People, process and technology: how GoFundMe keeps users safe

Meghan Luther, GoFundMe

Throughout history, humans have sought to help each other – looking out for our neighbours is a natural instinct. Today, GoFundMe supports this aim by enabling people to donate money at the touch of a button. Since we launched in 2010, more than 50 million people have used our platform to raise more than $5 billion for those in need.

Anyone who has access to the internet can crowdfund. This means that, occasionally, people with less than charitable ideas try to set up pages on GoFundMe. For example, they might start a copycat campaign – ie use details from a legitimate campaign to raise money for their own purposes.

But cases of misuse make up less than one tenth of one percent of all campaigns on our platform. So what sort of work do we do behind the scenes to create a safe and trusted environment for donors, beneficiaries and campaign organisers?

Keeping donors safe

First and foremost, donors are protected by the GoFundMe guarantee. So if someone sets up a fraudulent campaign, anyone who donates to it will get a refund. Beneficiaries are also guaranteed to receive all the donations raised on their behalf.

We also encourage donors to look out for signs that a campaign is genuine:

  • “Social proof” – such as authentic photos and personal comments from friends and family
  • Clear details about how your donation will be used and who is organising the campaign
  • The family or individual benefiting from the campaign should be listed as the beneficiary. (Some campaigns are legitimately set up by people raising money for themselves or a member of their immediate family. But in cases where the person organising the campaign is, for example, a friend or distant family member, they must email their beneficiary to invite them to be named on the campaign. Once that beneficiary accepts the invitation, the money raised goes directly to them - or, in some situations, one of their immediate family members. The campaign organiser never touches the money.)  

How we work to stop misuse

We use advanced verification processes and superior fraud prevention technology to cut the risks of online fundraising.

In addition, our team of trust and safety specialists works around the clock across multiple time zones to identify people who have started a campaign to benefit others. Then they can either guide them to contact the beneficiary or take action if they think they’ve identified a case of misuse.

Our specialists also review any complaints our community sends us. If something about a campaign doesn’t look right, we’ll give law enforcement agencies any information they need to investigate.

Working with the Fundraising Regulator

From small neighbourhoods rallying behind local businesses to large cities getting back to normal after natural disasters, we’re continually impressed by the campaigns created on our platform.

We’ve worked closely with the Fundraising Regulator and other online fundraising platforms over the past year, feeding into the regulator’s guidance for the public about safer fundraising online, and the fundraising standards to which we as platforms hold ourselves accountable.

We look forward to building our relationship with the Fundraising Regulator further as we continue our work to make online fundraising safer for all.

Meghan Luther is the European Trust and Safety Lead at GoFundMe