The gaping holes in the U.S. and Canadian social safety nets mean that many people live in a state of financial precarity that can instantly become untenable in the face of another big expense, such as a large medical bill or damaged property. Historically, people have turned to their communities, neighbors, families, and loved ones for help in these situations. Today, asking for money on the internet through crowdfunding is among the most popular ways of seeking and donating to charity, and for-profit enterprises have realized that tapping into this instinct for helping is extremely good business. GoFailMe reveals how these sites, most notably GoFundMe, enjoy massive revenue, without providing the help they promise. They fail most of their users while putting them through an emotional rollercoaster and using sneaky tactics to obscure that reality. With unprecedented access to interviews, surveys, and hundreds of thousands of crowdfunding cases across North America, Erik Schneiderhan and Martin Lukk take on pressing questions with critical insight: When do we turn to others for help? Who succeeds and who fails in the digital crowd? Whom do these sites benefit? Ultimately, the failure of GoFundMe and others is emblematic of the inability of the for-profit sector and Big Tech to engineer an end to social inequality.
About the authors
Erik Schneiderhan is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with appointments at the University of Toronto at Mississauga and at St. George. He is the author of The Size of Others' Burdens (Stanford, 2015).
Martin Lukk is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Toronto. His research investigates the political consequences of economic inequality.
"Cancer, emergency, dreams at risk. Through new technologies of crowdfunding, these crises elicit help from friends, family and strangers. While admirable, this extended altruism often disappoints and fails to meet the gaps in a weakening social safety net. Incisive, rigorously original, and accessible, GoFailMe illuminates how a new industry is reshaping social solidarity."
—Elisabeth S. Clemens, University of Chicago
"Crowdfunding has become an important part of contemporary philanthropy, providing opportunities for ethical expression as well as needed transfers of funds. Like social media, it offers individuals a chance to engage directly in providing help, whether to friends or to strangers, without relying on traditional institutions. In this first major study of digital philanthropy, Schneiderhan and Lukk provide narratives showing what this means for the donors and beneficiaries, and also what reveals about charity in a shifting social context."
—Craig Calhoun, Arizona State University
"In their compelling, well-documented book, [Schneiderhan and Lukk] examine thousands of crowdsourcing cases across Canada and the U.S. on websites like GoFundMe. Their book shows that sites like these often fail users and are rife with inequities that closely parallel the social problems that plague societies today.... For readers who are contemplating either setting up a crowdsourcing site or donating to one."
—Ellen Gilbert, Library Journal