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The Case for a GoFundMe Campaign to Help Disaster Recovery

Every single day in this country people and governments face critical and emergency situations whether at the local, state or federal level, but often lack a single, coordinated platform to assist, manage, and support the government response.

Jake the dog, the focus of a GoFundMe campaign
After a 40-year career of organizing, planning, preparing, and responding to nearly every type of event, crisis, or disaster, imagine my surprise when I found myself emotionally unready for my own personal catastrophe. As the head of emergency management for the city of San Francisco, I managed a budget of $87 million, and along with my team of experienced emergency managers, we prepared California’s fourth most populous city for any and all disasters. However, when my best friend, my sweet, loving dog Jake was unexpectedly (and incorrectly) diagnosed with cancer, I found myself in a completely unusual place: unprepared.

After seeking expert medical consultation, I was able to get Jake scheduled at UC Davis for life-saving open chest surgery.  My problem was I didn’t have the $20,000 to pay for it. Without the necessary funding, I didn’t know how to proceed.  My husband had died the year before of lung cancer, I couldn’t bear to think of losing my Jake too. Faced with only bad options — letting Jake suffer, losing my companion, or indebting myself for a medical procedure with an uncertain outcome — I was paralyzed by indecision. Without asking me for permission, my daughter started a GoFundMe campaign to seek assistance for Jake’s $20,000 surgery. Initially I was appalled; I was raised by Depression-era parents — you never asked for help from others — we were independent, proud and very private people.

You can imagine my surprise and shock when total strangers donated to Jake’s GoFundMe campaign. One woman gave five dollars every time I posted an update on Jake’s progress, sending caring messages of love and support.  We also received very large donations from people around the world who wrote to encourage my family to keep the faith and pray for positive outcomes. With the support of friends, family, and complete strangers, our goal was reached in just three weeks, and Jake’s life was saved.  This was more than three years ago, and every day I look at my Jake thankfully and the miracle GoFundMe made possible.

Always the emergency manager, I suddenly saw GoFundMe from that point of view. I asked myself: If people from around the world stopped what they were doing for a few moments to share their hard-earned money with me so that I could save my Jake, what could this collective platform do at scale during an emergency?

Every single day in this country, people and governments face critical and emergency situations, whether at the local, state, or federal level, but often lack a single, coordinated platform to assist, manage, and support the government response.

As budgets are constrained at all levels of government, there is often less funding and infrastructure to manage an influx of unsolicited funds after a disaster. As government slows the movement of funds to local communities for recovery efforts, the gaps between funds and unmet needs will only grow. This is where creative solutions rise to the top and a chance for government to lead those solutions happen. Enter: GoFundMe.

After disasters, particularly the large scale disasters that grab national headlines, the generosity of everyday people is often seen through online giving. However, with so many options available, coordination, and the aforementioned gaps, remain. This is where GoFundMe provides unique value. As the world’s largest and most trusted online platform, having raised over $5 billion for over 2 million campaigns worldwide, it is the optimal solution for governments to best serve the needs of their communities.

GoFundMe is currently discussing with various cities and states about how they can help get money to survivors more quickly and efficiently following a disaster. I wish this had been available to our constituents when I was planning for how to best manage various disasters.

GoFundMe can thrive in most government spaces because of how prepared they are to be the back-end collection point for unsolicited funds for cities and states following an incident. What GoFundMe proposes is that the government entity set up an advisory board that activates upon the incident. The advisory board — appointed by the governor or mayor — can be charged with distributing the funds and works with GoFundMe’s Trust and Safety Team in real time to meet immediate needs. GoFundMe’s role is quick collection and distribution of funds, using its proprietary software and teams to help the advisory board verify needs and release the existing funds.

This is a creative and effective way to solicit and distribute funds. Also, I know from personal experience, that many incidents don’t rise to the level of national news, but we face many challenges in our large cities every day from building fires to traffic accidents. GoFundMe’s approach would get money into the hands of survivors more quickly and relief to organizations that are performing real-time lifesaving and life-sustaining needs. GoFundMe’s ability to get funds to people quickly allows people to recover after an incident more quickly and efficiently.

Anne Kronenberg is the former executive director of the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management.