From Funding Potato Salads To Murderers: When Crowdfunding Goes Too Far

April 20, 2015  |  

Just like “there’s an app for that,” there’s a crowdfunding campaign for just about anything our active imaginations can conjure up. Projects promoted on websites like GoFundMe, Kickstarter and Indiegogo have made headlines time and again: An Ohio man raised $55,000 to make his first potato salad; a New Jersey woman was able to fully fund a trip to Vegas for the upcoming Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight and weekend festivities; and campaigns were launched to financially aid Michael Slager, the now fired South Carolina cop filmed gunning down Walter Scott, an unarmed father of four. Thankfully the latter campaign, put together out of a blatant and obvious disregard for Black life, has since been retracted from several sites due to violation of terms and conditions.

Crowdfunding has clearly proven to be a way to raise copious amounts of money for various causes. But not all causes are created equal. What people choose to do with their money is entirely up to them, but when everyone is asking for cash, and you’re generous enough to part with yours, wherein lies the barometer?

For me, as a film and television writer, my personal taste naturally leans toward entertainment-type projects. I recently backed a Kickstarter campaign by filmmaker Damani Baker, who successfully raised money to complete his documentary film, The House On Coco Road. The film is set amidst the backdrop of the Grenada revolution and will focus on the achievements of the strong, courageous women in his family. Veteran and celebrated filmmaker Julie Dash is trying to fund her latest effort, Travel Notes of A Geechee Girl, an equally worthy and reputable project. Even Spike Lee raised more than $1 million to make his latest joint, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. I feel we need to see more of our stories and likeness on screen, and I take pleasure in helping to fund projects that might otherwise never get made.

I also look for projects that benefit needy individuals or society at large; projects that build communities, educate and challenge age-old tropes, and aid worthy organizations and charities. Calls to action. The word “needy,” however, is in the eye of the beholder and can be loosely defined. If you’re thirsty for 15 minutes of fame, you’re hardly needy in my book. And not to stomp on anyone’s hustle, but if you’re asking me to part with my hard-earned cash to help you go on some getaway with your friends? Nah, son. I ain’t the one. Something about seemingly capable and able-bodied individuals asking for wide scale, personal collection plate dough vexes me.

That brings me to the hoaxes in the crowdfunding midst. You can spot these a mile away. Sometimes the wording is rife with punctuation, spelling and grammatical errors, and other times the “about this project” section reads as bogus or unfairly one-sided. And sometimes the project at hand sounds too good to be true or completely unbelievable. Perhaps there’s very little information to go off of and infrequent campaign updates. Or maybe there’s no clarity as to how your money will be put to use. In this age of financial accountability, even if it’s only five bucks, people will hold you responsible for misspending their cheddar. No one wants to be taken advantage of, so you should use the same due diligence with crowdfunding as you would the money you fork over in your daily life.

There’s no certain amount of explanation or a magical checklist that will help you determine who you should share your money with. Sometimes the decision between a yes and a no is as simple as the spirit moving you. Look at potato salad man. His crowdfunding campaign started out as a joke. But $55,000 later, the money he raised was far from funny. In the end, he set out to do what he said he would and used the money to throw a potato party. How cute, or…well, it was definitely something.

Again, what you do with your money is entirely up to you, but what do you think? Has crowdfunding gone too far? Where do you draw the line? What campaigns are you willing, and not so willing, to give your money to when it comes to crowdfunding?

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