June 25, 2019
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GoFundMe launches official campaign for workers impacted by government shutdown

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GoFundMe is partnering with Deepak Chopra to launch a different kind of campaigns. The company is going beyond its usual role as a platform and hosting its own campaign to provide relief for government workers impacted by the current government shutdown.

The company is partnering with several nonprofit organizations that are providing support to government workers. For now, GoFundMe is supporting #ChefsForFeds, an initiative that serves free meals in Washington D.C., as well as the National Diaper Bank Network to help parents impacted by the shutdown. Other nonprofit organizations can reach out to partner with this campaign.

“I hope the shutdown ends soon. In the meantime, please join me and help our fellow Americans by providing some short term relief,” GoFoundMe CEO Rob Solomon said in the announcement. “ This is not about politics. This is lending a helping hand to someone in need.”

As of this writing, 1,170 people have donated over $94,000. It represents an average of $80 per donation.

A couple of weeks ago, GoFundMe issued refunds for another campaign — a Trump-inspired campaign that wanted to raise money to build a wall on the southern U.S. border. It was operated by an individual and ended up with over $20 million.

GoFundMe refunded backers as the campaign administrator wanted to change the terms of the campaign so that backers wouldn’t be able to get refunds.

Once again, GoFundMe’s role is unclear. Many individuals use the platform to pay for medical bills and compensate the flaws of the healthcare system in the U.S. This time, a GoFundMe campaign is taking over during a government shutdown. In other words, a private company is managing the budget of government workers, or at least their most essential needs.

GoFundMe can’t evenly cover the needs of all government workers across all states. Some will see a direct impact from that GoFundMe campaign while others won’t see any of that money. That’s the role of the government.

That GoFundMe to build a border wall is issuing $20 million in refunds

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A Trump-inspired GoFundMe campaign that raised $20 million to ostensibly to build a wall on the southern U.S. border will refund every cent. Run by Brian Kolfage, a veteran with a track record of questionable business practices, the project defied all logistical considerations with its proposal for a “simple and straightforward” plan to build the wall. That didn’t stop the fund from attracting the attention of 337,559 donors at the time of writing.

Surprising perhaps no one beyond its donors, the campaign collided with reality, with Kolfage coming to the realization that “the federal government won’t be able to accept our donations anytime soon” given that there is no actual mechanism through which it could do so. On the campaign page, Kolfage newly disclosed his plans to form a nonprofit, “We Build The Wall, Inc.” that would hold onto the donations until the federal government is able to accept them or until all of the donors eventually forget the project altogether.

Initially, donors were told that their money would be refunded if the goal for the project was not met. On December 22, the project’s language changed, removing any mention of refunds if the goal was not met. With that, the project appears to have run afoul of GoFundMe’s policies.

Kolfage claims that he has formed an advisory board that features war privatization enthusiast and brother of the Secretary of Education Erik Prince and the also ethically questionable former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach who lost his race this past November.

While Kolfage might be in good company, it sounds like GoFundMe will be automatically handing back every bit of the $20 million he raised before getting called out changing the terms of the campaign. Donors who still want their money to go to Kolfage will need to opt in specifically.

“If a donor does not want a refund, and they want their donation to go to the new organization, they must proactively elect to redirect their donation to that organization,” GoFundMe told The Hill. “If they do not take that step, they will automatically receive a full refund.”

GoFundMe launches native content arm to make videos for campaigns

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GoFundMe has racked up over $4 billion in donations as the world’s biggest platform for people setting up donation campaigns, in part by leveraging the power of social media to get people to share stories around those campaigns, with the biggest of these often going viral. Now, to tap deeper into the estimated $500 million in charitable donations that are made globally each year, the company is adding a new feature into the mix as it looks to tap into the popularity of video, currently the hottest medium on social networks.

Today, GoFundMe is debuting a new operation called GoFundMe Studios, which will make films both as short movies and clips, based on select campaigns on the platform.

The studio will be led by two people: Wil Tidman, who had been the VP of creative, strategy and original productions for GoPro — the camera maker that once had high hopes of its own move into content before shutting down its entertainment unit in 2016 amid many other cuts (but didn’t exit content altogether: Tidman was actually in his role there until May 2017); and Chris Neil, who has a long list of production credits in Hollywood films to his name.

The studio is releasing its first film today, a nine-minute short called “Jim Ford, Repo Man” (embedded below), and there are several other films already in production. They sound pretty compelling, I have to admit, above and beyond the donation aspect, which speaks a lot to the emotive nature of GoFundMe (and, perhaps, what makes the content world go round these days).

Others in production include a film about a reformed Klansman; a film about bulls that escape from a slaughterhouse.

“In my career, I have yet to come across so many truly incredible stories as the ones we’ve found on GoFundMe,” said Tidman in a statement. “GoFundMe Studios will showcase the extraordinary stories of humans changing the world through the simple act of giving. Through a documentary storytelling lens, we aim to inspire our community and the world to turn compassion into action.”

“Now is the time for these stories,” added Neil. “With so much tragic news these days, people are hungry for artfully told, real-life stories that remind us of the transformative power of kindness and compassion.”

The idea behind the new division, according to Raquel Rozas, CMO of GoFundMe, is (fittingly) one of marketing: it will be used both to spread the word about interesting campaigns, to get more people to contribute; and by association, spreading the word about GoFundMe as a place to start fundraising for a cause.

“Wil and his team will be working with different formats, from one to two-minute short moments to more in-depth docu-series in order to bring these stories to life,” she said in an emailed interview. She said GoFundMe is  aiming to release at least one film a month and a shorter “moment” every week.

“We will share these with a wide audience over our social channels, and we  are also talking with networks and digital platforms who are interested in helping our community by amplifying these stories,” she added.

It is not — at this point — a mission to replace all the video on GoFundMe with video natively created by or on GoFundMe’s platforms.

The in-house studio is an interesting twist on the concept of native content — which today has largely become a term that is equated with advertising. As with the rest of GoFundMe, while this is a kind of advertising of its own as well, it’s in aid of the cause itself.

For now, GoFundMe is hand-selecting the causes that it will choose to profile in video form — one example of which you can see below.

It’s early days but you can see how this might develop over time. Video, potentially, could be an interesting and extra line of revenue for the company, if they decided to make this into a service.

Today, those making campaigns can create and upload their own videos, and many do, often using other platforms like YouTube, so there is clearly an appetite for using video to build stories, and this is GoFundMe’s way of tapping into that and potentially getting involved in that part of the process.

Rozas declined to comment on any plans, if they exist, to open up the service to any and all campaign creators as a paid or free service, nor would she say anything about whether GoFundMe planned to and add in any other features to those videos, such as the ability to, say, donate directly during the videos themselves — both features that would make sense in GoFundMe videos.

“Right now we are focused on launching GoFundMe studios and sharing these powerful stories,” she said, “but we are always looking for ways to help amplify more stories, and bring more features and tools to our community to make helping even easier.”

To date, GoFundMe has not disclosed the total amount it has raised in venture funding, nor its valuation. The company counts Accel, Iconiq, TCV, Stripes and more among its investors. The company typically charges 7.9 percent + $.30 processing fee for personal or charity campaigns and competes against the likes of Facebook (which natively hosts much of the video posted on its site), JustGiving and more.

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