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'Crowd-funding' sites help pay medical bills

11:51 PM, Feb 6, 2013   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- The odds of beating life-threatening illnesses, like cancer, improve every day thanks to medical breakthroughs. While there is no substitute for health, there's also no denying medical treatment can come at a heavy financial cost.

Community fundraisers, like spaghetti dinners and other events, still help those struggling. But today, social media has spawned "crowd-funding" to tackle medical bills.  The fundraising sites can help, as long as you know what you are doing.

Shane Brandt turned to crowdfunding site, GoFundMe, after his good friend Andras Ponti was diagnosed with stage IV testicular cancer.  Shane knew moral support was one way he could help Andras, but wanted to do more.

"A friend at school told me about GoFundMe, and I went to look it up," Shane explained.

GoFundMe is one of a growing number of so-called "crowdfunding" sites that help people raise money for everything from community projects, start-up businesses, to paying for medical bills.

Shane created a page for Andras in just a matter of minutes. "I woke up the next day and I checked it and there was like $150 donated," Shane said.

Website GiveForward claims medical costs are the number one reason for bankruptcy in the United States and estimates that $2.8 billion was raised by all types of crowdfunding websites last year.

GoFundMe CEO Brad Damphousse says the category for illness and medical expenses is the fastest on growing option on his site.

Users can set up a page, tell their story about a need for money, and through a network and friends and social media contacts, get the word out.

If their story strikes a chord with visitors, the dollars can pour in.

Such is the case of Ariella Barker, a Cleveland native who raised more than $25,000 in one day for treatment of a rare illness she contracted while visiting Israel several years ago.

Barker says most of the donations on her GoFundMe page came from complete strangers.

The trend of personalized charitable fund-raising is now a topic in Professor Jenna Drenten's class at John Carroll University.

"It's really important to build those personal connections. It can't be sort of a blanket 'hey, everyone give me money,'" Professor Drenten says, explaining the more specific a story or a cause, typically the more money is raised.

"It's really important to say this is going for this treatment or this particular surgery or this round of chemo," Professor Drenten added.

Before you choose a site you need to do some homework.

  1. Research: Know the site rules, and fees. Most charge a small percentage of what you raise, to cover their administrator costs. Look at the the sites have funded, and any reviews.
  2. Take advantage of tips: Some sites offer advice on how to write a good narrative. Be specific about what the money will be used for and why it's important.
  3. Update often:  Don't ask for money and then disappear. The more updates you give your followers, the more aware they will be of your situation, and the more successful your fundraiser will be.

Today, Andras Ponti is cancer-free and back at school. He is forever thankful for the friends and strangers who have helped him.

"Support is everything when you're battling cancer. You just want to focus on the positives that I've made it this far. I've beat everything so far," Andras says.

Here are a list of popular crowdfunding sites:

  • GoFundMe: Founded in 2010. For everything from medical expenses, to starting a business, or paying for a wedding. Takes 5% cut from money raised.
  • GiveForward: Launched in 2008. Primarily for medical bills. Charges a 7% fees on all transactions.
  • Indiegogo: International site founded in 2008. Hosted over 100,000 campaigns for a variety of causes and projects.

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