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Do websites like GoFundMe make us more generous?

A teenage boy from New South Wales has taken to fundraising platform GoFundMe to create a campaign that could potentially save his life.

Diagnosed with a deadly brain tumour, Jackson Byrnes and his family had to come up with $80,000 in just two days, money the family confessed that they just didn’t have.

In less than 48 hours, the target amount was achieved. The required $80,000 was donated by friends, family and complete strangers so Jackson Byrnes could pay the upfront fee to his surgeon for the life-saving procedure.

A total of $80,000 in two days. That’s almost as much as Australians donated to the charitable website, all through 2001-2002. That amount skyrocketed to $6 million in 2011-2012. Australians are donating more money online now than they ever have before.

According to, the average tax-deductible donation made by the average Australian within 2010-11 was $461 — two times the amount it was 10 years ago. And now, the internet is making it easier with charitable platforms like GoFundMe giving rise to the online social giving movement.

More: Despicable GoFundMe scammers use dead child’s photo to raise money

According to NPR, “Medical, Illness and Healing” is the most popular category on GoFundMe, with 17 per cent of campaigns falling in this area. People willingly hand over their money to fundraising campaigns like Jackson Byrnes’, but his story isn’t unique.

A family in the United States raised more than $1 million for their 4-year-old daughter, Eliza, who was diagnosed with a rare terminal genetic disease called Sanfilippo syndrome, which could have seen her left with permanent brain damage by the age of 6 if she didn’t receive treatment.

Jeff Bauman, who lost both his legs following the Boston bombings, raised more than $800,000 through his GoFundMe campaign to pay for his medical costs.

“GoFundMe is the perfect fundraising idea for funding medical expenses!” says the GoFundMe website. And campaigners would have to agree. So far, people have donated more than $900 million through GoFundMe’s social giving campaigns. So what makes us so willing to hand our money over to complete strangers?

GoFundMe CEO, Brad Damphousse, says it’s because people can see where their money is going.

“If you’re donating to a big nonprofit, you don’t know exactly how your money will be utilised, but on our site you might be thanked personally by the recipient,” Damphousse told NPR. It’s that sense of personal connection, knowing the person and the family who is going to benefit directly by our generosity that leads people to donate, he says.

We need the story to hook us in to deem a donation recipient worthy of our charity. “It’s not only the characteristics of the giver that determine their likelihood of donating, but characteristics they perceive in the recipient,” said William T. Ross, Jr. one of the researchers for the paper, “I’m Moral, But I Won’t Help You: The Distinct Roles of Empathy and Justice in Donations”.

But the nonprofits are capitalising on the social giving movement, too, with consultancy group, Convio, finding that the internet is actually the fastest-growing channel for nonprofits. The key is story telling. And who better to tell the story then the person who needs the money in the first place? Nonprofits are getting on board with this idea, too.

Websites like, for example, allow individuals to set up a fundraising page for their charity of choice. It’s a combination of the two: The individual resonates with you, but they’re raising money for a particular charity or non-profit, not themselves.

What do you think? Do websites like GoFundMe make us more generous? Have you made a donation through a GoFundMe campaign? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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