When the world grows dark, can a GoFundMe offer some light?


By Fraser Sherman
If you want to do something generous in keeping with the season, the GoFundMe website has more than 500 requests for money from around Chapel Hill. Individual posts ask for $400, $1,000, $5,000, $6,500, $20,000, or $125,000 out for reasons as varied as the fundraising goals.

Life-saving medical treatment. Pet-saving surgery. Unpaid medical bills. Businesses needing a cash infusion. Relief for Gaza. An art mural. Middle-school performing arts. Helping the homeless. Organizing a charity poker event. Making a paranormal horror film. Getting family members to Chapel Hill for Christmas. Some GoFundMe pitches are current and urgent while others met their goal a few years ago.

GoFundMe works simply: figure out how much money you need, post and promote your request, and then, if all goes well, people donate until you meet your goal. If donations come in above your goal, you can keep the money; unlike some fundraising websites, if donations fall short, you still keep whatever you received. GoFundMe pays its own bills by taking 30 cents plus a 2.9 percent fee from each donation.

There are no deadlines to raise the money. Whether someone hits their goal or fails to do so, their GoFundMe stays up on the site unless they take it down.

Several Chapel Hill businesses have posted a fundraising GoFundMe or two. Christopher Carini of Linda’s Bar and Grill is asking for $135,000 to “keep our people paid, the lights on, machines fixed, and the building up to code.” Adding to the money pressure, he said, is that he’ll have to take time away from the business in 2024 to spend with a terminally ill parent. At time of writing donations are slightly over $35,000.

Splitgill Carpentry, “a queer, trans, and indigenous POC-owned construction business.” is asking for $7,000 after “one of our work vehicles became a piece of toast.” Created in mid-December, the GoFundMe for a new company van received no donations at time of writing.

Leto Tae Kwan Do Academy has asked for $10,000 to help open its first training center. It’s received $970 so far.

Several local bars put up a GoFundMe when they had to close up during the pandemic. The Kraken asked for $25,000 and raised $26,348. The Cave only raised $16,000 of the $20,000 it requested but it’s still open. Not all Chapel Hill nightspots were so lucky: Nightlight has received $24,465 of the $50,000 it asked for; its website says it’s still closed.

Raising money can’t fix all a business’s problems. The Big Belly Que barbecue joint owners asked for $12,000 to help them move and received $7,000. Last year they said permitting and insurance made moving Big Belly impossible, closed up and instead opened Bombolo, an Italian restaurant. They said they anticipate returning to barbecue eventually.

Giving with confidence

Some people who say they need your money are lying. Some organizations spend less than 10 percent of donations on the people they say they’re helping. How do you know which requests for money are worth responding to?

GoFundMe says the company works to confirm requests on their website are legitimate, but if you have doubts, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Some GoFundMes include the information; if not, you can contact the fund-raiser through the website and ask questions directly:

  • What is the purpose of the GoFundMe?
  • How will donations be used?
  • How is the organizer related to the intended recipient of the donations?
  • Are the recipient’s family and friends making donations?
  • Does the recipient withdraw the donations? If not, how does the money get to them?
  • Are the story or the images copied from another post?

Several Chapel Hill donation requests ask for help with medical expenses. $5,500 after a car accident for whatever bills insurance doesn’t cover. $25,000 for someone undergoing treatment for Stage Three colon cancer. $15,000 for breast cancer treatment. $15,000 for severe Lyme disease. Other fundraisers tackle related costs, like $2,000 so an out-of-work woman can afford to spend more time with her sick baby.

People pleading for sick pets have a GoFundMe also. $7,500 for a dog with heart disease. $7,000 for a cat needing urethra surgery. $400 for a cat’s vet bills and meds. $6,000 to cover dog surgery and let the owner stay home from work for two weeks to care for the pet.

Other requests are all over the map. $400 for a rental car so the requester can make a court date. $500 for a 70-year-old woman’s overseas travel plans. $20,000 so that Phillips Middle School can take their band, orchestra and chorus to the 2024 Music in the Parks Festival. $4,000 to finance a Chapel Hill wall mural. $500 for a garden at Carrboro High School that will “engage the senses to foster emotional regulation and meaningful connection with nature.” $20,000 to get a woman and her child away from a domestic abuser.

A new furnace. A mission trip. A semester abroad. Helping victims of identity theft get back on their feet. Homes destroyed by fire or a trailer crushed by a falling tree.

If well received, a GoFundMe can make a big difference. When Kris and Dhruva Chellani died right before reopening their Classic Carolina store, a friend of the family set up a $100,000 GoFundMe to help the surviving members of the family. The fundraising effort collected $101,490.

Fraser Sherman has worked for newspapers, including the Destin Log, the Pensacola News-Journal and the Raleigh Public Record. Born in England, he’d still live in Florida if he hadn’t met the perfect woman and moved to Durham to marry her. He’s the author of several film reference books and has published one novel and several short story collections.

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