A GoFundMe page to raise money for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall has raked in over $18.5 million in just two weeks with an ultimate goal of $1 billion, and inspired at least one competing page dedicated to paying for ladders to get people over said wall (that page has so far raised over $158,000 with a $100 million goal after being established on Dec. 19).
The dueling pages are the latest example of how crowd-funding sites have become political battlegrounds in an increasingly divided America, with the rapidly-raised money a weapon wielded to support causes at both ends of the political spectrum.
But who has the upper hand? Donations poured into fundraising site GoFundMe in 2018 and the largest campaigns may reveal the political leanings of many of the donors.
Two of the six most popular funds of the year skew liberal — #Metoo-inspired Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund (No. 1 with $22 million) and the gun control campaign March for Our Lives (No. 4 with $3.5 million) — but the GoFundMe page for President Trump’s, a cause widely supported by conservatives, is now No. 2.
Many people using GoFundMe in 2018 were also donating for the first time. In fact, 61% of those who gave money in 2018 were first-time donors. (The fastest-growing areas for donations are events, family and animals.)
It’s not clear whether progressive causes are traditionally more popular on crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe or whether there’s simply been a backlash or — at the very least — a strong emotive reaction to some of President Trump’s most socially and politically divisive policies. In addition to the president’s pledge to build a wall on the Southern border with Mexico, for instance, Trump has vowed to restrict the number of immigrants and refugees entering the U.S.
‘People can vote for Donald Trump and hate the separation of children. They can vote Democrat and still think the wall is a good idea.’
“It’s not surprising that political causes are popular this year because people on the left are really angry about policies on the right,” said David Callahan, author of “The Givers: Wealth, Power and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age” and founder of Inside Philanthropy, who like all the commentators in this story, spoke to MarketWatch before the GoFundMe page for Trump’s border wall was created. “But a few years from now if we have a Democratic president, we may have a lot of successful crowdfunding from the right.”
GoFundMe’s latest figures, released earlier this month, are supported by other recent charitable data, which show a significant uptick in progressive social and scientific causes. The number of campaigns addressing gender reassignment on YouCaring, a crowdfunding platform that was purchased by GoFundMe in 2018, increased by 78% year over year, while fertility treatments rose by 36.5% and social justice causes increased by 34%.
People appear to have found a way to make a difference with their smartphones instead of “liking” posts on Facebook and Twitter
“Strikingly, the number of fundraisers with ‘immigration’ as a key topic increased by 117% in the last year, and those with ‘climate change’ by 112%, though both represent a relatively small proportion of all YouCaring fundraisers,” according to that organization’s annual report released earlier this year.
‘It’s not surprising that political causes are popular this year, because people on the left are really angry about policies on the right.’
“It’s primarily a matter of timing,” said David L. Thompson, vice president of public policy for the National Council of Nonprofits, the nation’s largest network of nonprofit organizations. “Younger donors are asking, ‘What are the hot issues?’ You’re donating using your phone and that’s one of the flash points affecting people that aren’t used to having a philanthropy budget, and those people that aren’t used to participating in longstanding movements.”
Each administration brings its own set of policies and each generation their causes, he said. “Had it been the Obama administration? Perhaps it would have been more conservative,” he added. “This administration has caused people to react. It may come across as liberal now, but it’s a matter of timing. When you’re crowdfunding, you’re not thinking in terms of charitable tax deductions, you’re acting upon your emotions of the day.”
The 24/7 news cycle triggers people and helps drive donations, he added. “Unless they’re giving to a political party, people are reacting to policies and the news,” Thompson added. “People can vote for Donald Trump and hate the separation of children. They can vote Democrat and still think the wall is a good idea. Policies are what people respond to. When people are responding to immigration, they are responding to a public policy issue.”
Politics means different things to different people, he said. “For that reason, I don’t use the word political,” Thompson says. “You could talk to five people and come up with seven definitions of what political means. Young people are more agitated. These issues are generating strong reaction and they want to do something.” Most people are one click away from giving to a cause close to their heart. “It’s very easy to do something about it now,” he added.
There is, however, another reason Thompson shies away from “conservative” and “liberal” when talking about donations. Charities don’t tend to get involved in the machinations on Capitol Hill, and avoid supporting or denouncing political figures. “To maintain their tax-exempt status, charitable nonprofits cannot be politically partisan, but they can have strong public views on policy matters like immigration or abortion or marriage,” he said. “The majority of charitable nonprofits like it that way.”
What’s more, Alaska — a “red” state that voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election with 51.2% of the vote — was named as the most generous state for 2018. However, Alaska was followed by a slew of “blue” states who voted for Hillary Clinton: Massachusetts, Colorado, Washington and Vermont, California, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey and Oregon. (The results were calculated as donations per capita.)
‘Strikingly, the number of fundraisers with immigration as a key topic increased by 117% in the last year, and those with climate change by 112%.’
Other dynamics: The 2018 YouCaring report found that women are typically on average twice as likely to donate money online than men, with younger generations displaying a smaller donation gap between genders. However, when men do donate online, they tend to give larger sums than women. That could be because they tend to earn more. (Government data suggests women earn approximately 83 cents for every dollar earned by a man, an issue influenced in part by occupation.)
Overall giving is on the rise: “Giving Tuesday,” which fell on Nov. 27 this year and is intended to kick start the holiday season of charitable giving, hit a record of $1 billion in donations in 2018, up 27% on the year before, with more than $380 million given by Americans. Other platforms have set up their own donation platforms and Facebook’s
fundraising features have raised more than $1 billion since they were introduced in 2015.
Here are the top 6 fundraising campaigns on GoFundMe in 2018, now including the campaign for President Trump’s border wall:
1. Time’s Up Legal Defense: $22 million
A page raising money for legal defense funds to combat sex discrimination in the workplace raised more than $22 million since it was created in December 2017. The page was made in response to the growing #MeToo movement, in which women shared their experiences with harassment and sexual assault.
The movement has raised a staggering amount of money since it took off in October 2017, according to Charity Navigator chief operating officer Larry Lieberman, with “many tens of millions” going to women’s causes as a result of issues brought up. The GoFundMe Time’s Up funds will be managed by the National Women’s Law Center, a national women’s legal rights association. It is still active and will continue to take donations into 2019.
2. We the People Will Fund The Wall: $18.4 million
Brian Kolfage, who is a veteran and Purple Heart recipient, wrote: “Like a majority of those American citizens who voted to elect President Donald J. Trump, we voted for him to Make America Great Again. President Trump’s main campaign promise was to BUILD THE WALL. And as he’s followed through on just about every promise so far, this wall project needs to be completed still.”
“As a veteran who has given so much, 3 limbs, I feel deeply invested to this nation to ensure future generations have everything we have today. Too many Americans have been murdered by illegal aliens and too many illegals are taking advantage of the United States taxpayers with no means of ever contributing to our society.”
3. Funds for Humbolt Broncos: $15.1 million
Tragic accidents can hit people hard, and encourage them to help by digging deep into their pockets. One of the most successful fundraisers in GoFundMe history was the “funds for the Humbolt Broncos” page, which raised more than $15 million Canadian dollars ($11.2 in U.S. dollars) for the families of the Canadian hockey team killed in a bus crash in April 2018.
The page got 1.9 million views within the first 24 hours of going live and more than 90,000 donations from 65 countries in just a few days. People raising money after reading about tragic news stories or seeing them reported on television has been a trend throughout 2018, according to Rob Solomon, GoFundMe’s chief executive officer. “This year, we saw social fundraising become an integral part of bigger movements that inspire others,” he said in a statement.
4. March for Our Lives: $3.5 million
After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14, which left 17 people dead, more than 60 fundraisers sprung up to support “March for Our Lives,” the anti-gun violence movement started by teenagers affected by the tragedy. Fundraisers were created for similar movements around the country to support tougher regulations for gun ownership, the GoFundMe report said.
Social activism and donations among young people are on the rise, Solomon said. “It’s clear that with the youth of today, we are witnessing the next generation of change makers,” he said. “They borrow techniques from their predecessors, such as marches and protests, but they also leverage the most powerful new tools at their disposal: social networks.”
5. Houses for Rohingya Refugees: $2.1 million
Of course, many campaigns are non-partisan. Nearly 700,000 refugees have arrived in Bangladesh in recent months, “having been violently expelled from their homes by Buddhist extremists in Myanmar,” the Houses for Rohingya Refugees page states. “They have experienced and witnessed many atrocities. Most of these refugees have settled in two sprawling camps just over the border: Kutupalong and Balukhali. While aid agencies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are doing their best to cope with the humanitarian crisis, most refugees are provided with only the basics they need to survive.”
6. Tree of Life Synagogue Funds: $1.2 million
Another fundraiser that sprung out of a public tragedy, the Tree of Life Synagogue Funds page, is still taking donations and has raised more than $1.2 million since it was created on Oct. 27 following a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, which left 11 people dead. “Respond to this hateful act with your act of love today,” the charity description said. In addition to this GoFundMe, there was a 1,000% increase in donations to Jewish groups, CharityNavigator.org found.
Ultimately, donating via smartphone is likely based on what’s happening in that exact moment. A donor could be spurred by a television commercial, cable news debate or dinner party conversation. Emotion, not politics, matters most, Callahan added. “Crowdfunding is most successful when it’s fueled by some kind of strong emotion, whether personal, social, or political,” he says. “After mass shootings, you’ll often see crowdfunding for those issues.”
This story was updated on Dec. 28, 2018.
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