(The purpose of the following article is to reduce the amount of questionable Go Fund Me listings that are sent around each day, so that the ones that are genuine are actually effective. Please don't think we want everyone to become hard hearted and stop giving. Geraldton is famous for its generosity, and it's something we can all be proud of.)
If you spend any time on social media, you've probably noticed the huge spike in Go Fund Me listings over the last few months. They've become a popular way for people to reach out to their fellow citizens and ask for money. Everything Geraldton gets sent about one Go Fund Me link each day.
Did you know Geraldton has a local charity that helps a lot of people?
Before I rant on about Go Fund Me listings, I want to share some info about a fantastic charity Geraldton has that I'm surprised so many people still haven't heard about.
They're called "Midwest Charity Begins at Home".
The term "charity begins at home" is an old proverb, essentially meaning "help those close to you first."
Sometimes we get so overwhelmed with world events we forget to help those in very real need right on our own doorstep.
Midwest Charity Begins at Home is run by a bunch of locals who see the needs in our community, and want to do something about it.
I spoke with Chris Dobson about the work they do.
Who can Mid West Charity Begins at Home assist?
The person must be a Mid West resident, and in financial need due to serious illness.
Do you give money or physical items?
We can only give cash.
How does someone ask for help?
On our website we have an application form. We do need a doctor's certificate. We (the MWCBAH folk) meet up and discuss the application. We usually have funds within a few days.
Wow that's fast!
Because we’re small and local, we can act on it pretty quick.
Sometimes Go Fund Me really is the best way to organise community support around a particular issue. It certainly has its place and is very convenient.
But many of the listings we are sent make us question several things.
Here's a list of some of the problems we are seeing.
(NOTE: We're not telling people to not share their Go Fund Me listings with us. If the need is verifiable and the listing ticks all the boxes, we'd love to help out by sharing it.)
1. There's so many of them now that people have become numb to them. People simply can't donate to every one they see, so they just keep scrolling.
With each Go Fund Me listing people donate to, they are less likely to donate to the next one. Locals have expressed to EG that they feel like they're overwhelmed with people asking for money every day.
2. Some of the listings are spreading confidential or personal information.
A Geraldton resident named Jake Drage was in an Indonesian prison in 2014.
A Go Fund Me listing was created by a well meaning friend of his raising money to bring him home. But this Go Fund Me listing was how the media learned of the situation and, according to people assisting Jake, hamstrung efforts to get Jake released from jail.
I often see Go Fund Me listings set up by acquaintances of who the money is ostensibly for, sharing information that I doubt the people involved would want published for the world to see.
The media love the listings though, as they have become a great source of inside information on tragedies.
Before you publish anything, ask yourself if you're ok for this info to go viral, and for every person in town to know it.
3. There is no accountability as to where the money goes.
We see many listings that claim to be raising the money for a third party. Donors have no way of verifying if the funds ever make it to the intended source, and in many cases even if a genuine need exists. Legitimate local charities like Midwest Disaster Relief or Midwest Charity Begins at Home do verify if actual need exists first before handing out money or goods, and they themselves must be accountable with funds that they receive.
4. It's hard to tell who is ACTUALLY in need
I've seen Go Fund Me listings for people I know to be quite wealthy. They've been set up by friends of the families following an accident or other event. The people who the money is for owned their home, a successful business, multiple cars... they're basically wealthier than most of the people that are donating to their cause.
The friends who set up the Go Fund Me listings probably don't know their net worth, they're doing it as a kind gesture, the first way they can think of to help out.
EG was sent one the other day where the family in question didn't seem to be in dire straits financially at all, and specifically told me that they wanted to go on a holiday with the money raised. I kid you not. The Go Fund Me listing didn't mention that, of course.
I've seen other people in desperate need who have a Go Fund Me listing, and they can barely raise enough money for a tank of fuel.
When we see so many Go Fund Me listings each week, some with serious need, others with questionable need, we grow numb to all of them. So that means people who are in GENUINE need are getting less donations because of all the listings that get created and shared.
5. There are formal ways of getting assistance that already exist.
Yes, many people fall through the cracks and we all need to reach into our own pockets to help others out. No one is saying Australia's social welfare is perfect.
But, many of the Go Fund Me listings are written as if Centrelink and Medicare didn't exist. Australia has, despite its shortcomings, one of the most generous health care and welfare systems in the world.
Moreover, there are charities that exist specifically to help people in crisis, and not only are they accountable for the money they handle, but donations to those charities are tax deductible.
Midwest Charity Begins at Home is one local charity that does a fantastic job of getting assistance to people in need in our community suffering financial difficulty due to illness. More about them above.
Mid West Disaster Relief give out countless amounts of second hand furniture and other items to people needing assistance. They're a fantastic asset to our community.
There are plenty of others too... The Salvos and Sun City Care spring to mind.
Now in saying all that, Everything Geraldton will not institute a policy of never sharing a Go Fund Me listing. We're simply asking that people creating these listings consider the points mentioned.
1. Has the person who the money is for actually asked for a go fund me listing to be created?
2. Are you sharing sensitive information? Are you happy with whatever you publish to be known by every person in Geraldton?
3. Have you already exhausted all the official ways of getting financial assistance that exist?
4. Have you spoken with Midwest Charity Begins at Home, or other relevant charities?
Keep in mind that the more Go Fund Me listings we see each day, the less effective they are.
So save them for genuine needs and use existing channels to raise money whenever possible.