Social fundraising platform GoFundMe continued to break its own crowdfunding records in 2017. In total, the service has been used by tens of millions of donors to raise over $5 billion for various crowdfunding campaigns since it launched seven years ago. Initially that growth was plodding, but it jumped by more than a full billion in 2016, and roughly twice that this year.
GoFundMe typically takes 5% of each transaction, which means profitability relies on lots of people giving to lots of campaigns. That’s changed slightly in the last month, as the company switched over to a tip-based model for donors to personal campaigns in the U.S. and Canada. (Gifts to charities still get charged, along with donations to all campaigns in other countries). In March 2017, Fast Company reported that the company had at least 25 million donors and was generating 100,000 campaigns per month. Since then, the group has decided not to disclose the exact ratio of givers to potential asks. Instead, it touts a mashup: According to an email from a spokesperson “the site grew to 50 million users” this year.
That’s not a very telling stat. But there’s probably good reason for the obfuscation: The platform is basically running two business models simultaneously. The average GoFundMe campaign raised about $1,500 dollars in early 2017, mostly for one-time needs like medical expenses, funeral costs, or memorial funds. This is the model that works separately from campaigns going viral: It takes a lot of little drips, but eventually you fill the bucket.
At the same time, the company has projected that it will reach $40 billion in transactions within the next decade. That’s necessitated an expansion to other countries (it now allows campaigns in 18, with donors in over 150), and a substantial acquisition in CrowdRise, a platform that has profile pages for people doing cool things to associate themselves with charities and nonprofits. Most importantly, though, it’s necessitated investing in the opposite of the tiny-drip theory: In October, GoFundMe launched GoFundMe Studios, an in-house film division that’s been churning out the sort of inspirational, sharable content that may make especially heart-string tugging narratives go viral.
The new tool could become a good way for some small campaigns to dramatically exceed goals, or to reboot action on already popular campaigns that have succeeded. One recent GoFundMe mini-documentary, for instance, shares a tale of six steers that escaped from a slaughterhouse and were saved after a GoFundMe effort raised $400,000 to open a permanent retirement farm. It’s debut coincided with that farm’s latest campaign to secure part of its annual budget.
According to an annual report, the company remains a place for people to quickly funnel cash to centralized funds for victims of mass tragedies and disasters. And for “strangers helping strangers,” which provides many of the narratives GoFundMe Studios is now using to inspire more site visitors and potentially viral campaign creation.
In 2017, the top 10 campaigns drew tens of thousands of donors each to raise more than $23 million combined. That includes nearly 88,000 people giving a total of $11.6 million to the “Las Vegas Victims’ Fund,” and roughly 94,500 donating $2.7 million to “Love Army For Somalia,” an effort to ship food, water, and baby food to needy people in that country. The “Love Army” tag became popular with another France-based effort dubbed “Love Army for Rohingya,” generating $1.6 million to provide food, water, and emergency supplies to Myanmar refugees fleeing to Bangladesh.
Another top category continued to be medical expenses; people gave $1.8 million total to help a family cover an experimental treatment for their child’s rare disease, and nearly $950,000 to a Houston man battling cancer. Two other campaigns–one for an injured UC Berkeley rugby player facing paralysis, and the other for a Massachusetts area toddler in need of gene therapy–both earned over $700,000.
Although alt-right hate groups used the site to raise funds in December 2016, the 2017 campaigns that are succeeding prize diversity: Among the top 10 campaigns of 2017, donors gifted $11 million toward “Victoria Islamic Center Rebuilding” after a community mosque was burned down in Texas, and about $900,000 to provide hurricane relief to residents of Vieques, a small island east of Puerto Rico.
Many people may be using the site to support those who have been marginalized in the Trump era. In October, President Trump botched a condolence call to the widow of Army Sgt. La David T Johnson, who died after an ISIS ambush in Niger. Donors have since contributed $730,000 toward a scholarship fund for Johnson’s three children.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect recent changes to GoFundMe’s business model.