Hedgehogs, honeymoons and hamburgers: When GoFundMe campaigns get weird

A Kanye West fan actually raised money on GoFundMe to help West out of debt.
A Kanye West fan actually raised money on GoFundMe to help West out of debt. GoFundMe

When Kansas farmer Joey Rott was recently left widowed with five children, people poured more than $130,000 in donations into a GoFundMe account for the family.

The kindness of strangers moved the young father.

“These are people I don’t even know, and I guess they read what happened and wanted to help me and the kids,” Rott told The Kansas City Star. “It’s very humbling, and I just want to say thanks.”

Compare that with another successful GoFundMe campaign just weeks before: the Kanye West fundraiser.

After West tweeted in February that he was $53 million in debt, one of his fans launched a GoFundMe effort for Kim Kardashian’s husband.

In 10 days Jeremy Piatt raised nearly $8,000. Just one problem: West didn’t want the money. So Piatt decided to give the money to a group that funds art in schools, but not before his effort, and West, were mocked.

Oh the anger!

I will leave you zero dollars.

I’ll be willing to help you raise money if you’re willing to fight me for a charity event.

I don’t want a dollar... only the satisfaction of punching you in the face.

Crowdfunding begets crowd vitriol.

People seem to be growing tired of silly requests on the popular website — dubbed the “crowdfunding king” by Forbes last year — where fundraisers for someone’s cancer fight sit right next to some dude’s begging for money for McNuggets.

“Do not get me started!” wrote one woman on a wedding planning message board. “In the last few weeks I’ve seen (GoFundMe requests) for a couple who is spending so much money on their honeymoon that they are short on their wedding bills and want people to pretty much pay for their wedding.

“I’m totally fine with helping out a friend in an emergency or maybe you are facing huge medical bills or you’re trying to buy coats for the homeless. I’ll gladly throw some donations your way. But it’s really (bad) to hound your friends to pay for your luxuries and your bad budgeting.”

People were shocked last summer when the sister of Charleston massacre suspect Dylann Roof asked for $5,000 on GoFundMe to pay for the wedding she and her fiance had to cancel because of the shooting.

A headline about the couple’s request on the Wonkette website read: “This GoFundMe (stuff) is really getting out of hand.”

“The couple’s tone-deafness is merely the Frankenstein display of a broader problem — the belief that we are all entitled to be spared from pain, hard work, disappointment and just general inequality of good fortune,” political and foreign affairs writer Susan Milligan wrote for U.S. News & World Report.

“That is why we get people going onto crowdfunding sites and asking for complete strangers to donate cash to pay for grad school at Harvard, veterinary care and weddings.”

And hedgehogs.

When Rant Gizmo listed the 15 dumbest GoFundMe campaigns of all time, Denver woman Erin Calaci’s fundraiser to buy herself a purebred African pigmy hedgehog made the cut. She wanted one to replace the cats her ex-husband had taken.

The website also dinged a Philadelphia strip club employee who begged for money so she could go to Las Vegas for the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight.

What about that “midlife crisis squirrel tattoo” one woman wanted $2,000 for?

Or donating to “Will’s drug habit”?

Or helping a Canadian couple move to Scotland? They met with such a backlash in 2013 that they added a personal note on their GoFundMe page that read, in part: “I know that there are a lot of people out there who need more help than us. But, our asking for a hand is NOT taking money out of anyone else’s pockets. It is up to all of you out there who you choose to help, and if we aren’t your pick, that’s okay.”

Last year Michael Panik, a Jacksonville State University student, launched a GoFundMe campaign simply to make a point.

He wanted money for a chicken McNugget meal at McDonald’s.

“A friend and I were talking about all the ridiculous GoFundMe campaigns we’ve seen recently, basically people just asking for money to buy personal stuff: new equipment, software,” he told Rise News.

“It’s pretty rude, honestly — just begging for money for things you want or need, that ultimately aren’t super expensive, and aren’t true necessities.”

But it’s not just morally questionable requests that have raised eyebrows over GoFundMe.

“Don’t rip people off. It’s rude. But if you were going to perpetuate a scam, crowdfunding platform GoFundMe is a great way to do so,” Gizmodo noted last year.

Fake and fraudulent campaigns on GoFundMe, launched six years ago, have caught the attention of legislators and inspired a Facebook page called “Go Fraud Me” that tracks questionable activity on the website.

Crowdfunding websites raised an estimated $2 billion in 2015. Compared with others such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, GoFundMe’s rules are looser about the things people can raise money for.

“You can raise money for charity, or a deathly ill child ... or you use it to ask your friends to pay for your morally horrible sex tourism vacation,” Gizodo wrote.

Kickstarter and Indiegogo focus primarily on raising money for creative projects, products and inventions. GoFundMe lets people host campaigns for personal needs and goals.

“I think classically people have thought of crowdfunding in terms of creative projects,” Rob Solomon, GoFundMe CEO, told Forbes last year. “There’s this quid pro quo of fund my project and you’ll get a watch or the first crack at my music CD.

“Personal causes are much more analogous to giving to nonprofits — there’s a cause out there and people need some help.”

Noted by Forbes, various campaigns have raised money to relocate camels displaced by California wildfires, raised money for the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and inspired a $50,000 donation from Taylor Swift for a leukemia patient.

Last year more than 13,000 people donated more than $350,000 through GoFundMe for James Robertson, a man in Troy, Michigan, who walked 21 miles to and from work —never missing a day.

But in December, someone set up a fake GoFundMe account in the name of Pennsylvania high school player Luke Blanock, who has terminal cancer.

GoFundMe will shut down fundraisers and refund donations discovered to be fake. It also warns donors to only give money to GoFundMe users they personally know and trust.