The GoFundMe Dilemma: Profit From Controversy


Once Memories Pizza in Walkterton, India scored over $800k on GoFundMe because of a comment on a local news broadcast about not providing catering services to same sex weddings, the funding of controversy became a political point for some and a way to profit for the crowdfunding platform. A florist in Washington raised over $150k. Sweet Cakes, a bakery in Oregon, raised $109k. It’s all because of their refusal to provide a specific service to same-sex couples.

The concern we should have isn’t whether or not you’re for same-sex marriage. It’s the fact that GoFundMe can make some huge profits from controversies like these where laws are sometimes being broken. GoFundMe took down the Oregon bakery’s campaign only after it crossed 6 figures and distributed the funds, taking their cut.

On Memories Pizza, GoFundMe is expected to pocket over $42k in fees. For them, it is profitable to fuel the outrage the internet can create and turn it into a lucrative campaign to “benefit” someone.

5% For Any Cause That Doesn’t Break the Law

GoFundMe is unique because anyone can raise money for virtually any reason. Call it “coverage for financial burdens” in the case of Memories Pizza. Tuition costs, medical expenses, and help with unexpected tragedies are all common campaigns that are active on GoFundMe at any given moment. There’s good stuff happening when $1.8 million can be raised for a needed medical treatment that can save a life.

Yet interestingly enough, GoFundMe isn’t taking any action to promote the success of Memories Pizza. You won’t find it mentioned on the site’s top-earning campaigns page. When asked directly about it, Kelsea Little told Forbes Magazine that the campaign didn’t violate their terms of service. GoFundMe even made it a point to say that with millions of campaigns active at any given time, it would be unreasonable to expect to agree with every one of them.

The same is true about the two campaigns that netted $430k for Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown. It was the organizers of the campaign that shut them down and all GoFundMe did was create a FAQ page for those concerned with the campaign content.

Neutrality Doesn’t Provide Profitability

What GoFundMe is a reflection of today is the fact that the American world is more polarized and politicized than perhaps ever before. People can make a statement through crowdfunding as a way to prove that they are correct. Maybe GoFundMe isn’t promoting these controversial campaigns, but they certainly aren’t shying away from them either.

This has been the essential problem that GoFundMe has ultimately faced since its inception. Is it truly ethical to take a percentage of money from someone who has endured a tragedy? In the Darren Wilson campaigns, GoFundMe brought in over $10,000. The Washington florist brought in $6k, while the Oregon bakery brought in about $5k and both were eventually taken down for violation of the terms of service.

It’s a dangerous precedent that is being set here. People can violate the law, claim that they are being discriminated against, and cash in for the biggest payday of their lives – whether they begin the campaign or someone else does it for them.

Taking Profit From a Political Message

It is true that if GoFundMe simply took down campaigns that were unpopular, the precedent that would be set in such an act could be dangerously close to free speech prevention. It is also true that by allowing potentially unethical campaigns to be run, GoFundMe is creating an equally dangerous precedent.

Sweet Cakes has a recommended $135k penalty from Oregon’s BOLI because of their violation of a 2007 anti-discrimination law. By providing the funds raised and taking their 5% cut out of it, GoFundMe is profiting from the actions of others that violate the law.

Measuring impact is one thing. Sarah Silverman ran a $30 trillion campaign in order to bring attention to the wage gap that continues to exist between men and women in the world today. The goal of the campaign isn’t to meet the monetary amount, though no one would complain if it happened. The goal is to raise awareness for a specific political message.

GoFundMe has mistaken the actions of violating the law as a political message as well in several instances recently. Maybe the focus is on the political message for those that donate money to campaigns like Sweet Cakes and Memories Pizza, but let’s be real: it’s GoFundMe that is laughing all the way to the bank.