Have we finally gone too far on crowdfunding?

Earlier this month I was reading an article from Ester Bloom at The Atlantic dealing with the burgeoning trend of crowdfunding which raises some perplexing questions. She starts out by noting that there’s been something of a cultural shift in America on the subject of money. There was a time when asking for money was a rather uncomfortable subject and people generally only fell back on that approach as a last resort.

It was not that long ago that people were squeamish about asking each other for money. Bringing up the subject of personal finances at all used to be considered tawdry and low-class, since the wealth of the rich was visibly obvious…

[R]ecently people have started taking a more direct route to getting what they want and need. Websites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe have been instrumental in normalizing the way Americans both talk about money and ask other people for it. Nowadays, for instance, Patreon, Sellaband, and Pledgemusic all enable fans to support their favorite musicians, and allow artists to communicate their needs to their fans. And there are a number of websites that allow people to start online campaigns to cover their own medical bills.

There’s plenty to digest in the full article, but as I said, it’s a thought provoking subject. Personally, I look at these crowdfunding ventures as falling into two distinct categories: those where groups of people are asking for donations to help somebody else and the ones where they are asking for themselves. In the former case, it’s hard to complain about the concept. Generally something terrible has happened or a great need exists and a group of family, friends or community members will reach out to the world with an endorsement for the recipient and see if anyone else is willing to help. Nobody is forced to participate, but if charitable souls want to chip in and do some good there’s no harm, no foul.

When people make direct appeals for themselves or their companies, things get a little more dicey. If you need a lot of help with your medical bills, for example, perhaps people will want to help you out. But what about the cases of folks who are getting married and can’t afford that dream honeymoon in Europe? (That’s an actual example in the article and it’s more common than you might think.) Why do strangers – many of whom no doubt have their own bills to worry about – need to kick in for a honeymoon that you didn’t save up for an is beyond your means? I guess I’m asking if that isn’t a bit shallow and crude. It certainly sounds that way in my ear.

Then there are the “investment opportunities.” Apparently there are some new products which were developed in that fashion and if you want to help get something like that out into the world with little or no benefit to yourself, congratulations on being an altruist. But far too many of them range from the definitely sketchy to the downright stupid. Did you know that somebody once raised more than $13K to build a giant, inflatable Lionel Richie head? Somebody else brought a pirate pancake griddle to market with the help of $18K from the public. And then there was the group of New Yorkers who wanted to swim in the river without actually going in the river and raised money to put a floating swimming pool in the East River. You’ll stop laughing when you find out that the project was funded and is moving forward. But even that pales in comparison to the the Dr. Who fans who raised nearly $100K to launch a phone booth into space.

All jokes aside here, I’m not suggesting that the web shouldn’t be used as an avenue for fundraising. Some good things have happened, plenty of people have been helped and some good ideas have moved forward. But aren’t there a lot of people who are just being too greedy or too lazy? We all have to deal with our own issues and few of us have that kind of pull. Do you really deserve a honeymoon in Hawaii that you can’t afford for yourself? It’s not even a question of whether you need it… do you deserve it? Shouldn’t the available charity and investment dollars be going to those who are truly in dire need or to innovative technology which might really benefit everyone?

In closing, I just realized that Christmas week was a perfect opportunity to come out and publicly rail against charity. I’m nothing if not perfect in my timing. #sigh