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

Skyler Stern wanted to do something for his best friend, Ethan Hawes, who was facing a life-threatening diagnosis.

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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

Tara Cavanagh wants to represent Maine in the Miss America pageant next year.

Sara Devlin wanted to assist a co-worker facing the prospect of raising two children alone after the death of her husband.

They all turned to Gofundme, a crowd-funding website that uses social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to connect with potential donors.

For years, that site and similar ones – Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GiveForward and Donors Choose, to name a few – have been used by artists and entrepreneurs to finance films, record albums and launch businesses. Now, people are turning to it for personal causes as varied as paying for surgery, caring for pets and moving across town.

Gofundme, which has emerged as a go-to site for nonbusiness users, had more than 200 active accounts from Maine as of last week, ranging from Little League teams trying to pay for trips to a transgendered man raising money for surgery.

Not all of the accounts are created equal. Some causes are more altruistic than others. One woman is raising money for an ultrasound for her cat, which may have a heart defect.

Not all accounts are successful, either. Some, including most of the pageant contestants, raise only a few hundred dollars.

Brad Damphousse, CEO of Gofundme, said the accounts that do best are ones that tap into a large social network of giving.

“Only after a person receives support from their personal contacts can the campaign begin to appeal to a wider audience,” he said.

Stern’s Gofundme campaign for his friend is one example.

Hawes, 22, of Eliot, was studying abroad in Spain when he tripped on a curb. Intense pain shot up his entire leg that seemed out of proportion to the fall.

The pain returned a couple of days later while he was training for a marathon. Hawes finished the marathon and returned home from his semester overseas, but the pain wouldn’t go away.

He went to the doctor in late June, thinking the pain was a torn tendon. Doctors found a fist-sized tumor on the bone that connects his femur to his pelvis. The diagnosis was multiple myeloma, a rare form of cancer that attacks plasma cells.

“It was such a sinking feeling,” Hawes said over coffee recently in downtown Orono. “I was shocked, numb.”

Hawes was less than two months from starting his senior year at the University of Maine. He wasn’t sure he would even go back to school, but if he did, he didn’t know how to pay for school and treatment. Insurance wouldn’t cover everything associated with a disease like multiple myeloma.

“I didn’t really want to think about the money,” he said.

Stern wanted to help, but couldn’t be there in person because he was due back at college himself, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Stern had heard about Gofundme and talked to Hawes and his parents. Together, they created an online profile for Hawes, explaining the diagnosis and the rarity of the disease, especially for someone as young as he is. They explained the costs associated with treatment, including trips to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and set a goal to raise $13,200.

They hit that amount in five days. The account now has more than $27,000.

“I don’t know what I would have done if this happened five years ago,” Stern said. “It would have been a lot harder.”

Hawes has gotten donations from people he hasn’t talked to in years, from community members who heard his story and from family friends. Twenty-seven of the donations are anonymous, including two separate gifts of $500.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

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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