in health

Crowdfunding healthcare perpetuates different kinds of inequities

Anne Helen Petersen, writing for Buzzfeed, on the trend of people using crowdfunding websites to raise money for healthcare:

Both GoFundMe and YouCaring provide step-by-step instructions for what they call a “successful campaign.” “Use a great photo or make a video,” GoFundMe advises. “This is your shot at a first impression and it should create a strong reaction, like ‘Wow!’ or ‘Awe!’ or ‘I need to know more about this’ … Try to use photos of the people involved whenever possible. They get stronger reactions than a graphic or text. Be sure to avoid blurry or low-quality images.” YouCaring suggests users pay particular attention to choosing their fundraiser’s name: “Many people will decide whether to read about your cause based solely on your fundraiser’s name.” Or, as GoFundMe puts it, “Which title sounds better? ‘I Need Money!’ or ‘Julie’s Rally Against Cancer?’…the second one, right?” […]

Of course, packaging need isn’t necessarily new. Every time we ask a family member or friend for money, we’re presenting our need in a way that makes it more likely they’ll respond; some people are better at it than others. But that’s also why most would rather not rely on their family, friends, or an ability to convincingly ask someone for money as a means of survival. It’s subjective and depends, at least in part, on a flair for drama. Marketing a need through crowdsourcing demands similar skills — creating or choosing a compelling image and an eye-grabbing, keyword-searchable title — but a campaign must also transform the underlying need into a persuasive narrative. As YouCaring points out, “Julie’s Rally Against Cancer” is more compelling than “I Need Money” — one situates “Julie” as the hero fighting a good fight; the other de-romanticizes the struggle down to its most essential (and truest) form: My need? Money.

This paradigm sets up a dangerous expectation in which giving is contingent upon being moved, entertained, or otherwise satisfied with the righteousness of a fight. I’ll give, this arrangement suggests, but only if you give something to me — tears, sadness, hope, cuteness — first. As Jeremy Snyder argues in the Hastings Center Report, this paradigm also creates a “strong incentive to sensationalize or embellish their stories in order to receive donations,” in part because the narrative has to be striking enough to compel individuals outside of one’s existing social network to give. You’re not just selling to your family members, in other words — you’re trying to sell to the entire internet.

If there was anyone that thought crowdfunding was in any way a proper solution for rising healthcare costs, this piece will disabuse you of that notion.