‘The giving layer of the internet’: A critical history of GoFundMe's reputation management, platform governance, and communication strategies in capturing peer-to-peer and charitable giving markets
journal contributionposted on 14.11.2022, 02:02 authored by Matthew WadeMatthew Wade
GoFundMe, founded in 2010, has already profoundly impacted giving practices, introducing many laypersons to the empowering potentials and user-friendly affordances of peer-to-peer fundraising. Overall, GoFundMe's extraordinary success as a for-profit company in traditionally nonprofit charitable giving markets can be attributed to: normalizing their platform as the go-to destination for people seeking help; tasking the beneficiaries themselves with crafting appeals for support; restricting forms of support to money; deferring responsibility to donors to assess the legitimacy of appeals; and dominating the market by acquiring competitors and pursuing growth wherever possible. No charity could plausibly adopt such an operating model and GoFundMe's lean, hands-off, self-policing approach has attracted sharp criticism over the years. Nonetheless, the company has not humbly reined in their ambition but expanded it even further. This paper outlines three broad phases through which GoFundMe has defended their capture of “the giving layer of the internet.” Initially, GoFundMe espoused ideals of utopian disruption and soteriological solutionism, selling their platform as a “take-action button” and user-friendly means of empowering everyday citizens to improve the lives of others. Later, after attracting more divisive causes and criticisms of its revenue model, GoFundMe adopted forms of reputational repair and attempted neutrality, insisting that their for-profit platform could be accommodative to all worldviews and persons willing to embrace “positive precarization.” More recently, as “neutral” stances became untenable and fundraising success rates increasingly grim, GoFundMe pivoted toward strategies of state critique and civic capture. Specifically, GoFundMe have: more pointedly highlighted state failures; actively aligned themselves with social movements; shifted away from relying solely on peer-to-peer fundraising; and instead partnered more with established nonprofits. However, as GoFundMe's expansion inevitably means becoming entangled in sensitive political matters, the company's ambition to become the key intermediary in all charitable giving is facing acute challenges.