Let me stop you right now. Before you ask. Before you even launch into your pitch. Because the answer is no.
No, I don’t want to pay your beauty pageant fees. No, I’m not interested in funding your dream of opening a bakery. No, I promise that I cannot be convinced to contribute to your trans surgery.
It feels like every time I log onto social media, I’m being hit up by another grassroots fundraising campaign. But it’s not for the stuff we used to hear about — the stuff I’d happily write a check for. It’s not a family I know facing astronomical medical bills or an earthquake across the globe that left thousands homeless.
It’s oddly public pleas based on oddly personal predicaments.
Help bail my boyfriend out of jail.
Help three friends find a home and keep our dog.
Moving down south to pursue my modeling career.
I find it aggravating. A little insulting, even. Just as social media has made it possible to see one another’s lunches (guilty), it’s now possible and apparently irresistible to share one’s financial shortcomings, too.
Need $4,000 for custody for my boys.
Need $3,000 because our business is not attractive from the street.
I need money to go visit my best friend in Canada. We’ve been best friends for months, and I’ve never met her in real life, although we’ve video chatted. (Yes. For real.)
There are now innumerable sites for crowdfunding or, as I like to call it, e-begging. There’s Fundly, IndieGogo, YouCaring, Rally.org. The most popular is GoFundMe. Unlike Kickstarter, a forum for legit entrepreneurs who often offer small tokens of gratitude in return for backing donations, GoFundMe is a no-frills, straight-up cyber-shakedown. And it feels audacious to me.
I’m no miser. If I don’t write regular checks to public radio, Planned Parenthood, and the PTA, I get the shakes. I can’t pass a street performer without shedding every Washington in my wallet.
But I think the online format of funding sites, requiring no eye contact, has made hat-passing so easy—so shameless—that it invites brash, unapologetic asks. Impenitent, unaccountable “gimmes.”
It’s a childish fantasy that the mere act of hoping fiercely for something, and doing almost nothing to make it happen, oughta do the trick. It’s a blithe wish over birthday candles, and I can’t cough up enough respect to reward it — especially the Tennessee mom who was “not looking for a handout” but merely needed $300 to take her four-year-old go-kart racing.
Of course, there may be other factors contributing to my exasperation. For one, the abundance of appeals is depressing. There’s just So. Much. Need. So many single moms who can’t make it work. So many older couples who should be enjoying retirement, not begging for a water heater. I’m frustrated and disappointed that there aren’t more reliable and less humiliating ways to pay for your mother’s burial, or your golden retriever’s surgery.
And okay, maybe I’m just the tiniest bit resentful that I lack the chutzpah to toss my own wish into the well of the World Wide Web. Perhaps I’m looking at this all wrong. Mightn’t it be plain old optimism, rather than gall, that nudges these needers to display their desires online? Couldn’t it be that there’s someone out there for everyone—a generous benefactor for every down-and-outer who wants fertility treatments, a willing Samaritan for each hapless have-not coveting a new car?
I’ll bet there’s even a fairy god-donor somewhere who’d empty his pockets for a heart-wrenching entreaty like this one:
Help facetious columnist take her family to London!
We’ve always wanted to go, and well, other people get to go, so why the hell not us? But saving for a trip like that would mean giving in to far fewer impulsive dinners out, and also we’d have to stop buying the organic berries. For a long time. So please send what you can, and don’t delay — Big Ben is tick-tick-ticking! $0 of $10,000 funded.
Starshine Roshell is the author of Broad Assumptions.