Texas families who lost loved ones or homes in the recent Houston–area flooding are turning to crowdfunding to pay funeral or living expenses. The idea is a good one, but it’s not new. In fact, entrepreneurs have launched crowdfunding venues designed especially for those coping with tragedy. Crowdfunding campaigns can also be set up for special purposes, such as raising college funds for surviving children. Here are some examples of niche crowdfunding sites:

  • YouCaring (a “compassionate crowdfunding blog”)
  • PostHope (for “patient and caregiver support”)
  • DepositaGift (for “medical and disaster relief”)

These platforms are aimed at illness/injury, end-of-life, and disaster fundraising. So why would flood victims or their families choose a more general crowdfunding site? Crowdfunding, as the name implies, depends on wide exposure. The more people hear your story, the more donations you’ll receive. If you think only family and friends will contribute to your campaign, you might be surprised how many strangers will jump in to help. It makes sense, then, to choose a heavily trafficked site, even if it’s a more general-purpose crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter, Patreon, GoFundMe, or Indiegogo.

Here’s how it works: The crowdfunding site takes a cut of about 5% of any donation. Another 3% goes to the payment processor that handles the transaction. The remaining funds are deposited electronically into the savings, checking, or trust account you designate in advance. Each crowdfunding channel is a little different, so read the fine print.

Let’s use GoFundMe as an example. It takes about 5% of each donation you receive. WePay, which processes donors’ payments and funnels them to you, takes 2.9% + a flat fee of thirty cents ($0.30) per donation. What’s left—roughly 92% of the amount originally donated—goes into your fund. Those proceeds are not usually taxed as income. (But consult your tax professional.)

Launching a crowdfunding campaign is a cinch. Just open an account, set a monetary goal, tell your story, and upload a few photos. A video is even better. Would-be donors respond to personal, authentic, creative appeals:

  • Choose a great title for your campaign—it should stir emotion or pique curiosity.
  • Keep your pitch pithy.
  • Tell a story.
  • Be specific. For example, instead of falling back on clichés like “We lost everything,” tell us how it felt to evacuate with only the items you could fit on an air mattress or pool float.
  • Focus on a single person even if you’re raising funds for a group, such as a school. It makes the need more real.

Then circulate your new crowdfunding pitch via social media. In a few clicks, family, friends, and colleagues, as well as sympathetic strangers, can donate to your campaign. Be sure to thank each donor.

If you’re thinking about donating to a crowdfunding campaign, verify the information in the pitch. Google the names in the story. If it’s a funeral fund, look for an obituary. Call the funeral home. Confirm that the campaign’s sponsor is truly connected to the person who’s supposed to benefit. Once you’re sure the appeal is legit, step up and join the crowd.

(Read more about crowdfunding in How to Write an Online Obituary: Virtual Memorials Made Simple. U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle.)