Feature

Go fund yourself: Why you should stop shaking down your friends for money

On the rise of e-begging

Let me stop you right now. Before you ask. Before you even launch into your pitch. Because the answer is no.

No, I don't want to donate toward your beauty pageant fees. No, I'm not interested in funding your dream of opening a bakery. No, I promise that I cannot be convinced to contribute to that short film you're dying to make.

It feels like every time I log onto social media, I'm being hit up by another grassroots fundraising campaign. But it's not for the stuff we used to hear about — the stuff I'd happily write a check for. It's not a family I know facing astronomical medical bills, or an earthquake across the globe that left thousands homeless.

It's oddly public pleas based on oddly personal predicaments.

Help bail my boyfriend out of jail.

Help us three friends find a home and keep our dog. ($1,530 of $2,300 raised)

Moving down south to pursue my modeling career. ($2,455 of $5,000 raised)

I find it aggravating. A little insulting, even. Just as social media has made it possible to see one another's lunches (guilty), it's now possible and apparently irresistible to share one's financial shortcomings, too.

Need $4,000 for custody for my boys.

Need $3,000 because our business is not attractive from the street.

I need money to go visit my best friend in Canada. We've been best friends for months, and I've never met her in real life, although we've video chatted.

These are all real. Really.

There are now innumerable sites for crowdfunding or, as I like to call it, e-begging. There's Fundly, IndieGogo, YouCaring, Rally.org. One of the most popular is GoFundMe. Unlike Kickstarter, a forum for legit entrepreneurs who often offer small tokens of gratitude to donors, GoFundMe is a no-frills, straight-up cyber-shakedown. And it feels audacious to me.

I'm no miser. If I don't write regular checks to public radio, Planned Parenthood, and the PTA, I get the shakes. I can't pass a street performer without shedding every Washington in my wallet.

But the online format, requiring no eye contact, has made hat-passing so easy — so shameless — that it invites brash, unapologetic asks. Impenitent, unaccountable "gimme"s.

It's a childish fantasy that the mere act of hoping fiercely for something, and doing almost nothing to make it happen, oughta do the trick. It's a blithe wish over birthday candles, and I can't cough up enough respect to reward it — especially the Tennessee mom who was "not looking for a handout" but merely needed $300 to take her 4-year-old go-kart racing.

Of course, there may be other factors contributing to my exasperation. For one, the abundance of appeals is depressing. There's just So. Much. Need. So many single moms who can't make it work. So many older couples who should be enjoying retirement, not begging for a water heater. I'm frustrated and disappointed that there aren't more reliable and less humiliating ways to pay for your mother's burial, or your golden retriever's surgery.

"Help columnist take her family to Italy. We've just really always wanted to go, and well, other people seem to go. But saving for a trip like that would mean giving in to far fewer impulsive dinners out, and also we'd almost certainly have to stop buying the organic berries. So whaddaya say? Think of the great family photos we'd get on the Ponte Vecchio!"

$0 of $10,000 funded.

This article originally appeared in The Santa Barbara Independent. It is reprinted with permission.

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