GoFundMe Fundraising for Restaurant Workers — Without Owners Knowing

Website Auto-Generating Pages, Promising to Give Money to Verified Owners

GoFundMe is a popular site for fundraisers, including many now being hosted by restaurants to help staff during the pandemic. But the website is also setting up pages unbeknownst to business owners, such as Julia Mayer and Todd Stewart of Dune Coffee Roasters, who'd prefer to do such fundraising on their own terms. | Credit: Paul Wellman

From funeral expenses caused by untimely deaths to battles against cancer, GoFundMe.com is the go-to for personal fundraising efforts. Many restaurants are turning to the site in order to support their employees during the tough economic times presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Santa Barbara alone, Los Agaves, Los Arroyos, Acme Hospitality, Arigato, and Trattoria Vittoria are just a few taking that route. 

But GoFundMe.com is actually automatically raising money for restaurant staff whose owners don’t even know about the campaigns. That’s what the Santa Barbara Independent learned last week when columnist John “The Restaurant Guy” Dickson began compiling a list of these fundraisers. He immediately started finding pages for establishments such as Dune Coffee Roasters, Little Things Bakery, Petrini’s, and Rose Café that did not have a personal message from owners about the campaign. They are apparently, and unwittingly, part of GoFundMe.com’s Small Business Relief Initiative.

“To make my list, I require that there be a personal message from staff on the GoFundMe page, and that message must mention the current crisis,” Dickson explained. “That keeps it real.” He’s posted the legitimate ones, as well as his extensive takeout/delivery guide, at SantaBarbara.com.

I reached out to Dune Coffee Roasters co-owners Julia Mayer and Todd Stewart about this. They were shocked. 

“This is a crazy time, with so much uncertainty, and Todd and I have been doing everything we can to serve our employees and our customers,” said Mayer. “If we felt the need to directly ask our community for help, I would want that to be on my terms, not on the terms of a third party. Everything we are doing currently is for our employees; in a lot of ways, seeing an anonymous GoFundMe feels like it cheapens our efforts! It feels inauthentic to who we are as a company, and that it was set up without our permission feels scammy — even if it isn’t one.” By Tuesday morning, $80 had been raised for Dune’s employees of the $2,500 goal. 

An email sent to GoFundMe.com’s media relations last week has still not been returned as of press time. To claim the money, the site is asking for owners to verify that the listed business is theirs. They can also opt out of the fundraiser. 

It’s not the only issue faced by GoFundMe.com right now, as many restaurants across the country are reporting that they cannot get the site to release the funds they raised through the website in a timely manner. 

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