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What Happens to the Money in a Sketchy-Looking GoFundMe?

As the internet flocks to help former NBA guard Delonte West, does it matter which fundraising campaign is ‘legit’?

Whether to make up for our abysmal healthcare system or to simply show political support, GoFundMe campaigns have become a regular part of the viral journey. Especially when the subject of said virality is a victim, it’s not uncommon for multiple campaigns to pop up at once, all purporting to raise funds to help them out. 

Case in point: In the last week, two viral news stories have launched GoFundMe campaigns by people who seemingly have no connection to the person in need. First, Twitter user @CarpeDonktum started a GoFundMe for “Target Tori,” the latest retail employee to be abused by Outrage Twitter. 

Despite initial outcry that the fundraiser made no guarantee that the money would actually reach Target Tori, enough people wanted to send her on vacation that the campaign raised nearly 32K. In the end, too, @CarpeDonktum was able to track Tori down, who says she’s “donating the money to a good cause.” 

Meanwhile, 12 GoFundMe campaigns launched in 11 hours after a disconcerting video of former NBA guard Delonte West (seemingly in the midst of a mental health episode) being beaten in the streets of D.C. surfaced on Twitter.

GoFundMe asserts that this phenomenon simply means there are too many good people who want to help out. While that’s surely the more optimistic way to see things, they’ve been catastrophically wrong about this in the past. It’s nice to be sure your money is actually going to the good cause it seems to be.

But first, to back up, GoFundMe lists four questions donors should be able to answer when determining if it’s “safe to donate to a campaign”:

  1. How is the campaign organizer related to the intended recipient of the donations?
  2. What is the purpose of the campaign and how will the funds be used?
  3. Are direct family and friends making donations and leaving supportive comments?
  4. Is the intended recipient in control of the withdrawals? If not, is there a clear path for the funds to reach them?

Obviously, Target Tori’s campaign, while successful, didn’t go far in answering these questions. And of the dozen campaigns enlisting help for West, only one appears to be sanctioned by his family, while another promises that “all proceeds will be donated to Delonte West or a family member on his behalf.” The rest simply name West. 

So where is that money actually going?

GoFundMe didn’t respond to my request for comment, so the best way to see how they act in such situations is to look at the precedent — particularly, when a video depicting Robert Godwin Jr. being shot to death went viral on Facebook three years ago. No less than 24 hours later, CNN reported that nine GoFundMe campaigns were active and already soliciting donations. 

GoFundMe spokesperson Bobby Whithorne told the cable news network that they’d been in contact with each campaign organizer and members of Godwin’s family in order to guarantee that the money would be correctly allocated. “When a campaign is created on behalf of another individual, the funds are collected by our payment processors, the funds are held and then the funds are released only to the person named as the beneficiary,” Whithorne told CNN at the time.

In other words, GoFundMe guarantees that all 12 campaigns naming Delonte West as the beneficiary will send those funds to him, or donors will get their money back.

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According to CNN, GoFundMe teams “vet information about campaigns and reach out to proposed beneficiaries to secure a chain of command for the funds.” But how does GoFundMe find West’s family, let alone determine who should be in charge of the money that’s raised (and what exactly it goes to)?

There’s precedent there, too. In 2016, a homeless teenager, Fred Barley, went viral after biking 50 miles to attend Gordon State College in Georgia. Casey Blaney, a Georgia resident who’d seen Barley’s story on the news, launched a GoFundMe campaign that quickly garnered nearly $185K. However, things went awry when Blaney and Barley disagreed on where the money should go. Blaney intended to put the money in an educational trust fund, but Barley disagreed. As the two enlisted the help of lawyers during their standoff, GoFundMe held onto the money “until both parties [came] to an agreement,” which they eventually did.  

There’s reason to believe GoFundMe will do the same for any money donated to Delonte West. But even though the GoFundMe Guarantee promises that your money will go to the struggling superstar, it’s probably better to wait and see if they deem a particular campaign to be closest to West’s family before pledging too much cash.