Saying yes, saying no and staying sane during donation season Melanie Baker November 26, 2015 Columns, Featured, M-Theory One thing the Internets have accomplished is making it really easy to spend money. Online payments, one-click buying, super-fast shipping: it’s almost possible to receive something before you even knew you wanted it. Certainly before waffling or buyer’s remorse sets in. Of course, the flipside of this convenience is how quickly and how badly you can screw up. Buzzfeed has many listicles detailing hilarious drunk buying adventures. I’ve gotten customer support cases, too, from hung-over mea culpa types wondering if they can get refunds on those domains they “accidentally” registered the night before. (No, you can’t. Sorry.) Of course, retail doesn’t have the market cornered on emptying your wallet online. We’ve also seen a proliferation of crowdfunding sites. Some are for products and services, some for the arts, others for charitable giving. As soon as we realized you could make money from strangers online, folks rushed in to try to do just that. Now, to those of us who’ve been in the work world for a while, it’s same thing, different platform. In an office of any size, there’s always someone selling or fundraising. Cookware, candles, cookie dough, coffee, chocolate, coupon books… Online crowdfunding is still a relatively embryonic industry that’s seeing growing pains and figuring out how it will work and what will be allowed. Even when specific regulations don’t exist yet, people often have strong ideas about what crowdfunding sites should be for. Should Kickstarter be used to launch a company, or fund an indie band’s album, or help get a board game made? What’s the “correct” use? Legalities aside, it largely comes down to personal relevance or interest. Similarly, there are lots of sites where people can ask for donations. Established organizations usually have their own fundraising channels, but then there are people looking for help often on a more individual or community-based level. After the terrorist attacks in Paris, a mosque in Peterborough was torched in an act of suspected arson. A crowdfunding campaign raised more than $100,000 to help it rebuild. Medical cases are also common. But then there are the “you’ve got to be kidding” requests. As this New York Times article outlines, people are being inundated with requests for… let’s call them “electives.” Vacation funds, college tuition, weddings. And the delightfully vague “personal development journey.” It’s like, just as people sometimes say appalling things and act in appalling ways when they’re “invisible” online, they’ll grub for money on crowdfunding sites with requests they’d never put forth to your face. Maybe. Some people get multiple requests like this per day, via email, Facebook or what have you. All the legitimate need gets mixed up with the “electives.” What’s particularly unfortunate is that too many requests, too many tales of woe, lead to donor fatigue. Empathy doesn’t run dry like bank accounts can, but it’s a version of decision fatigue. We just can’t deal with one more sob story, or blatantly tacky cash grab. We don’t want to discover yet another scam to feed our misanthropy. That’s the sad irony. We know we can’t help everyone, but the development and manipulations of the crowdfunding industry can nudge us closer to shutting down and helping no one. Perhaps the ease of setting up a crowdfunding page and shooting out the request to everyone you know at the click of a button, without having to go cap in hand to them in person, makes this online begging much easier. There’s gotta be a dissertation in there somewhere on that phenomenon. Of course, the proliferation of crowdfunding sites, and how common and acceptable asking for money/support in this way has become, also encourages something else: fraud. Whether it’s just some of the requests, entirely fake sites for phishing, or other means, you’re going to find crooks anywhere people are willing to hand over credit card and/or identity information. This means it’s extra important to do due diligence not only on the requests you receive, but also on the sites hosting the requests. Most people don’t want to go through life expecting everyone to try and scam them, and we genuinely do want to help people much of the time, but a quick Googling can save you time, money and cynicism. December arrives shortly, and we’re already in the swing of the holiday season – bring on the end of year and Christmas campaigns for… well, everything. Take heart, techies. You’ll make it. Stick to your budget (you have one, right?) Know what kinds of things you’ve donated to in the past, or what might interest you in the future. Know what’s going on in your community. Know what kinds of non-donation crowdfunding you’re OK with supporting. Practise saying no. (Or, for some, practise saying yes.) Know that you’re not the only one. Crowdfunding requires a crowd, so if you can only afford $5, or nothing, there are others out there, too. If a crowdfunding effort fails, even if it’s noble and worthy, that’s life. Or business. And remember, social media is not a democracy. If you’re getting inundated with requests that are crass, offensive, or just make you tired, the delete and unfollow buttons are right there. Problem solved. Photo: Pennies from Heaven by Andreanna Moya is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached @melle or email@example.com.