We talk about the conundrum of wedding registries a lot…how strange it is to ask for people to give you things, and yet there’s this expectation that if people are going to give you gifts anyway, they might as well give you something you want. And then there’s the whole asking for cash thing, and honeymoon registries and it’s complicated enough that people are CONSTANTLY writing about it on wedding and etiquette sites. But I think that the growth of asking for gifts through wedding registries has led people to believe that it’s always okay to ask for things. And I don’t know if it is? The whole crowdfunding thing is so recent that there isn’t really any etiquette surrounding it. I think that what rubs me the wrong way the most is that so often, people are setting up crowdfunding for themselves. I’m absolutely not talking about the Kickstarter/Patreon things because in my mind, if you are creating a product that people are paying for, that’s not really fundraising in the same sense as just asking for straight up cash.
Historically, when there was a disaster, like a house burned down and the family needed help, someone in the community would organize the help for them- through a church or a school or a civic organization. People would give money or food or clothes or whatever they could and everyone rallied and it was great. But now, you see people asking for help to pay their medical bills or help pay their tuition. Which…is still something a lot of people want to help with and that’s great! But to a certain extent, only a few people are going to be able to do that with any kind of success. You either have to be the first one to do it or have a really good story because most people have some kind of medical bill or school debt or something and aren’t going to be able to spread their money around to everyone who needs help. And then there’s the fact that you asked for it for yourself, which still seems like “greed” to many people (not that I’m saying it is, that’s just a perception that many may have.) I realize that many people don’t have churches and social clubs anymore, but surely everyone has a circle of friends, co-workers, kickball team members, bookclubbers, or SOMEONE who can take the lead? And maybe this is a good time to point out that if someone close to you IS going through a particular rough patch, maybe reach out to them and to others and see if you can pull together some help.
Another thing I see crowdfunding for is “voluntourism.” Voluntourism is when you go on a vacation and spend part of the time “volunteering.” Now to begin with, voluntourism is a really murky area with a lot being written about whether it does any good at all (unlikely). But if that’s how you want to spend your vacation, take some bug spray and have a great time. The problem comes when you send out a crowdfunding message to all your friends and family telling them that you need $2000 for airfare and room and board so that you can be a volunteer. If you are not making a major, serious impact then you are taking a vacation and generally speaking, people should pay for their own vacations. You would be much better off if you asked for that money to be sent directly to the people who need it or at least only ask for money to buy supplies to bring (something like mosquito nets comes to mind).
And then you get the truly superficial. There’s the girl who raised $1500 to throw her own birthday party or people who fund their totally elective, cosmetic plastic surgery, bachelorette parties, vacations, there are hundreds. But for every one of those awful ones, there is someone raising money for someone to take a once in a lifetime trip after like, I don’t know, adopting 50 orphans or to raise money for a gift for a respected member of the community, which seem okay?
So if I was going to write some etiquette rules about crowdfunding they would be:
- If you are actually creating something that people want, you are totally in the clear. Podcasts, blogs, art, music, movies, all that. Just keep the number of requests for support down to a minimum and deliver on your promises.
- Always keep your requests to a minimum. Post it publicly a couple of times and then again right before it ends.
- Don’t harass people to donate. ie don’t send out individual emails more than once. If people are ignoring you it’s because they aren’t interested and if you persist you will only annoy them.
- If you are raising money for a cause, make sure it is helping the cause more than it is helping you.
- Ask yourself if people will really want to give money to you. Are you the kind of person who is always ready to help everyone else out and is well regarded in your community? Likewise if you are crowdfunding on someone else’s behalf- have a talk with a bunch of people and ask them if they would be interested in donating before setting it up.
- Consider your audience- if everyone you know has a pile of student debt, don’t ask them to help raise money to alleviate YOUR student debt or send you on vacation, etc.
- Always graciously accept declines and be thankful to the people who do donate. Consider sending individual thank you notes or messages if you know who the contributors are.
- If your request somehow goes viral and you receive way more money than you ever imagined, consider giving a big chunk of it to charity.
- If you are the one who needs money, strongly, strongly consider asking a VERY close friend if they might set up the site on your behalf. It looks so so so much better.
- Ultimately though, you can probably try to crowdfund anything and hey, you might get lucky and get some money. The worst that can happen is that all your friends and family hate you!