As cancer costs continue to rise, we are hearing more stories about cancer patients being forced to choose between paying for the lifesaving medications and putting food on the table. The changing health insurance market has left most individuals with higher out of pocket costs for health care. Resources may exist to provide copay assistance or one time grants to help pay bills, but they are very much limited and often times just a band-aid until the next month’s bills roll in.
This is where individual fundraising may play a role in helping you pay your bills. Perhaps neighbors hold a sidewalk sale and donate the proceeds, or your family organizes a “beef and beer” or silent auction event to help raise money. These grassroots, local fundraising options are endless, but often limited in the amount of funds that can be raised.
With the introduction and meteoric rise of social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter, you may also have heard the term “crowd sourcing.” Merriam Webster defines crowd sourcing as “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/crowdsourcing). This word is a combination of two other words, crowds and outsourcing, and is thought to have first been used in 2006. As a result, many companies and online platforms for crowd sourcing have formed, offering the consumer many options to coordinate and manage their fundraising efforts. Unlike charitable contributions to cancer service organizations, funds raised through crowd sourcing go directly to YOU. Crowd sourcing relies on the interplay of social networking platforms (example Facebook) to spread the word to others about your need, who will then “share” your story with others. It is like the shampoo commercial from the 70’s “and they told two friends, and they told two friends and so on, and so on.” The power of the story and the sharing of that story makes crowd sourcing work.
Let me share a story of crowd sourcing. I’m very involved in beagle rescue and a member of a robust and active Facebook group of beagle lovers from all over the world. A fellow group member was fostering a lovely older beagle lady, “Lady,” who had spent the first six years of her life in a puppy mill, giving birth to litter after litter of puppies in a crowded, uncared for space. She was rescued by a beagle rescue group and placed in a foster home to learn how to live as a house dog, and of course to be spoiled. Our group fell in love with Lady and her story. We were all hopeful she would find her forever home and live out her days in a lap of beagle luxury.
Then, Lady suffered a stroke. The veterinarians recommended Lady be put to sleep as her rehab potential was limited. Her foster “dad,” convinced Lady deserved a chance, appealed to our online community to help raise funds for a diagnostic MRI and physical therapy. In three days, our collective community had donated over $5000 to Lady’s cause. She was successfully rehabilitated, and about 9 months after her stroke, found her forever home. Those of us who donated to this cause, felt as though we played a role in Lady reaching this milestone.
$5000…in three days…for a BEAGLE. Think of the possibilities!
However, I want to encourage you to proceed with caution before diving in to the world of crowd sourcing. As Lady’s examples illustrates, crowd sourcing is based on sharing your story with a larger, online community.
Your crowdsourcing request should include:
- Who will the crowd sourced fundraising support?
- Where is treatment taking place and who is your doctor (be sure to inform your treatment team BEFORE you include them in your story).
- What will the money support and when is it need by?
- Be specific and detailed as you can be about your needs.
- Define how any extra money will be used if your crowd sourcing goal is met.
- Will you donate it to another organization?
- Be honest about where your money is going/how it is being used.
- Always THANK your donors; keep them updated on your progress (which means updating your story and keeping it relevant); this is especially important if you need to ask for help again.
Some of the advantages of crowd sourcing include:
- It helps gets the bills paid.
- Reaches large number of potential donors quickly.
- The potential for your story to go viral.
- Fosters a sense of community and solidarity in getting behind a cause.
- Ease of use of websites for managing donations.
But there are also disadvantages:
- The potential for your story to go viral (and everyone knowing your business).
- Fees involved with websites/crowd sourcing platforms.
- Potential tax liabilities for donor and recipient. This is considered income by the IRS- which can have major implications for disability or other assistance.
- Donations given through crowdsourcing are not tax deductible unless they are given to a non-profit organization.
You’ll notice that “the potential for your story to go viral” is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Before going the route of crowd sourcing, you must remember your story, what makes your experience unique, is what makes it attractive to donors. This may mean disclosing private information about your diagnosis, your treatment, your family, your finances and how you have lived your life. Basically, WHY, would a total stranger want to give you money? The better the story, the better the chance for funding. But, that story—and your life and privacy—essentially become public property. You must be prepared to answer questions, defend your choices and protect your best interests. As soon as you press “enter” and the post is on the internet based platform, it is OUT THERE. Are you prepared for the consequences?
Clearly, crowd sourcing has pros and cons. Weigh these carefully before deciding this is the route for you. If you do chose to crowd source, I would strongly suggest talking to an attorney regarding potential tax liabilities for both the recipient and the donors. You don’t want to raise all these funds, only to be faced with a huge tax bill the following year.
Some web platform resources for crowd sourcing include:
- Gofundme http://www.gofundme.com/medical-illness-healing/
- Indiegogo https://www.indiegogo.com/
- Youcaring http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraising
- Rally https://rally.org/
- Give Forward http://www.giveforward.com/
- Healthline http://www.healthline.com/health/online-medical-fundraising
- Causewish http://causewish.com/
Each of these websites offers different payment structures-typically they take a percentage of the money raised to pay for maintaining your crowd sourcing page. Shop around to find the best potential partner for your crowd sourcing request.
Crowd sourcing has the potential to help those facing sky rocketing medical bills in ways we have not seen in the past. It is important for the consumer to be smart in deciding what information s/he is comfortable sharing and putting out on the internet, as well as know that the companies that support fundraising through crowd sourcing are also going to take some of the funds that are raised. Do your homework and ask others who have used crowd sourcing about their experiences, both positive and negative. Be educated in your decision to utilize crowd sourcing. One thing I have taken away from crowd sourcing is the power of many to come together and make a big problem seem small. Sometimes you just have to be willing to ask and share.