Filed Under:

Everyone Chip In, Please: Crowdfunding Sandy

Play associated audio

Big-hearted Americans always rush to give money after a disaster. Just how much and how fast is often determined by technology. After the earthquake in Haiti, texting small donations, for example, became a new standard practice.

This time around, Hurricane Sandy has shown crowdfunding websites are a simple tool for quick-response giving. Anyone can go on these sites and ask for money to rebuild or to help their neighbors rebuild. Friends, family and strangers chip in.

"You can literally sign up, share your campaign on Facebook, Twitter, email, and begin accepting credit or debit card donations online in under a minute," says Brad Damphousse, the founder of the crowdfunding website GoFundMe.

That's what 32-year-old writer Jenny Adams did. It was simple: she added a gripping picture of a flooded street to her page, and asked for money that she could give out to her neighbors affected by Sandy in the Alphabet City neighborhood of Manhattan.

"There were certainly people who gave me a fair amount of money that I have never met and don't know," Adams says.

People usually use sites like GoFundMe to tactfully ask loved ones for help with medical bills or expensive life events, like buying an engagement ring. Spending disaster donations, however, is trickier than cutting one big check. Adams has no formal training in relief work, so it quickly became a thoughtful scramble to spend the money.

"People are like 'What? You're just going to give me $500?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm just going to give you $500,' " she says.

Adams bought bundles of jackets, blankets and food at Kmart and Target, and offered them to neighbors in need.

She also handed out a lot of money. She gave $500 to a friend who owns a damaged bar. A $200 gift card went to the checkout lady at Kmart for her sister in N.J. And Adams recently offered a $1,000 check to the damaged Lower East Side Girls Club.

Adams relies on her judgment — she gives whatever seems like a good use of money. Ken Berger, on the other hand, prefers a more methodical and measured approach. He's the CEO of Charity Navigator, a giving watchdog group that recommends donating to known charities. He's a bit hard on crowdfunding.

"It's virtually impossible to measure these little efforts because they have no data, track record, filings of any kind," Berger says, "and so the ability to objectively assess them is near impossible."

He says you should donate only to people you know and trust. Jennifer Elwood, executive director of consumer marketing at the American Red Cross, agrees with that line of thought and says everyone should help, even if that means not giving to formal charities like the Red Cross.

"It's really up to everyone who wants to help in their own individual way," she says. "Whether that's through us, or through another organization, or an individual in their community, we're absolutely supportive of that."

The Red Cross is embracing crowdfunding with Sandy campaigns of its own on two different websites, IndieGoGo and CrowdRise. Each site is pulling in more than $1 million, which is a pittance compared to the $170 million in total donations to the charity. The organization says it will have more than half of it left for long-term Sandy rebuilding.

Elwood says the Red Cross has the resources to stick around and continue donating. Solo fundraisers like Jenny Adams, however, tend to run on shorter fuel.

"I think if we had a hurricane again tomorrow, though, I might take a break," Adams says with a laugh.

Copyright 2012 WNYC Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wnyc.org/.

NPR

A Biography Of Your Cubicle: How This Became The Modern Workplace

The office has long been seen as a symbol of boredom: It's a killer of spirits, a destroyer of spontaneity. But reviewer Rosecrans Baldwin says a new book brings out its entertaining side.
NPR

California Farmers Finagle A Fig For All Seasons

Two growers are competing to harvest fresh figs earlier and earlier in hopes of transforming the industry for year-round production. But some fig lovers say they can hold out for summer fruit.
WAMU 88.5

On National Mall, Native Americans Protest Keystone XL Pipeline

Native Americans from across the country are visiting Washington this week to protest the construction of a controversial pipeline in the Midwest.
NPR

Life Outside The Fast Lane: Startups Wary Of Web Traffic Plan

The Federal Communications Commission's proposal would let Web companies pay for faster access. But entrepreneurs, like Reddit's co-founder, are wondering how they would have fared with such rules.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.