An Unknown Good Cause

Picture this: someone comes up to you on the street and asks if you can spare a couple of dollars so that they could get something to eat from a local bakery. You don’t know what they’re using the money for really, but you could potentially be doing a good deed by getting somebody some lunch and you’d be supporting local business. So, what do you do?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about good deeds—specifically of the “donating money” variety. Why do we do it? How much did you really know about that nonprofit before you pledged to help save the turtles? Do we do it because it’s supposed to make us feel good? So we can boast to others about how kind we are? Or maybe just to write it off on our taxes? In an effort to try and figure out the motivation behind these good deeds, I decided to conduct an experiment of my own.

Two weeks ago, I started a GoFund Me campaign—”An Unknown Good Cause.” I set a random goal, picked out a generic “DONATE” stock photo (the one attached to this post), and wrote this extremely vague description before sending it out into the world:

For the next two weeks, my team is conducting a social experiment involving fundraising for “a good cause.” What that means exactly, we can’t say. But solely out of the kindness of your heart and our word that this money will end up benefitting those in need, we’d love any donations you can give.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure that any part of this was going to work. But I figured if it didn’t work I could just fade back into obscurity and this blog post wouldn’t exist. So I guess the fact that you’re reading this right now is pretty good news.

I knew just leaving it and waiting for donations to roll in wouldn’t work, so I took to the internet to gather some information on the best crowdfunding techniques. It quickly became clear that digital sharing would be the fastest and easiest way to get the word out. I wanted this experiment to tie back to samanthasabio, so I shared everything through the writing-specific media accounts I created for my work. I posted the campaign to Facebook and Instagram, even utilizing crowdfunding group pages. After about a week, it became clear this strategy wasn’t working. So I decided to take a more direct approach.

Using the digital payment service, Venmo, I requested a small amount of money to friends and even friends of friends. I simply linked the campaign in the description when I made my request, but gently refused to answer any questions about what exactly this request was for. Quite a few people donated anyway.

At the end of my two week experiment, I was pleasantly surprised at the fact I managed to get more than one person to donate. Every time I saw a new donation had been made, I became more and more hopeful at not only the success of the campaign, but also at the beautiful kindness of these people who were trusting only my word that this money was going somewhere good. Now, I know the fact that more people I knew donated than didn’t says something about how this whole experiment went. These people were my friends and family—they knew and trusted me. Would it have been different if I only relied on the help of strangers, of people that had no reason to trust me?

What if this campaign was completely anonymous? Would as many people have donated? On the other side of the spectrum—what if I were a celebrity? The character of the person or organization making the ask definitely contributes to whether or not people are more inclined to donate.

I think the way a fundraiser is phrased can also sway donations. While the point of my experiment was to remove reasoning, I still chose to word my campaign description in a way that required people to consider the pureness of my request. I also made it seem like I had a large team behind me—perhaps the people who donated would be helping me with a class or work project. Maybe this was just one of many platforms my team and I were working on. Would my results have been different if I had made up a reason as to why I desperately needed donation? Or what if I had tied my campaign to the cause of a nonprofit?

We’ll never know the answers to these questions from this specific project. But this whole process reminded me how much really goes into planning fundraisers and soliciting donations. It also warmed my heart to know I could rely on the help of others without desperation, and that others saw me as someone they could follow blindly.

* * *

Would you have donated to a campaign like this? Why do you or don’t you decide to donate to something?

A big thanks to all of those who donated to my “good cause”—without ever knowing what that cause would be. Every single dollar raised will be going to support the YMCA of Greater Tulsa’s annual campaign, For a Better Us. This campaign provides scholarships to thousands of people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate in health and wellness programs, children who wouldn’t have a fulfilling summer at a fun and educational summer camp, and more. A total of $40 will be going to support this organization and the community it advocates for—raised solely by the trust and kindness of strangers. Thank you.

UPDATE: Tonight Tomorrow night at 8PM central time, there’ll be another addition to samanthasabio’s Poetry series! It’ll be a never-before-seen, original poem, so make sure to check it out! Thanks for reading!


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