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Why does GoFundMe shut down fundraising campaigns on its platform? We review 6 controversial campaign closures.
GoFundMe has been a popular crowdfunding destination for many people keen to raise funds for all manner of causes, since its launch in 2010. Open any newspaper or visit any social media platform and it isn’t long before you find a fundraising campaign originating from its platform.
But did you know GoFundMe often cancels legitimate campaigns, sometimes without warning – even though they allow other, similar campaigns on their site?
GoFundMe often refers to their terms and conditions when justifying the removal of a campaign. But, with inconsistent decision-making in relation to what makes a campaign acceptable, it makes it difficult to understand their exact policy and why they remove legitimate campaigns.
Despite claims of impartiality, GoFundMe has repeatedly shown itself to bow down to public opinion and/or media pressure, or at least allow it to influence their decisions, unsurprisingly infuriating fundraisers, donors and commentators alike.
Let’s take a look at this in more detail.
Understandably, GoFundMe has to have solid terms and conditions. As a crowdfunding platform ourselves, we understand how unbelievably complex it is to be a fundraising platform serving globally, for almost any cause you can possibly imagine.
Terms and conditions are vital to ensure everyone knows the parameters, and understands the risks and responsibilities they have when accessing the platform services.
The difficulty with GoFundMe is that they are, at times, ‘flexible’ with their interpretation of their own terms and conditions. For example, as far back as 2015, GoFundMe announced they would no longer support legal defense campaigns. But what led to that decision?
It was most certainly connected to a campaign that was on their site, legitimately raising funds for legal defense (a category of fundraising GoFundMe allowed at that time).
The campaign centred around a US cake shop that had refused to accept an order to make a cake for a same-sex wedding and had been fined. We were interviewed about this case at the time and made it clear we would not have removed the campaign (our site still allows legal defense campaigns and we believe that our role must remain impartial, providing a safe and trusted platform for fundraisers, whatever their need).
The case attracted a lot of media attention, and it is likely this pressure forced a somewhat confusing reaction from GoFundMe.
GoFundMe removed the campaign (as it ‘breached terms and conditions’), but then allowed the fundraisers to keep the donations (even though they determined it breached their terms and conditions).
What message does this send to other fundraisers? That you can create a campaign that breaches terms and conditions BUT, still keep your donations?
As has been shown time and time again, GoFundMe sometimes let you keep your donations if they feel you have breached terms and conditions, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, they even let you keep some of the donations, but refund the rest. In some cases, they don’t even refund donors. Instead, they distribute the donations to other charities or worthy causes! No wonder people are angry and confused!
This controversial, contradictory and confusing decision highlighted the inconsistencies in GoFundMe’s decision-making and forged a path of uncertainty for future fundraisers using the site.
When Jennifer Bridges, a former registered nurse at Houston Methodist hospital, Texas was fired after refusing to get vaccinated, she began a crowdfunding campaign to assist with her legal challenge against the mandate – she is quoted as likening vaccine mandates “to forced medical experimentation during the Holocaust.”.
After raising more than $180,000, GoFundMe removed her campaign claiming it breached its policy against misinformation.
We, at GoGetFunding, think this is a dangerous precedent for two reasons:
Many of the laws that protect us today were implemented through legal challenges raised by ordinary people, brave enough to stand up for themselves and future generations to follow. Without financial support from friends, family and supporters many challenges may not even reach our courts.
Disallowing a person’s freedom of choice to have the vaccine (whether they have personal, genuine reasons to have the vaccine or not, and then attempting to silence them) risks eroding our freedom of expression, freedom of speech and ultimately our democratic society.
Here is another example – in this case, thousands of voices shared the same concerns as Jennifer Bridges:
As recently as February this year (2022) GoFundMe removed another high profile campaign for the Truck Convoys in Canada.
The reason given? Its terms of service include its right to prohibit “any other activity that GoFundMe may deem, in its sole discretion, to be unacceptable,” and “ that funds cannot be used or raised with the implicit or explicit purpose of violating any law”. In this case donations were refunded.
Of course, the fundraisers and the public were outraged. Petitions, #boycottGoFundMe and edited versions of the GoFundMe logo (GoF***Me) soon followed and started trending on social media, with some writers and media outlets highlighting the flaws and bias in GoFundMe’s decision-making processes (Fox News highlighted a number of campaigns that had been cancelled by GoFundMe).
We looked very closely at the background, history and circumstances of the Trucker Protest campaign and are certain this campaign, had it been on GoGetFunding, would have been allowed to continue.
Working with fundraisers who were not accused of actively pursuing a course of behaviour that was deliberately breaching local laws, our guidance would have ensured fundraisers were able to raise funds that would directly support protesters (as opposed to facilitating lawlessness). For example raising funds for legal advice, food and essential supplies for peaceful protesters and so forth.
If you think that these campaigns are clearly cases where funds were being raised for illegal activities or legal defense (which, as you remember, GoFundMe does not allow) and should have been removed, let’s take a look at a few other interesting cases:
Enter ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘GoFundMe’ into any search engine and you will discover a whole range of GoFundMe campaigns, clearly raising funds for legal defense, protest activities and even funds for bail on GoFundMe for Black Lives Matter.
One campaign even says:
While DC does not use bail in the way other jurisdictions do, legal support is always needed. Legal support is a regular part of our work and significantly increases depending on the current situation. From Copwatch, protest support, to jail care and support, representational support all other related support, it all takes resources. Please donate to ensure we are able to continue to protect and defend Black People in DC.
Another goes even further and says:
We are a group of organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement which starts out of Manhattan, Harlem, The Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn almost daily. The group officially has no name for the security of the organizers involved. We have been marching for 180 days. We are highly organized and highly disruptive. We engage in civil disobedience and disruption tactics to bring awareness to the injustices that the Black and oppressed communities face.
Why is one type of protest campaign allowed to continue, while another protest campaign isn’t? They are both related to public protests for causes they each have strong feelings about. Both are in countries where freedom of speech and expression is permitted. They are each raising funds to facilitate their cause and/or support legally and financially their protesters. Both are using GoFundMe – who state they are impartial.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk slammed GoFundMe’s decisions surrounding the truck protests and accused them of having ‘double standards’ because of its previous support for Black Lives Matter fundraisers.
In our opinion, both groups should be able to raise funds. We know that they would have been permitted to continue on our site. In fact we have already had campaigns for both causes on our site and been available to assist and ensure they are able to make their campaigns compliant with local laws and be able to fundraise, without worry.
Let’s look at violent crime cases – which is often cited by GoFundMe as a reason for removing campaigns.
One example, important to highlight, occurred during The “Free Cain” movement which was very high profile and also active across social media. The case related to former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, who was charged with attempted murder after allegedly shooting a man while targeting another accused of molesting a family member.
GoFundMe removed the campaign for breaching terms and conditions and refunded donations, causing numerous questions about GoFundMe’s policies for defendants seeking financial support from friends,family and supporters and opened a valid debate about a person’s presumed innocence until proven guilty.
In another case, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered in what was proven to be a racially motivated attack. The partner of one of his murderers (William ‘Roddie’ Bryan) set up a campaign to raise funds for legal defense. However, GoFundMe soon removed the campaign.
Bryan’s Attorney, Kevin Gough said:
“The right to counsel, a guarantee enshrined in our Constitution, means little if ordinary people like Roddie Bryan cannot raise funds for their own defense — and that includes the right to raise funds for an appeal. The cancellation of legitimate online efforts to raise funds for Roddie Bryan is simply the latest manifestation of a woke left mob mentality that relentlessly seeks to undermine the institutions of our government.”
This is obviously a sensitive subject which understandably provokes strong opinions. However, we believe in the right for ALL defendants to have a fair trial and employ the best legal defense they can. This is the very foundation of our justice systems.
It is the decision of the jury to decide if a person is guilty of that crime, or not. Disallowing a fundraising campaign prior to any trial or appeal, sends a message that it has already been assumed the person must be guilty of that crime. Taking it one step further, could these decisions from GoFundMe, and the public fall-out from their decision, lead to defence questioning whether the defendant’s trial has been prejudiced or arguing that they did not have a fair trial?
Here is a perfect example:
17 year old Kyle Rittenhouse was accused of fatally shooting two protesters during a protest in Kenosha. One campaign raised nearly $500,000 on GoFundMe in the three months leading up to his trial. However, GoFundMe removed all online fundraisers related to his case.
At the conclusion of the trial, Rittenhouse was found not guilty, and GoFundMe had the audacity to state that he would now be able to use their platform again as he was not guilty of the alleged crime. This understandably caused considerable backlash from the public.
Enter #GoFundMe and #Kyle Rittenhouse into Twitter’s search fields and you will see the level of fury at GoFundMe’s policy (and double-standards).
What is obvious, is that GoFundMe still does not have clear and consistent decision-making policies in place. It is easy to understand why commentators, writers and the public in general describe GoFundMe decisions as ‘biased’, having ‘double-standards’ and even being ‘politically motivated’ or ‘woke’ – decisions which are unfair, unhelpful and most definitely not, impartial.
If you are thinking of creating a fundraising campaign, here are some tips to help:
GoFundMe may be one of the biggest crowdfunding platforms, but it is not necessarily the best, or more importantly, the best suited for your needs.
Check terms and conditions
Understand these are very broad. If it is not clear, contact your chosen platform’s customer support team and ask them if your fundraiser is acceptable so there is no doubt.
Most platforms provide a list of categories for fundraisers, these can be a good indicator as to whether your fundraiser is accepted on their platform.
Sometimes your campaign may be reviewed. When this happens ensure you communicate with the review team. They may be able to suggest small tweaks or edits that can make your fundraiser compliant with their terms and be allowed to continue.
Regularly download your donor details.
Most platforms provide donor details in downloadable formats to help with your fundraising records. If you are notified your campaign is being reviewed, ensure you download your record of donors, so you are able to reach out to them and keep them updated (or even contact them to donate to your new campaign if needed).
Be willing to change platforms
Even though you may have thought you have found the right platform, the fit may not be quite right. If you find your campaign is removed, it doesn’t mean it is the end of your fundraising efforts. There are plenty of awesome crowdfunding platforms out there willing to help you.
Fundraising is a wonderful experience for most fundraisers. However, ensuring you are with the right platform from the start, can make a massive difference.
If you’re ready to get started, why not launch your fundraising campaign today?
I'm Victoria and have been part of the GoGetFunding Team since 2011. I live in Portugal with my family (including a dog, chickens and two fearless goats). My favourite things are chocolate, running (so I can eat more chocolate), renovating our quinta, and watching films.
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