Technology First Look

With personal-cause tool, Facebook to lend a hand to individual fundraisers

The company already helps nonprofits fundraise. Now it's giving individuals a way to collect funds for their own personal crises.

The Facebook logo is displayed on an iPad in Philadelphia.
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Facebook says it is expanding an online fundraising tool to let users set up pages asking for donations for certain personal crises and urgent needs.

Under the rules of the expansion, users can raise money to cover costs that fit into any of six cited categories: education (like tuition or books), medical (procedures, treatment, or injuries), pet medical, crisis relief (such as natural disasters), personal emergencies (house fires, thefts, or car accidents), and funeral and losses (like burial expenses or living costs after the death of a loved one). 

The change will apply, at first, only to US users 18 years old and up, and requests to launch personal fundraisers will be subject to a 24-hour review process.

The announcement is the latest addition to Facebook’s previous fundraising platforms, which began in 2015 with the emergence of a feature that allowed nonprofits to draw donations through campaign pages. The company expanded that privilege to individuals raising funds on behalf of those nonprofits last year. And verified pages, Facebook said in its announcement on Thursday, will now be able to bring in donations during live broadcasts, through the addition of a new “donate” button.

That the company would unveil a tool that would seem, on the face of it, so ripe for abuse, seems a measure of online fundraising’s effectiveness.

Large charities have for years made use of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indie-gogo, which were originally designed for independent entrepreneurs and artists, as a low-cost means of collecting in funds during moments of crisis.

"It's a quick and cost-effective way to reach a wide array of people," said Nate Drouin, chief executive of Boston-based Fundraise.com, which helps charities build online fundraising campaigns, in a 2013 interview with The Christian Science Monitor. "It's really low-risk to try different campaigns to see what works," he added. 

But the latest move by Facebook is a replication less of Kickstarter and Indie-gogo than of GoFundMe, the preeminent crowdfunding site for personal causes, as the Verge notes. Except Facebook users looking for donations will have their profiles attached, in what might reassure some users wary of where their donations might end up.

"These are not specific nonprofits, but they are important, critical financial needs, and we want support fundraising for that," Naomi Gleit, Facebook VP of Social Good, told Mashable.

Ms. Gleit added that 56 percent of users who had contributed funds to nonprofits via Facebook said they were also interested in donating to friends and family.

"Clearly there's a need for both, and this is something we want to provide," she said.

It’s unclear whether the company will take a cut of funds raised for such causes. But it will charge fees of 6.9 percent, the site reported, to cover vetting, security and payment processing, along with a 30-cent transaction fee.