By: Juan Benitez, GoFundMe President
The collapse of a 12-story Champlain Towers condo complex in Surfside, Florida, in June, was a tragedy that shook Americans, and as often happens in such situations, people sought to channel their grief into generosity. We saw this first hand as thousands came to GoFundMe to raise funds and donate money for survivors and others affected by the tragedy.
To no one’s surprise, there were opportunists and bad actors seeking to profit from the situation, both online and offline. Our Trust and Safety teams were ready for them. Immediately following the news of the Surfside condominium collapse, we mobilized a dedicated group of employees to use our tools and monitor the platform for fundraisers that were started to help individuals and families, and we quickly created a crisis hub of verified fundraisers. In the process, we identified and investigated 23 fundraisers whose activity was suspicious and removed them from our platform before they were able to raise any funds. To date, the verified campaigns have raised $2.4 million to support the Surfside families and affected communities.
Stories like Surfside highlight the behind the scenes work that happens everyday at GoFundMe to ensure we always protect our donors’ generosity. Since our founding in 2010, we have become a household name and trusted leader in online fundraising, raising more than $15 billion for our beneficiaries, from over 200 million donations around the world. We work tirelessly to give donors on our platform the peace of mind that their money is going to the intended beneficiary. As we inspire the generosity of friends and family members of those who need help, and even to kindle the kindness of strangers, trust is core to our mission.
More than a decade of experience and expertise have allowed us to combine safety and speed, so we can not only earn the trust of our global community but also quickly distribute funds to beneficiaries. With a quarter of our company’s global employees dedicated to bolstering that trust, our teams are focused on monitoring fundraisers, investigating fraud complaints, working directly with law enforcement when necessary, and ensuring we’re complying with global laws and regulations.
We’ve also partnered with innovative leaders in the payment industry, investing in leading technology to ensure donations are processed securely and without unnecessary friction, so beneficiaries can access their funds quickly. We’re continuously optimizing our use of machine learning which has allowed us to detect suspicious activity. And we rigorously train our human reviewers so they bring cultural awareness, empathy and the full context of the human experience, as they work to differentiate the suspicious from the merely rare.
We’ve built GoFundMe into a global community of individuals and organizations whose common purpose is to help each other. That is why we have a zero-tolerance policy for attempted misuse of our platform, and we empower our community to contact us if they see questionable activity on our platform.
When suspicious activity is flagged — whether through our tools, our community, or simply because a fundraiser starts gaining momentum — our dedicated teams, which include experts in forensic science, government relations, criminal justice, and financial crimes, will immediately investigate to verify its legitimacy. Depending on the issue, the investigations will take place on and off the platform, factoring in the purpose of the fundraiser, the identities of the campaign organizer and beneficiary, their social connections, geographic proximity and many other factors.
Reviewers can take a number of actions during this process, ranging from placing a hold on a fundraiser, pending further review, to outright removal — and in some cases even banning a user for their misuse of our platform.
Of course, we still encourage our community to do their own research, educating themselves about any fundraiser, its organizer — especially if it has been set up by someone they don’t know personally or by an organization that is unfamiliar — and beneficiaries.
In the very rare cases where donors feel they were misled — because the campaign misrepresented the reasons for which it was set up, because the funds didn’t reach their intended beneficiaries or because of some other reason — they may be eligible for a 100% refund of their donation, through the GoFundMe Guarantee, the first and only one of its kind in the fundraising industry.
Online crowdfunding, like any other industry, has a responsibility to ensure the safety of their community members. That is why GoFundMe and Indiegogo joined forces to co-found the Crowdfunding Trust Alliance, whose focus is to make online fundraising even safer. We are working diligently to listen, learn and drive any necessary changes within the industry that can bolster the safety of our campaign organizers and donors.
The goal is to work with leaders from across the industry who are experts on the nuances of trust and safety on their platforms. The Crowdfunding Trust Alliance will then focus on establishing shared policies, enhanced fraud detection and implementing preventative best practices to improve the online crowdfunding experience for our global community.
We encourage other companies who share our vision of making crowdfunding safer to join the Crowdfunding Trust Alliance. Platforms known to accept fundraisers or organizers that are removed from other platforms will not be eligible.
Over 100 million people have come to GoFundMe to help their friends, family and neighbors. It’s a testament to the trust we’ve built and that we are committed to maintaining as we continue to grow GoFundMe into a platform where individuals turn their compassion into action.