After Hurricane Harvey devastated the Gulf Coast in fall 2017, hundreds of people were motivated to give to relief efforts. But after disasters of such magnitude, it’s often hard to know where or how to donate to make the greatest impact.
To address this issue, the social fundraising platform GoFundMe gave people a new way to donate through the site. Generally, GoFundMe hosts campaigns that raise money for a highly specific need–an individual family’s fire relief costs, or a high medical bill. But after Harvey, GoFundMe set up its first centralized hub for contributors to give to a cause area instead of an individual campaign. The process involved establishing an independent nonprofit called the Direct Impact Fund to manage the money and ensure it was redistributed fairly, according to varying degrees of need. That process reportedly helped raise more than $700,000 for at least 800 victims and distribute another $1 million to charities assisting with rescue and recovery efforts. GoFundMe has since deployed this aggregate fundraising model idea during other natural and manmade tragedies to raise more than $30 million in total for scores of people.
Now, GoFundMe is rebranding Direct Impact Fund as GoFundMe.org to continue to grow the potential of this fundraising model. The revamped platform promotes so-called GoFundMe.org Causes related to six general topic areas: animal rescue, mental health, environment, K-12 classrooms, veterans, and kid heroes. Contributors can choose what cause bucket they want to fill, make a gift, and GoFundMe’s nonprofit arm will aggregate that money alongside what other donors are giving, and then re-share it fairly among potentially hundreds of associated campaigns. The company hasn’t shared exact details about how this entity will do that, but it’s likely that it will take an approach similar to how it managed Direct Impact Fund causes–allocating money based on when the campaigns were started, how close they were to their goals, and the severity of the situation.
Direct Impact Fund started primarily to respond to immediate catastrophic events: Hubs have ranged from the Separation and Immigration Crisis to support families divided at the border to Nor Cal Fire Relief for California’s devastating wildfires. Some of these are still ongoing on the main GoFundMe site. As enthusiasm for the aggregate fundraising format grew, it expanded to larger social movements like the Global Girls Alliance for educational empowerment. GoFundMe.org Causes aims to take this model of funding and apply it to more evergreen topics. While the current fundraising buckets on the site don’t have the same sense of immediate urgency as those campaigns hosted on Direct Impact Fund, the design of GoFundMe.org Causes is flexible enough to add additional causes, like disaster relief, as it evolves.
Overall, the aggregated donation format has proven effective for GoFundMe. “[Direct Impact Fund] was effective in helping to generate more donations because it helps alleviate the concerns that can happen when someone has maybe only $50 to give, but there are hundreds of campaigns that ladder up into a particular event,” says Raquel Rozas, GoFundMe’s chief marketing officer. “The reason we rebranded it was because we wanted to extend the strength and credibility of the GoFundMe brand to our nonprofit arm in the hopes of attracting a wider donor audience to causes that they care about.”
Donors who visit GoFundMe.com can now click through to a the GoFundMe.org Causes page, which also lives separately at GoFundMe.org. The backend of that web address points to a crucial difference in how the new service will work. Previously, only donations made to campaigns associated with formal charities, not individuals, were tax deductible. Because GoFundMe.org Causes operates as a registered nonprofit, every dollar that’s contributed there will be tax deductible. The difference is that donors give up a degree of control over where their funds are going. While they can’t prioritize one campaign over others, the new format could be a way for donors to learn more about and impact a wider variety of campaigns.
“As we looked at our donor community, we can see organically that there’s a lot of repeat engagement and that people do have affinity for certain causes,” says Rozas. “So this is effectively giving donors an easier opportunity to discover the things that they’re passionate about.” For campaign organizers, the benefit is that GoFundMe.org Causes will actively be searching out campaigns that naturally fit under each cause area. That solves one of the biggest challenges of the platform: It’s the solicitations with particularly well-honed messages that tend to go viral, while other similar or even more necessary pleas might otherwise be ignored. “[It’s] helping us to bring new donor communities to those campaigns and causes overall,” she adds.