October 27, 2013

Taking personal appeals to the crowd

Individuals increasingly turn to crowd-funding websites to finance dire needs and cherished dreams.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Tara Cavanagh of Portland visits Akari Salon on Tuesday. She is using a crowd-funding website to raise money for her effort to represent Maine in next year’s Miss America pageant.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Sara Devlin of South Portland, right, created a Gofundme for Rebecca Grover, left, her co-worker at the Maine Turnpike Authority, after Grover’s husband passed away in 2012. In the 11 months since the account was created, 172 people have donated $23,000 to help Grover and her two children.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

He said he’s not sure how he feels about that.

“It’s definitely one of the more humbling feelings,” he said. “But I’m just grateful.”

HARDSHIP AND ASPIRATIONS

The most successful crowd-funding accounts usually involve some sort of hardship or tragedy, but many are rooted in practicality.

Tara Cavanagh, 20, of Portland is one of more than a dozen Mainers who set up an account to finance her shot at a beauty pageant. Two years ago, she was first runner-up in the Miss Teen Maine pageant. This year, she’s vying to be Miss Maine.

“You always look for sponsors and I’m still doing that. I think it’s important to be face-to-face when you’re asking for money for this type of thing,” she said. “But I heard about (Gofundme) and thought it would be an easy way to supplement what I was already doing.”

She has gotten three donations totaling $320 in about a month. Cavanagh said the entry fee for Miss Maine is $1,100, but there are other costs, too.

“There are things people don’t think about: skin care, exercise. It can be superficial, but it’s a beauty contest, after all,” she said.

Liz Gerber, a professor at Northwestern University who has researched crowd-funding trends, said the phenomenon of asking strangers to pitch in for someone’s benefit has always existed; there was just never a snappy name for it. A church collection plate is crowd-funding, she said, as is a busker with an open guitar case. Even an old-fashioned community barn-raising is crowd-funding – without the exchange of money.

“This is just a new way to ask,” Gerber said.

THE TOP THREE

The top three crowd-funding sites, by Web traffic, are Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Gofundme, according to Alexa, a site that tracks numbers of Web visitors. Kickstarter is the most well-known and has financed a number of high-profile endeavors, including an effort that raised $5 million to produce a movie based on the cult television series “Veronica Mars.”

All crowd-funding sites take a percentage of the donations for their service. Gofundme takes 5 percent and another 3 percent goes to WePay, which processes the donations.

“That small fee has been made up many times over,” Stern said. “I couldn’t have brought in nearly as much money on my own.”

Gerber said people give online to strangers for a variety of reasons.

“There are a bunch of different reasons people give,” she said. “Sometimes there is a small reward and people want that. Sometimes it’s recognition. But in some cases, it’s more a feeling of being a part of something exclusive.”

ALTRUISTIC EFFORT

Sara Devlin of South Portland started an account last year for the family of Kevin Grover, a second-grade teacher in Falmouth who was also Maine’s 2010 Teacher of the Year. Grover collapsed and died after going running on Thanksgiving Day 2012. He was 40 years old and left a wife and two young children.

Devlin works with Kevin Grover’s widow, Rebecca, at the Maine Turnpike Authority.

“I wanted to do something where it would be easy for people to donate,” she said. “You can’t prepare for something like that. This gives them a little stability, a little peace of mind.”

Devlin had heard about Gofundme several months ago through a Facebook friend.

“My first donation like this was to someone I didn’t even know,” Devlin said. “I just think the concept of ‘pay it forward’ is so important.”

Within the first few hours that the Grover Family Fund was established, it raised $5,000. In 11 months, 172 donors have given $23,000 for Rebecca Grover and her children, Eli, 9, and Lily, 12.

Grover had not heard about Gofundme before Devlin set up the account, but said money was one of her first concerns when her husband died.

“He was 70 percent of our income,” she said.

In the last 11 months, Grover said she has been overwhelmed by the response.

The Grovers moved to Falmouth for the school system. Her husband understood the value of good schools, Grover said.

“After Kevin died, my son actually asked at one point, ‘Mom, are we going to be able to keep the house?’” she said.

They kept the house, and the children are still in Falmouth schools.

“So many donations have come from people who I’ve never met but who knew Kevin,” Grover said. “He touched so many lives.”

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:erussell@pressherald.comTwitter: @PPHEricRussell

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Additional Photos

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Beauty-pageant contestant Tara Cavanagh of Portland works with editorial stylist Peter-John Ulloa at Akari Salon on Tuesday. Cavanaugh is using crowd-funding to pay for her Miss Maine campaign.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Ethan Hawes, left, of Eliot poses for a photo with his best friend Skyler Stern of Berwick. Hawes, 22, was diagnosed last summer with multiple myeloma, a rare form of cancer. Stern, 21, has set up a Gofundme account that raised more than $27,000 to help his friend.

Photo courtesy Ethan Hawes

 


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