yesSofie KodnerNone
×

Get access to Protocol

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
People

How GoFundMe became America’s coronavirus safety net

GoFundMe's new CEO, Tim Cadogan, started the job just weeks ago. He talks to Protocol about the efforts underway to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

GoFundMe CEO Tim Cadogan

GoFundMe CEO Tim Cadogan joined the company in early March, before the country's coronavirus crisis went full-spectrum.

Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images for Advertising Week New York

GoFundMe has emerged in recent years as America's de facto health care safety net, so it makes sense that the crowdfunding platform would play a huge role in helping Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.

People have created more than 35,000 coronavirus-related GoFundMe campaigns in recent weeks, raising more than $60 million already. They are raising money to buy medical supplies and protective equipment, support jobless workers, pay for medical treatments and more. Those are unprecedented numbers for GoFundMe, and people are making more COVID-19 campaigns every day.

All of this activity is happening under Tim Cadogan, GoFundMe's brand-new CEO, who joined the company in early March. Cadogan spent just a few days with his new team in the office before the entire company went remote. "I've been mainly getting to know people over videoconferences," Cadogan said (over a videoconference).

In his first weeks on the job, he's taken action never before seen in the company's 10-year history: autogenerating fundraising campaigns for small businesses. This is the first time the platform has ever been proactive about creating campaigns to fill gaps where it sees need. Cadogan talked to Protocol on Tuesday, the day the autogenerated fundraiser effort started, about how he sees GoFundMe's role in addressing the coronavirus fallout. In the days since this conversation, some small-business owners have expressed unhappiness that the campaigns are opt-out, rather than opt-in. Cadogan addressed why the campaigns were designed this way in the interview.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Why are people turning to GoFundMe right now?

Typically on the platform, people give to campaigns that they are not directly affected by. Now, everyone has been affected by coronavirus, yet people are giving at unprecedented levels. It's quite amazing.

There are a few things that make GoFundMe effective in this context. First of all, every campaign is specific. It's clear what the money is being raised for. It's also easy to use. It's easy to set up a campaign, it's easy to give, and it's quick to get your money as a beneficiary. At the same time, it's safe.

How does GoFundMe vet coronavirus-related fundraisers?

We are applying the same tried-and-tested techniques to COVID-19 campaigns as we have in other circumstances. We scan text using technology, and we have a team of employees looking for anything that might be out of the ordinary. Then, we have a whole set of internal checks and balances before the money is released to the person named as the beneficiary. It's very rare that something goes wrong — a little bit less than one-tenth of 1% of the time. If at any time something has gone wrong, we guarantee that the money can be refunded.

There is a social proof point on the back-end of the whole process as well. These are all social fundraising campaigns, right? The community of friends, family and the extended network of people that are looking at a fundraiser often provide us with an early warning. Essentially, if someone sees something that just doesn't feel quite right to them, they reach out to us. On the receiving end, once the money has been paid to a beneficiary, that beneficiary is still in the community within which they reside. Your community is going to validate that the money went to what you said it was going to go to.

Why did GoFundMe decide to get involved with small businesses during the coronavirus outbreak?

If you think about other national and international crises, like 9/11 or the financial crisis, businesses were still open. They may have had somewhat less demand, but they were open. This is totally different.

Before launching the Small Business Relief Initiative, we had been seeing some local businesses create campaigns on GoFundMe. But we knew that there were many businesses that maybe didn't know that GoFundMe was an option to help them, or were so busy that they couldn't create a campaign themselves. And we had a lot of folks asking us, how can we help our local businesses? Can you help us help them?

The idea, which really we had only about eight or nine days ago, was how can we create a larger-scale program for small businesses? So, that's how the idea came about.

The goal is to get these campaigns created, get them exposed to as many people as we can, and start to enable local communities to help the businesses they love.

We've also set up the Small Business Relief Fund with our partners Yelp and Intuit QuickBooks. This fund already has $1.5 million in it. We hope to add a lot more with other corporate sponsors soon. That fund will provide matching microgrants to small businesses in the program. If they raise $500, we'll match that up to $500 until the fund is extinguished, essentially.

Tell me about the Frontline Responders Fund, the $10 million fundraising project that launched the same day as the Small Business Initiative.

This fund is a collaboration, launched by an amazing company called Flexport. Flexport is a transportation and logistics company that has put together a chain of logistics components to help with getting and transporting medical supplies to the hospitals and facilities that need them. It already has all sorts of team members like Ron Conway, Edward Norton and Arnold Schwarzenegger to promote the campaign and has also received very, very, very generous contributions from many of them. It's certainly tracking to be a very big fundraiser. It's a great example of the scale of help that the platform can generate.

What is GoFundMe doing now that's different from before?

We haven't ever autocreated campaigns for folks. It's a function of the unique circumstances we're in. We thought it made sense to try and be proactive here, given the scale of the problem. Our focus is very simple. It's like: What can we do quickly that can help provide a conduit for others to help? And then let's move heaven and earth.

Because they're autogenerated, one of the dimensions of promoting the initiative is making sure that businesses are aware that these campaigns have been created. That way, they can claim themselves as the beneficiary and modify the title and description if they want to. But also, if businesses want to opt out — we totally understand some people might not want this. They can opt out and close their campaign. In that case, if there have been any donations, those donations, depending on the donors' wishes, would either be refunded or moved into the general relief fund. It's uncharted territory.


Get in touch with us: Share information securely with Protocol via encrypted Signal or WhatsApp message, at 415-214-4715 or through our anonymous SecureDrop.


Is this a signal that the purpose of GoFundMe is changing?

Overall, I would say no. The vast majority of campaigns being created are still by people and organizations. So that hasn't changed. We're always looking for how to make it easier for people to both get help and to help others. In a time like this, if there are extraordinary things that we can do and that we can create, we are doing those. The fundamental tenor of GoFundMe is the same.

If people start relying on GoFundMe to fulfill their needs, how big can that get? Can that last forever?

We think about it as: How can we do as much as possible? How deep and broad is the well of generosity? It's very deep and broad. There is an enormous number of people that want to help, and they want to help in specific ways. We have a unique ability to help people harness that desire to be generous. But to answer your question, what is the maximum potential of GoFundMe? I don't know. We are by no means the only solution. We all hope that there's going to be some more government aid. But we have a role and, you know, it's sort of our duty to do everything we possibly can to use our platform.

Protocol | Fintech

Plaid’s COO is riding fintech’s choppy waves

He's a striking presence on the beach. If he navigates Plaid's data challenges, Eric Sager will loom large in the financial world as well.

Plaid COO Eric Sager is an avid surfer.

Photo: Plaid

Eric Sager is an avid surfer. It's a fitting passion for the No. 2 executive at Plaid, a startup that's riding fintech's rough waters — including a rogue wave on the horizon that could cause a wipeout.

As Plaid's chief operating officer, Sager has been helping the startup navigate that choppiness, from an abandoned merger with Visa to a harsh critique by the CEO of a top Wall Street bank.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

Keep Reading Show less
Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
People

Citizen’s plan to keep people safe (and beat COVID-19) with an app

Citizen CEO Andrew Frame talks privacy, safety, coronavirus and the future of the neighborhood watch.

Citizen added COVID-19 tracking to its app over the summer — but its bigger plans got derailed.

Photo: Citizen

Citizen is an app built on the idea that transparency is a good thing. It's the place users — more than 7 million of them, in 28 cities with many more to come soon — can find out when there's a crime, a protest or an incident of any kind nearby. (Just yesterday, it alerted me, along with 17,900 residents of Washington, D.C., that it was about to get very windy. It did indeed get windy.) Users can stream or upload video of what's going on, locals can chat about the latest incidents and everyone's a little safer at the end of the day knowing what's happening in their city.

At least, that's how CEO Andrew Frame sees it. Critics of Citizen say the app is creating hordes of voyeurs, incentivizing people to run into dangerous situations just to grab a video, and encouraging racial profiling and other problematic behaviors all under the guise of whatever "safety" means. They say the app promotes paranoia, alerting users to things that they don't actually need to know about. (That the app was originally called "Vigilante" doesn't help its case.)

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

Keep Reading Show less
Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

People

Why the CEO of GoFundMe is calling out Congress on coronavirus

GoFundMe has seen millions of Americans asking for help to put food on the table and pay the bills. Tim Cadogan thinks Congress should help fix that.

"They need help with rent. They need help to get food. They need help with basic bills," GoFundMe CEO Tim Cadogan said. "That's what people need help with to get through this period."

Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images

Tim Cadogan started his first day as CEO of GoFundMe about two weeks before the pandemic wrecked the world. He knew he was joining a company that tried to help people make extra money. He didn't know his company would become a lifeline for millions of Americans who couldn't pay their bills or put food on the table.

And so after a year in which millions of people have asked for help from strangers on GoFundMe, and at least $600 million has been raised (that number could be as much as $1 billion or more now, but GoFundMe didn't provide fundraising data past August) just for coronavirus-related financial crises, Cadogan has had enough. On Thursday, he wrote an open letter to Congress calling for a massive federal aid package aimed at addressing people's fundamental needs. In an unusual call for federal action from a tech CEO, Cadogan wrote that GoFundMe should not and can never replace generous Congressional aid for people who are truly struggling.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (@ anna_c_kramer), where she helps write and produce Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Latest Stories