December 9, 2018

By JOE WEPPLER

Ten years ago, no one had ever heard of crowdfunding. Today, websites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and GoFundMe are expanding at an incredibly rapid pace. According to Los Angeles-based crowdfunding research firm, Massolution, the global crowdfunding market is expected to reach $34.4 billion US in 2015.

For the uninitiated, crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project, campaign or venture by raising money from a large number of people, most commonly via the Internet. As a form of alternative finance, it’s easy to see the appeal. It’s evidently a lot easier to get $1 from 10,000 people than it is to get $10,000 from one person.

Taylar Graves, a second-year bachelor of science in nursing student from Conestoga, recently started her own crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for a volunteer trip to Fiji in association with Volunteer Eco Students Abroad. The trip involves spending three weeks overseas, staying with a host family in a local Fijian village and working with volunteers to take part in a sustainable community development program.

“We’ll be doing things like refurbishing schools, building washrooms, teaching English and hygiene techniques,” said Graves.

The second part of the trip involves working with marine biologists to help with turtle conservation and coral replanting. When Graves first learned that she could fundraise through crowdsourcing, GoFundMe was her first choice.

“I’ve seen some people use the site to raise funds and they were very successful,” said Graves. “I’m not really expecting it to go viral, but I’m using it more for getting my message out there, allowing friends and family that aren’t in the area to help and to track the overall progress of my fundraiser.”

Stacey Hughes, a physiotherapist assistant originally from Kitchener, is also using GoFundMe to raise money.

“It’s about my grandma’s breast cancer treatment. I want to raise money to surprise my grandparents with enough funds to cover gas, parking and any other drug expenses they may need,” said Hughes.

Hughes originally decided on crowdfunding as an avenue when she saw others using it to great effect.

Hughes and Graves would both recommend crowdfunding to others.

“Even if you don’t reach your set goal, any money you can raise via the website will definitely help,” said Graves. “It’s a great way to get your cause out there and people you don’t even know may sympathize with your cause and decide to donate.”

Some people use crowdfunding as a form of comedy, such as Zack “Danger” Brown’s kickstarter aptly titled, “I’m making a potato salad.”

Brown’s stretch goals (a funding target set by the project creator beyond the original goal) included such enticing rewards as “I will say your name out loud while making the potato salad.”

A year and $55,492 later, Brown’s kickstarter was officially funded. The money was spent paying out the stretch goals, creating a potato salad cookbook and even hosting a massive, charitable potato salad party, lovingly labelled PotatoStock 2014.

A more recent example of comedic crowdfunding capers include the bid to “Rescue Matt Damon from Mars” and comedian Kurt Braunohler’s kickstarter to pay a “plane message” artist to write “how do I land?” in the sky above Los Angeles.

Others, however, try to use crowdfunding for less than noble or comedic causes.

One example was the case of Erik Chevalier, who kickstarted a project for a board game called “The Doom of Atlantic City,” which had been designed by a couple of prominent board-game artists.

With nearly 1,250 backers pledging more than $75 hoping to get a copy of the game, hiss kickstarter raised a whopping $122,000.

He eventually announced he was cancelling the project. According to the Federal Trade Commission, who settled the fraud case against Chevalier, he promised to refund the contributions but in fact spent them on personal expenses such as rent, personal equipment and licences for a different project.

“I think you should definitely know or contact the person you want to donate to before donating to make sure it’s a legitimate cause,” said Hughes.

Other “scampaigns” include an Iowa woman who raised thousands of dollars to pay for her healthy daughter’s “cancer treatments” or the case of Jen Hintz, who was accused of using the $26,000 raised on Kickstarter for her indie yarn-dying business, to fund her move to Massachusetts.

Perhaps the most interesting scam of all was “Kobe Red Jerky,” wherein a couple of guys claimed that they had an uncle in Japan with a herd of Kobe cattle and they fell in love with the taste.

They wanted to give the world a chance to try out the real, delicious jerky.

The primary goal of $2,374 was met within four days. Eventually, the project reached $120,000 and 3,000 pledges. After some detective work between Kickstarter and an independent filmmaker, the project was shut down just minutes before its conclusion. It was found that Kobe Red Jerky didn’t exist and all the reviews were faked.

Chantal Rivard, a second-year public relations student at Conestoga, urges people to take care when donating.

“I think it’s a great idea, as long as it’s used in a respectful way,” she said. “I believe it’s as safe as you make it. Only donate to funds you are certain are legitimate and to people you trust.”

David Villalpando, an employee at GoFundMe, echoed that sentiment.

“It’s all in our TOS. Only give to people you know and trust,” he said. “If we find (people) are being intentionally misleading, we take action.”

GoFundMe’s website states that it’s not feasible for GoFundMe to investigate the claims stated by each campaign organizer and that instead it provides visitors with the tools to make an informed decision as to who they choose to support.

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