These days, it’s hard to scroll through Facebook without spotting a GoFundMe link somewhere on your feed. Whether it’s traveling abroad, finally buying that Michael Kors handbag or getting Kanye West out of debt, crowdfunding is the new craze.
Yet for sophomore Rachel Ramirez, GoFundMe provided her best friend back in Saipan a home.
About a year ago, Ramirez’s childhood friend was at work when her house burned down. All of her clothes and belongings were gone. Ramirez says she lost a chunk of her own wardrobe as well, as the two shared almost everything.
“She was really devastated about it,” Ramirez said. “We don’t get a lot of fire situations on the island and we still don’t even know what happened.”
Knowing the family’s unstable financial situation, Ramirez and another close childhood friend decided to make a GoFundMe to help the family afford life’s basic necessities: shelter and clothes.
In the Northern Mariana Islands, just north of Guam, Ramirez’s small town flocked to the crowdfunding site, raising upward of $5,000 for the struggling family. With that money, Ramirez’s friend could move out of the Red Cross Shelter she had been living in for two weeks and into an apartment.
Situations like Ramirez’s are the reason some feel frustrated when seeing a multitude of Facebook posts about students wanting funds for their Europe trips or even studying abroad.
“Your study abroad doesn’t affect anyone but yourself. It’s an experience for you,” sophomore Madeline Ochs said. “I think it’s an amazing thing, but it’s an amazing thing that other people shouldn’t have to pay for.”
The only GoFundMe account Ochs has ever donated to was to support a friend who was kidnapped and brutally beaten.
According to Ochs, this particular college student’s single father was still recovering from open-heart surgery as he pulled himself out of a field in Oregon City on the verge of dying. The family of two didn’t have the money to pay for two sets of extensive medical bills.
“His post just brought you to tears,” Ochs said. “I mean, the kid was practically dead and he survived. To see so many people he didn’t even know donate money, that’s when I thought, ‘this is what GoFundMe is for.’”
Yet, in Mara Midiere’s eyes, GoFundMe might serve situations like studying abroad better than emergencies.
The sophomore environmental science major decided to drop the goal amount of her GoFundMe for a summer program in Copenhagen and Amsterdam after discovering the large percentage the website takes out of all donations.
GoFundMe takes 7.9 percent out of each donation. Midiere, who has received four donations adding to a total of $43, had only had $5-6 deducted from her fund — but for larger funds with big donors, GoFundMe makes a large chunk of change — which is why Midiere feels that more urgent causes might want to find a different source of funding.
“I would think it would be less effective because in those cases every dollar is counting,” Midiere said. “In my case, one night of babysitting can make up for 30 bucks here or there.”
Thirty bucks is the exact amount that nursing major, Kayla Kerlee, had taken out of her fund, dropping her sum of donations from $270 to $240.
Still, this was more than Kerlee ever imagined making when she started her GoFundMe toward helping her pay for college tuition.
After taking out $26,000 worth of loans on top of working three jobs, Kerlee saw GoFundMe as a last resort. Putting the link on Facebook felt like a better alternative to awkwardly asking family members for money.
Kerlee admits that there’s still something uncomfortable about asking people for money via social media.
“I see it as getting annoying to people,” Kerlee said. “I don’t want to bother people too much because it’s hard for me to ask for money. I’m not that person. That’s why I have three jobs to try and make it work.”
Kerlee said her overall earnings and words of encouragement were worth the minor embarrassment of asking for money on social media. And yet for junior Emily Neelon, her GoFundMe experience is not one she wants to relive.
While Neelon raised $200 toward the study abroad program she is currently attending in Galway, Ireland, she agrees with Ochs that her donations could have gone to better things.
“I felt selfish and conflicted asking people for money for my semester abroad when there are more important causes worth donating toward,” Neelon said. “Most college students don’t have expendable incomes that allow them to donate to a bunch of campaigns, or really any at all.”
Sophomore Molly McSweyn has a more positive outlook on the GoFundMe trend.
McSweyn is currently enrolled in a year-long program in Salzburg, Austria, and has received over $1,500 from 35 different donors for her expenses while abroad.
“I really love the idea of GoFundMe,” McSweyn said. “It’s great for small business starters or people like me, who just are coming up a little short for something really special in life.”
Rachel Rippetoe is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published here