you’re already scrolling through and clicking a donate button can’t possibly get any more convenient. It makes us feel good to help others, and the easier that is, the more we can give.

On the other hand, it feels like just one more way we’ve lost the ability to communicate genuinely. Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable lending a hand if you saw someone’s need firsthand?

I’m not saying that groveling should be a prerequisite for donations. I’m just not convinced we’re making the same connection with a social media post that we would with a human face. Wouldn’t we feel more involved if someone just…asked?

I guess my feelings about it can be summed up with a tweet I saw this morning. I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like this:
“Maybe it feels bad because we’re trying to have meaningful conversations through an advertising app.”

I don’t think there’s any shame in asking your fellow humans for help when you need it. There are 7 billion of us on this rock; chances are that a few of us can spare some assistance at any given time.

I guess I’m just curious: is online crowdfunding actually helping anyone, or is the allure of convenience just robbing us of one more way to really, truly connect with people?