Money on our mind: The rise of crowdfunding for a good cause

MILLIONS of euro has been raised in the last two years in Ireland through crowdfunding websites, with one in 15 people donating to more than 10,000 causes.

Crowdfunding is the relatively new phenomenon of raising funds for causes, start-ups, or artistic endeavours through small online donations from a large group of people.

There are several crowdfunding platforms people in Ireland have been using, from GoFundMe to Kickstarter to IndieGoGo to CauseVox.

In 2017 alone, €1.08m was raised on Kickstarter for Irish-based projects. In total, 226 projects were launched using the site in 2017.

While GoFundMe is regularly used for charitable causes in the case of someone needing medical treatment abroad, Kickstarter is specifically for creative projects.

“Creators need to make something that can be shared with others, whether it’s a film, a book, a gadget, a game, or a restaurant,” said a spokesman.

Kickstarter has another unique way of working whereby it is an “all-or-nothing basis”.

“If the project goal isn’t reached before the funding period ends, no money changes hands, and there is no fee. If the goal is reached, Kickstarter charges a 5% fee on the collected funds,” the spokesman told the Irish Examiner.

GoFundMe, by far the most popular crowdfunding site in Ireland, has been used to raised “millions of euro” in the last two years. A spokesman did not give the exact figures.

“In the two years since we launched in Ireland, there have been around 10,000 campaigns launched on GoFundMe and one in every 15 people in Ireland have donated via the platform, raising millions of euros for some of the most pressing causes in the country,” said the spokesman.

He said there had been an “explosion in use” in the last 12 months particularly.

“We’ve seen an explosion in use of GoFundMe in Ireland over the past year or so, as people come together in their droves for thousands of acts of kindness to family, friends, neighbours, and strangers.”

GoFundMe does not charge a platform fee, however there is a small processing fee of 2.9% and people are able to leave a voluntary tip if they so choose. GoFundMe used to take a 5% cut on the full donation amount of a project but since late 2017, it dropped this entirely for personal fundraising efforts.

GoFundMe has previously been criticised for taking a fee from donation campaigns. Following the California wildfires in 2017, a petition was launched online urging the company to exempt those impacted and seeking to raise funds, from paying the fee.

“With this 0% platform fee, we will rely on voluntary tips from our donors to help with the costs associated with providing our best-in-class customer service, trust & safety protections, and social fundraising technology,” GoFundMe chief executive Rob Solomon said at the time.

IndieGoGo is another popular platform used in Ireland, with users seeking to raise funds for start-ups and artistic endeavours such as feature films and music albums.

Indiegogo’s platform fee on all funds raised is 5%. It is free to sign up and create a campaign but fees are deducted from the funds actually raised, not the target amount that a user sets.

Like GoFundMe, it also has a payment processing fee, which is carried out by Stripe, the payments company founded by billionaire brothers John and Patrick Collison, from Limerick.

Another, more recent, crowdfunding platform to emerge is Cause Vox, which came to public attention in April when more than €500,000 was raised on it by Together For Yes, the civil society group that campaigned to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Causevox is a platform that specifically helps small fundraising teams at nonprofits. It is based in the US and found its origins in working with social entrepreneurs who had lots of volunteers and supporters, but who found it difficult to raise funds. The Irish campaign was one of the most successful fundraising projects ever hosted on its platform.

Together for Yes

Kathy D’Arcy, back, Chair of Cork Together for Yes; with campaigners Lorna Bogue, Luke Field, and Rob O’Sullivan. Together for Yes benefitted hugely from crowdfunding.

Perhaps Ireland’s biggest and fastest ever crowdfunding project was for Together For Yes in April 2018, where over €500,000 was raised in just four days.

Together For Yes was the civil society coalition between the National Women’s Council of Ireland and dozens of volunteer groups that joined forces to campaign for the Eighth Amendment’s removal from the Constitution.

Together For Yes launched on Tuesday, April 10, with the aim of raising €50,000 in seven days to pay for the cost of political posters to place around Ireland. By 9.30pm on Friday, April 13, donations to the campaign had exceeded €500,000.

Together For Yes used a lesser-known platform called CauseVox to host its fundraising initiative. It is an online fundraising software for nonprofit crowdfunding.

At the height of fundraising, the page was shut down for 30 minutes. CauseVox examined the incident when it was reported by Together For Yes fundraising staff.

It was confirmed that the website was subjected to a distributed denial of service attack (DDOS), whereby a website is purposefully bombarded with requests to a point where it shuts down. CauseVox said the attack came from within Ireland.

Approximately 15,000 people made donations to the site, from €2 and €5 to as much as €1,200. Many of these donors also left comments on the site.

“In memory of baby TJ delivered in Liverpool Women’s on October 1, 2011 and for all our TFMR [Terminations for Medical Reasons] babies. Let’s bring compassion home,” wrote Siobhan Donohue.

Together For Yes appears to be the most successful grassroots fundraising initiative for political purposes in Irish history, after the Yes Equality campaign ran two crowdfunding initiatives for posters in 2015 and together they raised a total €180,000.

Moy Hill Community Farm

In November 2017, €87,000 was raised through crowdfunding with the sole aim of buying a farm in the west of Ireland. It was not, however, just any farm.

Three professional surfers had been farming nearby land since 2012, growing food sustainably and selling it back to the local community in west Clare.

In 2017, they came across a 60-acre site and set about raising money to buy it and establish what is now known as a community-supported agriculture (CSA) scheme.

Mitch Corbett, Matt Smith, and Fergal Smith asked for donations of various sizes. For example, for €22 (£20) a donor would in return receive a packet of organic seeds and a tree would be planted on their behalf.

As the donation amounts increased, donors would receive more in return, such as a calendar, a T-shirt, their name on a gate at the farm, a five-course meal with produce from the farm, or a surf experience.

The three surfers used CrowdfunderUK for the initiative, receiving money from 581 separate donors in 75 days.

According to the three men, while their fundraising drive was to primarily purchase land for community-farming purposes, they also wanted to demonstrate a will to inspire other people in Ireland to follow suit.

“We are now asking people to help buy a 60-acre plot next to Moy Hill Farm. While this has its practical gifts — more space for native trees, more land for good food, more nature under care — it also carries a message: We can do this. We can grow our own food. We can drink clean water. We can give our children the gift of wild nature.

“With this new land — even worked by hand and heart, from dawn to dark — we cannot feed the whole country; nor can we dismantle the pesticides-in-food industry overnight. It may be that the greater purpose of this farm is to inspire and support others in reclaiming food, water and educational sovereignty in their local area,” read their page.

Through separate means, the three surfers raised additional money and in total raised €300,000 to buy the site. Their aim is to feed 150 families a week from the produce, year round. They currently feed 50 families a week, from June to December.

A house

In April 2017, two friends in Kerry set up a GoFundMe page with the aim of helping a man by the name of Ray Flavin. His wife had died of a heart attack that January, he was the father of five children, and the family had just been served with an eviction notice for their home in Ballybunion.

The public became aware of the family’s story through various media reports — a total of €84,100 was raised to cover the cost of the mortgage on the family home.

After the initial success of the fundraising page, Ray’s friends, Niall McMahon and Brian Fouhy, who started the project to help the family out in some way, decided to raise the target amount to the value of the mortgage.

“Ray and his family are blown away by the generosity that has been show over the last 48 hours and cannot thank the world enough. Whether we achieve this new goal is immaterial as the joy and comfort that has been given to Ray and his family by what has been raised thus far is priceless. He cannot thank people enough for what they have done for him and his family,” read the page.

Mr Flavin, a bus driver, spoke to the Irish Examiner at the time of the fundraising initiative, saying the outpouring of generosity “would make you proud to call yourself an Irishman.”

He described the financial support from strangers, which came in the form of more than 2,000 donations, as “mindblowing”.

“It’s a weight off your shoulders. I was having sleepless nights for sure. It’s hard to put into words what that’s like, you can’t sleep or focus on anything,” said Mr Flavin.

Panti

In the lead-up to the marriage equality referendum, Rory O’Neill aka Panti Bliss became a household name after he appeared on various media outlets and platforms talking about the realities of life as a gay man.

Three producers from independent production company Bl!nder Films began making a feature documentary about Rory, called The Queen of Ireland. In late 2014, they asked the public to help out financially.

By September 2014, €54,052 had been raised on crowdfunding site IndieGoGo, having exceeded their target of €50,000.

In order to encourage donations, donors would receive “perks”. Some of these included an art print, tickets to advanced screenings of the feature documentary, and merchandise such as T-shirts and badges. Some of the larger perks on offer for donors were associate and executive producer credits.

The production company said the reason they wanted to crowdfund and make the documentary was to cover and document this major shift in Irish society.

“We are dedicated to following Panti/Rory’s story as he comes to terms with huge fallout of such a major shift in not only his life but the fight for LGBT Equality in Ireland,” said producer Aoife Kelly.

“We have set our crowdfunding goal to €50,000. This will allow us to continue filming with Rory/Panti over the next few months, as well as allowing us to edit and research, get the rights to use archive and music, and everything else we need to take this film to the big screen,” she added.

The documentary went on to be made and was released in October 2015 to critical acclaim. It won best documentary at the IFTAs.

Orla Tinsley

Just before Christmas 2017, cystic fibrosis campaigner Orla Tinsley, 30, underwent a successful double lung transplant after many years of activism and awareness-raising.

While her medical insurance covered the cost of the transplant at Columbia New York Presbyterian Hospital, it did not stretch to the aftercare she would need.

Her friend, author Belinda McKeon, set up a GoFundMe page to help cover the costs of Orla’s recovery. In July 2017, the page was started with the aim of raising $50,000 (€42,950). Within just three days it had hit this target; donations finished at $97,475 (€83,666).

A total of 1,697 people donated money over the course of nearly a year and donations were sent to the page as late as just one month ago.

McKeon explained exactly what Orla had gone through in the preceding months and how she was now on an “active waiting list” for her double-lung transplant.

“Having gone into respiratory failure last year (2016), just before turning 30, Orla needs a double-lung transplant and is on the active waiting list at Columbia New York Presbyterian Hospital. She can’t fly back to Ireland; a flight like that would not be safe for her.”

Orla eventually went on to have her life-changing surgery just before Christmas 2017 and by December 26, she spoke publicly about her successful surgery.

“I now have shiny new lungs and spent yesterday with my family, thinking of my donor and their family. I am forever grateful for their forward thinking and generosity,” she said.

Jastine Valdez

In May of this year, 24-year-old Jastine Valdez was abducted from her local village in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, and murdered.

Born in the Philippines, she was the only child of her Filipino parents, who are now naturalised Irish citizens. While they had been living in Ireland for some time, Jastine had only moved here to study three years ago.

After her shocking murder, Outreach Ireland set up the Jastine Valdez Memorial Fund, which aimed to support her parents in any way possible. For example, Jastine’s body was repatriated to the Philippines to be buried.

The GoFundMe page received donations totalling €145,334 from 4,673 people. The original target was set at €100,000. In the first day alone, €80,000 was donated.

“This page was set up to facilitate all of those who wish to offer support and sympathy to the family of Jastine Valdez following her devastating death,” read the description on the GoFundMe page.

“The Valdez family have lost their only child, they are facing a situation that no person on this earth should have to face. They are parents saying goodbye to their child.”

All funds went directly to the parents of Jastine Valdez “to help them in the weeks and months ahead”.

A Dublin-based solicitor volunteered his services for free to oversee and audit the account and to verify that all funds are paid directly to the Valdez family.

Businesses and individuals made donations, with some giving as much as €500. Many of the donors left comments on the page explaining why they were donating to the memorial fund.

Ben Farrell

The crowdfunding initiative for five-year-old “Batman” Ben Farrell was the largest GoFundMe page in 2016, raising €193,783 before his death in August of that year.

Ben, 5, from Finglas in Dublin, had been diagnosed with a rare form of Wilms tumour at Christmas 2015 and had a stage IV tumour. He had undergone a kidney removal and 19 rounds of chemotherapy and radium.

His family started to research about medical trials in the US, but the estimated cost of treatment was €260,000.

In February 2016, Niamh Fitzpatrick-Mooney set up a GoFundMe page to cover the estimated cost of treatment. “Any amount donated is greatly appreciated and will help Ben’s family reach their goal,” she wrote at the time.

In total, 4,907 people donated to help cover’s Ben’s medical treatment.

Sadly, Ben passed away in August 2016, just as he was about to start his cancer treatment in the US.

At his funeral Mass, Fr Bryan Shorthall described the little boy as being a superhero.

While Ben never got to see the effect of his treatment, the fundraising in his name encouraged people like the Dublin GAA team to Aslan singer Christy Dignam and Hollywood actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers to lend their support.

Atlantic Water

Not all fundraising initiatives prove successful — this particular one dried up quickly. Atlantic Rain, based in Cork, sought to raise €30,000 on KickStarter.

However, by the end of June it had only managed to raise €777 of its €30,000 goal.

Its creator was Paul O’Flynn and the idea behind the campaign was to start a pilot plant.

“Atlantic Rain is now at the point where we want to establish a small pilot plant, so we can produce some sample bottled rainwater,” read the page’s description.

The “luxury bottled water” was to be collected from rainwater that never touched the Earth’s surface.

However, attracting just eight backers, the project never got off the ground. A disclaimer on the project’s KickStarter page said it would only be funded if it reached its target by June 29, which it did not.

The plan was to “take advantage” of Ireland’s abundant rainfall.

“Atlantic Rain was established to take advantage of a natural, sustainable and abundant resource in Ireland, rain. We also want to take advantage of the current gap in the European market of no companies producing potable bottled rainwater. Currently there are only seven companies globally producing bottled rainwater.

“Atlantic Rain believes there is an opportunity to exploit Ireland’s geographical position, where Atlantic weather fronts can bring in as much as 60 inches of rain per annum to the west or Ireland,” it said.

In the description for the project, it was claimed that Atlantic Rain had been analysing rainwater for over a year, with a grant from Enterprise Ireland and that it was working with University College Cork.

Whiskey

In 2014, Nephin Irish Whiskey set about raising funds to create a craft distillery. It managed to crowdfund $21,095 (€18,000) of its $150,000 (€128,915) target.

With a total of 61 backers and hosting the initiative on IndieGoGo, Nephin even had one donor hand over $8,000 (€6,800).

Its sell was that “99% of Irish whiskey is made by multinational corporations — we aim to lead the reversal of that trend producing a truly Irish crafted whiskey.”

Nephin Whiskey Company is run and owned by a small group of “whiskey enthusiasts”, producing the first legally distilled whiskey in Mayo. It was set up by Paul Davis, a DCU business lecturer. The business, which currently has a shop you can visit, is located in the small village of Lahardaun.

When asking for donations, Nephin did so by describing the traditions that it would use to create the whiskey.

“Our aim is to produce the best Irish whiskey by using locally obtained ingredients, reviving the old traditions of using local peat to malt the barley and apprenticing future coopers in an on-site cooperage.

“The goal of our campaign is to fund three copper pot stills which will be used to triple distil this unique whiskey. We also hope to find a name for each still so that this campaign becomes an integral part of our founding story,” read their fundraising page.

On Nephin’s website, you can reserve the first bottles of their whiskey when they are ready.

Fans can also buy two-litre casks costing €6,500. According to the website the casks are filled sequentially on a first-ordered, first-filled basis.

“We will store your cask at the distillery for three years from date of filling. You can visit your cask anytime and write your name on it. After three years you can choose to sell it, bottle the whiskey under your own brand name or keep it to age further for a reserve whiskey,” reads the website.

Clodagh Cogley

Clodagh Cogley was a survivor of the Berkeley balcony collapse in California, in June 2015, which claimed the lives of five Irish students and one Irish-American student.

Clodagh sustained life-altering injuries, including a broken spinal cord, which left her wheelchair bound.

At the end of June 2015, before legal proceedings had begun in the US, a GoFundMe page was set up by friend Anne Scrivener for Clodagh. It raised €120,000 for the student.

It was explained that her family home “will need to be adapted significantly to meet Clodagh’s needs and accommodate a wheelchair and there’ll be numerous other expenses”.

In the first week of the page’s existence, almost €50,000 was raised in Clodagh’s name, who was undergoing intensive surgery and rehabilitation at the time. While the page raised €120,000 for the student, it had a target of €100,000.

Just one week after her life-changing fall, the now 24-year-old inspired the hearts of the nation with her words of positivity and humour, encouraging people to “enjoy a good dance.”

“The fall from the balcony left me with two collapsed lungs, a broken shoulder, a broken knee, five broken ribs, and a broken spinal cord... Meaning the chances of me using my legs again are pretty bleak.

“Not the best odds but I’m moving to a great rehabilitation centre here in San Francisco for two months (it has dog therapy) and intend to give it everything I’ve got.

“Who knows maybe legs have been holding me back all these years and I’ll realise my talent for wheelchair basketball.

“The thing I’m taking from this tragedy is that life is short and I intend to honour those who died by living the happiest and most fulfilling life possible. Enjoy a good dance and the feeling of grass beneath your feet like it’s the last time because in this crazy world you never know when it might be,” wrote Clodagh.

Clodagh was one of seven survivors of the balcony collapse.


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