Here in the Midwest, it’s common at weddings to have a “dollar dance,” in which guests slip the bride a dollar bill as they take turns whirling her around the floor of some Moose Lodge or skeezy banquet hall. This tradition is wrong on so many levels that I can’t even begin to unpack it. Let’s just say it’s tacky. Is asking for crowdfunding donations to pay funeral expenses like asking wedding guests for cash?
The use of crowdfunding campaigns to cover end-of-life expenses is gaining traction. Here’s how it works: A family member or friend of the deceased sets up a crowdfunding page on GoFundMe, Kickstarter, or a similar crowdfunding site. The page explains—either in a few punchy paragraphs or in a video appeal—why the money is needed, what it’ll be used for, and who will receive it. For example, a crowdfunding campaign might be set up for a family in which someone has just died after a long, expensive illness. Or crowdfunding proceeds might be used to bankroll a college savings account for a surviving child when a parent dies unexpectedly. But a crowdfunding campaign can be launched simply to cover typical funeral expenses. Look, death is inconvenient. Most of us don’t have a coffee can sfuffed with enough cash to pay for a rosewood casket, a granite headstone, and a nice plot beneath a shade tree. We could use a little help.
Is it in poor taste to ask for money this way? A friend brought this up a few weeks ago, after she read an obituary in which GoFundMe donations were requested. To me, this kind of crowdfunding campaign seems like a resourceful, modern solution to an old problem. Couples or families may have trouble meeting their financial obligations when faced with lost wages and large, unexpected medical bills for surgeries, lengthy hospitalizations, expensive drugs, and perhaps nursing home care or home health care. Whether medical expenses should bankrupt a family is neither here nor there—the fact is, they do, and for some people, crowdfunding can be a godsend.
Following a few simple guidelines may make everyone feel more comfortable, though:
Tips for setting up a funeral crowdfunding campaign
- If you’re in need of funds, ask a close friend or extended family member to set up the fund on your behalf. It can be awkward for the beneficiary to ask mourners directly for donations.
- Make your appeal as visual as possible. If a video is prepared for the funeral or memorial service, be sure to load a clip onto the crowdfunding page or incorporate parts of it into your pitch video.
- Your pitch should tell a story. Don’t just rattle off a list of medical expenses. Instead, explain that a 1-month supply of Rick’s bexarotene cost $49,800, or remind mourners that Rick’s wife had to stay at the Hampton Inn for 5 weeks while Rick was at the Mayo Cliniic, leaving her with a $4,200 hotel bill. Tell them how much that rosewood casket cost, and how it made Rick’s wife feel just a little better to see how peaceful he looked in it. Explain that Rick stopped earning sales commission when he went on disability leave. A few hard facts can be more powerful than a list of generalities. But keep the pitch short and to the point.
- Use a recognizable, well-trafficked crowdfunding platform:
- Specialized crowdfunding sites have been set up specifically for those in need (for example, victims of natural disasters), as opposed to those who are pitching an invention or business. Even so, using a well-known platform will generate the best response.
- Using a legit site with a good track record ensures that donors’ transactions will remain secure and that their financial and personal data won’t be sold.
- Include a request for donations in the obituary:
- Make sure you’re just asking, not guilt-tripping people.
- It’s helpful to tell mourners why the money is needed, and dropping some numbers strengthens your case. But don’t share information that could make the family vulnerable to shysters, and don’t get any more personal than you have to.
- There’s no need to say “in lieu of flowers.” Some people like to send flowers, and you wouldn’t want to make them feel as if a spray of gladiolas would be unwelcome.
- Give, spend, or save the money exactly as described in the campaign; to do otherwise would be fraud.
Tips for donating to a funeral crowdfunding campaign
- As explained above, the request for donations to a crowdfunding campaign is just that—a request. If you’d rather send a fruit basket or bake a lemon Bundt cake for the family, by all means…
- Make sure you know the person who set up the campaign and the person or family who will benefit from it:
- Check out the tips from Consumer Reports on avoiding crowdfunding scams.
- You can always send a check directly to the beneficiary, with a note explaining that it’s a contribution to the crowdfunding campaign. If you know the person’s email address, you can send funds via Paypal even if the beneficiary doesn’t have a Paypal account yet. You’re more likely to become a victim of identity theft by sending a check through the mail than by completing a secure online transaction.
Unfortunately, Jeremy Snyder, of Simon Fraser University, is correct in saying that response to crowdfunding campaigns depends largely on “personal appeal, sensationalism, one’s social position, or luck.” Many campaigns don’t meet their goal. But when the bill for that premium casket arrives, having any donation in your pocket beats having 100% of nothing.