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GoFundMe Logo

GoFundMe is a crowdfunding platform that allows people worldwide to fundraise for personal, business, and charitable causes [1]. GoFundMe leverages the internet’s reach to provide a space for individuals, teams, organizations, and nonprofits to raise the money they need to meet their goals [1]. GoFundMe was inititally created as "CreateAFund" in 2008[1][2] by Brad Damphousse and Andrew Ballester, but changed its name to GoFundMe for its official launch in 2010[1][2]. In 2015, GoFundMe was sold to Accel Partners and Technology Crossover. At the time, GoFundMe had an estimated valuation of $600 million[2]. GoFundMe has since grown to become the "world's largest social fundraising platform" and has raised over $9 billion across its numerous fundraising campaigns[1].

Business Model

Payment portal on GoFundMe's mobile app. Sourced from TechCrunch.[3]

The platform allows users to create unique pages from which to post their causes. To start a fundraiser the user first sets their fundraiser goal, tells their story, and adds a picture or video [4]. After this step, the platform links itself with social media accounts to share the fundraiser[4]. GoFundMe currently supports posting on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and Pinterest[5]. For users who do not have social media, GoFundMe generates an email template or messaging link for circulation[4]. People are then invited to donate to the fundraiser with a debit or credit card. After donations are received GoFundMe assists with thanking donors and the fundraiser can withdraw their funds.

GoFundMe does not collect any platform fee for fundraiser organizers. However, it does charge a 2.9% transaction fee with an additional $0.30 per donation[6]. When a payment is made through GoFundMe, the company itself does not process nor does it hold any of the funds that are withdrawn from donors' payment methods[7]. A third-party processing system is used to process all the donations, and the user must abide by this understanding GoFundMe does not have direct access to the payments from donations[7]. Given this information in the Terms of Services and with the user's agreement to these Terms of Services, all the information and content that is presented when donating or creating a funding campaign is at the user's own risk[7].

Record-Holding GoFundMe Campaigns

Over the 11 years since GoFundMe was founded, campaigns have received over 150 million donations[8]. Several GoFundMe campaigns have received the public's attention due to the large amounts of money they have raised. These record-holding campaigns are tracked in GoFundMe's annual Giving Report[8].

America's Food Fund

America's Food Fund logo. Sourced from Apple World Today.[9]

America's Food Fund was organized by actor Leonardo DiCaprio and businesswoman Laurene Powell Jobs at the request of GoFundMe in order to address the issue of food insecurity across the United States[10]. During the COVID-19 pandemic, America's Food Fund partnered with similar initiatives such as Feeding America, World Central Kitchen, Save the Children, No Kid Hungry, and Urban School Food Alliance in order to help feed vulnerable populations[10]. As of April 2021, America's Food Fund has raised just over $45 million of its initial $46 million goal and it stands as one of the highest-grossing campaigns in the GoFundMe's history[8].

Official George Floyd Memorial Fund

George Floyd Memorial Fund page. Sourced from New York Daily News[11]

The George Floyd Memorial Fund was created by his brother Philonise Floyd in response to the killing of his brother George Floyd on May 25th, 2020[12][13]. The over $14 million raised by the campaign were used to cover funeral and burial expenses as well as counseling for family members while they sought justice for George Floyd's death[13]. The campaign broke GoFundMe's single-day funding record on June 2, 2020 when over 500,000 people donated to help the Floyd family in their time of need[8][14].

GoFundMe Medical Fundraiser

Medical Crowdfunding

Many of GoFundMe's most prominent fundraisers have been for medical expenses.[1]. GoFundMe states they are the leader in online medical fundraising and have helped raise over $650 million from 250,000 medical campaigns per year[15]. However, GoFundMe CEO Rob Solomon has expressed his doubts with GoFundMe's medical crowdfunding system. In 2019, he said "“The system is terrible. It needs to be rethought and retooled. Politicians are failing us. Health care companies are failing us. Those are realities. I don’t want to mince words here. We are facing a huge potential tragedy ... We provide relief for a lot of people. But there are people who are not getting relief from us or from the institutions that are supposed to be there. We shouldn’t be the solution to a complex set of systemic problems."[16]

GoFundMe's Role in COVID-19 Relief

Between March 1st and August 31st 2020, the GoFundMe community raised over $625 million through over 9 million donations for small people negatively impacted by COVID-19. These donations went to frontline workers, small businesses, causes, organizations, and more. March 25th had a record-high number of fundraisers, with no more fundraisers being created in a day in the past six months than any other day in the past six months at that point. Over 50% of the fundraisers were in support of small businesses as the majority of states issued a stay home order neared 20. [17]

GoFundMe Partnership with Yelp

In March 2020, GoFundMe announced a partnership with Yelp to promote local business fundraisers. GoFundMe waived around $25 million in fees and free services to support local businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yelp added a "Donate" button to "Yelp" profiles that links to GoFundMe pages for several different small businesses. Not only that, GoFundMe campaigns would automatically be added. Lastly, both GoFundMe and Yelp Foundation pledged to match up to $1 million in donations by up to $500 per business. [18]. Although GoFundMe and Yelp spent a lot of time and money trying to help businesses, the roll out of the the actual program was highly disputed. The automatic creation of GoFundMe pages for small businesses ended up being very hurtful for businesses who actually needed it. This opt-out system quickly turned into a public outcry. For many, this made the good works and charity of both companies look more "opportunistic rather than altruistic." [19]

Ethical Implications

Medical crowdfunding has many benefits, however, researchers raise concerns about the unfair advantages it affords some individuals over others. Among the concerns raised by critics is the loss of patient privacy, widened health inequities, and the commodification of health care[20][21]. According to medical researchers, the commonality of medical crowdfunding is indicative of inadequate health care systems[22]. Since GoFundMe has no regulation for equal-access, funding comes from public perception of deservingness[22]. This then creates inconsistent outcomes in access to care.

Loss of Patient Privacy

Since the market is so competitive for donations, crowdfunding campaigns often must forgo personal details in order for a better chance to receive money. Not only that, campaigners are also required to use their own own names so it is not an option. It is also common to have a parent or someone close running the campaign as well. Sometimes the condition that the patient in means that they can't give consent to disclose private medical information. Also, if the patient is underage, they also cannot give consent to disclose private medical information. [23]


The competitiveness of medical crowdfunding facilitates funding as a commodity [24]. Rather than healthcare professionals determine the urgency of medical care, donators fuel market forces that determine which conditions and stories receive funding [24][25][20]. Resources are allocated by determinations such as social networks, stories, digital marketing skills, emotional appeals, and digital literacy.


Jennifer Flynn Cataldo's fraudulent GoFundMe page. Sourced from [26]

GoFundMe campaigns are commonly started by a caregiver, friend, family member, or individual in need of treatment. When creating their campaign there is no requirement for their health care professional to validate the information[24]. This leaves room for embellishment and exaggeration of claims to create more financial incentives to donate. Despite GoFundMe's terms of service agreements, multiple fraudulent GoFundMe medical campaigns have turned to criminal cases. A website named GoFraudMe.com holds a record of all fraudulent campaigns. In 2017, Jennifer Flynn Cataldo solicited funds for medical bills[20]. Cataldo collected more than $38,000 for cancer treatments she was not receiving before she was convicted of fraud [20]. Current policy does not account properly for the other instances of fraud that exist. Fraudulent claims should not be limited to cases that expose entire health fabrications. According to a study on medical crowdfunding fraud it can be identified in four key categories: faking/exaggerating personal illness, faking/exaggerating someone else's illness, impersonation, and misapplication of funds[27].
One couple in South Jersey raised $400K for a homeless veteran after he gave his last $20 to McClure when she ran out of gas on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia last year. Instead of giving the homeless veteran all of the money, they actually took the majority of the money of the that they did not get the full amount of money because he "struggled with drug addiction."[28]

Perpetuating Inequalities

Since there is a saturation of medical campaigns, taking up one-third of all GoFundMe campaigns, reaching donation goals can become competitive[15]. GoFundMe provides support on how to create a great GoFundMe story by encouraging personal anecdotes, gratitude, and style choices for emphasis or urgency [29]. A study on the unique literacies required to successfully fundraise showed that digital literacy and large pre-existing social circles were required to demonstrate deservingness and worth[30]. The pressure of producing a worthy illness encourages the embellishment and exaggerating of symptoms to gather sympathy, even in terminal illness cases[30]. Another study analyzing the rhetoric used in successful GoFundMe medical campaigns found that great depth of need was important to be presented[25]. To meet this, tactics include providing graphic details such as ‘So far Celine has been in the OR [operating room] for surgery 3 times, each time having more and more of her leg tissue removed, making the wound larger and more severe'[25]. Stressing the impact of one's condition on dependents such as children or the elderly was also effective in examples like,‘Mommy Daddy save me' [25]. The study also concluded that these rhetorical patterns indicated donations were dependent on the quality and urgency of storytelling rather than medical need[25].

GoFundMe Policies

GoFundMe has begun taking considerable actions to protect the fundraisers and donators on their platform. GoFundMe's policy thus far is "It is not permitted to lie or intentionally deceive donors on GoFundMe for financial or personal gain"[31]. This statement leaves a place for open interpretation and omitting of truths. Rather than listing common mistakes made in campaigns that would be considered fraudulent, the cite lists exceptions. GoFundMe allows multiple campaigns to be set up for one purpose or beneficiary, images and names being used without permission of the family, and custody or familial disputes to be backed on their site [31].

GoFundMe Terms of Service

Like many of the Terms of Service in other platforms, GoFundMe habitually amends its Terms of Service, and it has the right to modify or change any part of the Terms of Service at any time. If by any means a user does not agree to the updated Terms of Service, the user can discontinue their use of GoFundMe unless they otherwise agree to the updated version [32].
GoFundMe updates its Terms of Service to keep the users up to date on the new changes and modifications. Users who are creating a campaign on their behalf or the behalf of anyone else as well as donors are encouraged to read through the Terms of Services as they become available to prevent any surprise or mishap on their end. GoFundMe's Terms of Services are created to answer questions that may arise as GoFundMe is used on its own terms.

Similar Platforms

Facebook birthday fundraiser prompt.[33]

There are many other crowdfunding platforms similar to GoFundMe, some of which include Kickstarter, Facebook, Patreon, Indiegogo, and Kiva.


Kickstarter's mission is "to help bring creative projects to life."[34] Similar to GoFundMe in that the website is for raising funding from individuals, the site differs in that it focuses on creative projects or startup ideas. Like GoFundMe, Kickstarter charges a fee for users to post their campaigns. Kickstarter's fee is a 5% platform fee and then a 3.0% + $0.20 payment fee.[35]

Like GoFundMe, Kickstarter has also been plagued with fraud. In a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, in a survey of almost 500,000 backers, it was found that 9% of Kickstarter projects did not deliver rewards (Kickstarter campaigns can offer rewards as incentive to donate), 8% of dollars pledged went to failed projects, 7% of backers did not get their chosen reward, and only 65% of backers agreed that their reward was delivered on time.[36]

Facebook Fundraising

Perhaps even more similar to GoFundMe than Kickstarter, is Facebook's more recent funding platform. Since 2013, Facebook has had a "Donate" button on any qualifying nonprofit pages.[37] Users could make a donation to a cause they cared about without leaving Facebook. Since then, Facebook has made it easier for users to post their own fundraisers. Users can now post fundraisers on their personal pages whenever, but are mostly encouraged to for special events, like birthdays. However, some of have criticized this move as 'solicitations' and 'insincere' as users feel like they are being overwhelmed by the number of fundraisers they are being presented.[38] Jeremy Littau, an associate professor at Lehigh University teaching social media and social action, pointed out that these sort of posts can feel like "slactivism," where users are just posting to show off on their social media, bringing up further ethical concerns about the real meaning behind these sort of posts.[38]


A page on Patreon. Sourced from Audioholics.[39]

Another crowdfunding platform is Patreon. Patreon is a crowdfunding platform designed for content creators.[40] The platform allows consumers and fans to monetarily support their favorite creators.[40] The services claims that it allows the creators on the platform to have a steadier income, so there is less need for meticulously curating their content to utilize their chosen platform’s algorithms, or even the approval of the masses.[40] Hence, Patreon advertises that it permits creators to more open with their audience and be truer to themselves by taking more risks with the content they publish.[40]

As of 2017, Patreon hosts more than 50,000 active content creators and more than 1,000,000 monthly patrons (that is, users that support their favorite content creators by donating to them monthly).[41] By this time, there had already been over $100 million sent to creators through the platform.[42]

This platform is widely used by YouTubers to supplement their income. And while the YouTube videos are available for free to all, patrons of often gain access to exclusive content available only to them.[43]

Patreon takes a 5% commission on all pledges.[42]


Image of Indiegogo's site. Sourced from Wired.[44]

Yet another crowdfunding website is Indiegogo. Indiegogo is a crowdfunding platform much like Kickstarter: it is designed to help raise funds for designers to help bring creations to life (particularly, tech creations).[45] Indiegogo advertises itself as the place "where early adopters and innovation seekers find lively, imaginative tech before it hits the mainstream."[45]

On par with Kickstarter, Indiegogo generally charges a 5% fee for successful campaigns (that is, campaigns where the target funding goal was reached) and a credit card processing charge of 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.[46] If a campaign fails to reach its target funding goal, the fundraiser’s manager has the option of returning all money to the respective contributors at no charge.[47]


Image of kiva.org. Sourced from Fast Company.[48]

Kiva is a non-profit organization that runs a crowdfunding website of the same name. On Kiva, users can give money to low-income entrepreneurs and other low-income beneficiaries to help them finance their businesses or other ventures.[49][50][51] Unlike similar websites like GoFundMe or Facebook Fundraising, Kiva is not a true donations site. Instead, Kiva is similar to a bank and users of Kiva are more akin to investors, who can expect to get their money back in the future. According to Kiva’s co-founder and current president Premal Shah, Kiva investors on average gain back 96% of their investments over time.[52]

In addition, many of Kiva’s beneficiaries are unable to adhere to strict weekly or monthly loan repayment cycles due to various factors. For example, farmers may not be able to make money from their crops until harvests once or twice a year. As such, Kiva does not force beneficiaries of funds to repay their loans on a strict schedule.[52] In addition, due to its philanthropic roots, Kiva does not even force beneficiaries to repay their loans at all, but still allows them to do so if they wish. Furthermore, Kiva does not allow users to obtain interest on their loaned funds in order to avoid trapping beneficiaries into cycles of debt, a common criticism of earlier microfinance initiatives like Grameen Bank.[49][50][51][52]

Kiva does not send money directly to beneficiaries, but rather partners with local microfinance lenders and uses them as intermediaries. This allows Kiva to more easily and more quickly gain the trust of local communities. These local microfinance lenders are thoroughly vetted by Kiva to ensure that they are trustworthy and not embezzling money.[52]

Unlike similar crowdfunding websites, Kiva does not take a cut of the money donated or lended through its site. Instead, Kiva’s operating costs are covered entirely by “tips” that users of the site can optionally donate alongside their main lending payments.[49][50][51][52]
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  3. Lunden, I. (2017, November 30). GoFundMe drops 5% Platform Fee for U.S. personal campaigns, adds tips. TechCrunch. https://techcrunch.com/2017/11/30/gofundme-drops-5-platform-fee-for-u-s-personal-campaigns-adds-tips/
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  10. 10.0 10.1 America's food Fund, organized By America's Food fund led by Leonardo DiCaprio AND Laurene Powell Jobs. (n.d.). Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://www.gofundme.com/f/AmericasFoodFund
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  19. Ha, A. Yelp pauses GoFundMe COVID-19 fundraising after opt-out outcry. Retrieved April 9th, 2021 from https://finance.yahoo.com/news/yelp-pauses-gofundme-covid-19-145320138.html
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