GoFundMe, the crowdfunding site popular with raising funds for causes like food and education, found itself in the spotlight last year after a company executive was a bit too candid about the difficulties of handling threats such as the Zika virus and the spread of foodborne diseases.
And, now, a section in GoFundMe’s education area has been taken over by a hospital that has seen its operations degraded by another problem — the deadly Coronavirus outbreak in Venezuela. At least six Venezuelans have died from the outbreak in recent weeks.
The Coronavirus is part of a family of viruses that are spread by the same mosquito that spreads dengue and chikungunya, all of which can be spread through person-to-person contact and occasionally through contaminated food.
The hospital’s GoFundMe has attracted at least 12,000 donors, who have paid out $138,000. Although so far the hospital has donated only the funds it has collected, GoFundMe has now become involved in the tale, publicly asking donors on its website for more money.
GoFundMe has updated its requirement that hospital trusts use GoFundMe as their funding vehicle, according to a spokesperson for the company, in the hopes that its tough treatment of a medical crisis will help discourage others from spreading falsehoods.
“If they were to raise a GoFundMe, there would be less restriction on who the money would go to,” said Olivia Caprese, GoFundMe’s director of government relations. “That’s why we’re trying to get the word out that you can still do your intended good work in humanitarian relief and be able to use our platform, but also to protect people from misrepresentation and theft.”
GoFundMe has been known for taking a harsh stance on misuse of its site, often pointing to its extreme fees that it imposes on scam artists and cause-oriented campaigners.
In 2015, it removed the pages of George Soros and Planned Parenthood as well as a nonprofit called Goddess 4 Jan as evidence of systematic deception.
The firm later restored the posts, though it applied the tougher stance to less-serious cases. A Texas teenager was turned down for a $10,000 student scholarship because the site ruled that he was lying about a fight he had when he was 18, and a Kansas woman sued the company for defaming her after it listed her on its free speech problem list.
Many critics of GoFundMe, including tech journalist Steve Kovach and Silicon Valley critic Sam Biddle, have argued that its tough policies are keeping donors from fulfilling their intentions.
“If they would show more trust in their users and less of a disdain for outsiders, this system could be used to help people find support for causes, no matter how large,” wrote Mr. Kovach.
The Coronavirus story, however, is markedly different.
In comparison to its more stern approach to phony causes, GoFundMe’s approach is surprisingly tolerant, saying that it will accept donations from even those who believe their donors will be held up, and can also accept donation for donations that have already been taken.
Currently, the donor listed at the “verified” end of the site does not have the final say over where their money goes. Rather, the hospital trusts provide a list of beneficiaries for the money they raise. As of Monday, none of the trustees listed as beneficiaries had ever removed one of the recipients from that list.
“If you’re looking for the money to give them funds, you should go to the money already designated for them and do so,” Ms. Caprese said.
There are two schools of thought among GoFundMe donors as to why they give money to the hospital, said Ms. Caprese, “but some have said that they’re just very conscientious and want to make sure that those people are in a good place, and also they’re just looking to make sure that they know where the money is.”
There is a third possible explanation for the lack of follow-through. Ms. Caprese said that some users who would normally give money to charitable causes instead donated money to any charity that they could.
“Sometimes, people contribute to pay for gambling losses, or they donate to buy drugs,” she said. “They may make this attempt on GoFundMe, but it just wasn’t met or supported by the [hospital’s] campaigns.”