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Updated: December 21, 2023

Maine flood victims flock to GoFundMe crowdfunding platform

Tank in flood Photo / Jim Neuger The raging Androscoggin River slammed into a jeep on display at Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston on Wednesday.

As Mainers whose homes and businesses were damaged in Monday’s storm work to rebuild their lives, some of the victims have launched fundraising campaigns on the GoFundMe crowdfunding platform to help cover repairs and other costs.

Jessica Harris, owner of Un-Snapped Studio, the Glam Bar and Top Rack Boutique in Farmington, is seeking to raise $10,000 after the storm “destroyed what I’ve built and created in the last 10 years, gone in hours at the hands of the flood.”

She goes on to say that she and two other employees are left with nothing, with their supplies, inventory and place of employment all gone. Her photo studio alone lost $45,000 in equipment.

“Christmas is six days away and — with two small children 8 and 4 — we are putting on brave faces for not knowing how to pay bills next month,” Harris writes. “We are asking for help because we all do not know what to do.” As of early Thursday, she had raised $234 from six donations.

The other pleas are equally humble and heart-wrenching, from the sister of a single mother with two children who as of Tuesday could not leave their flooded house because of flooded roads, to a family lamenting the loss of all of its food before Christmas.

All campaign requests from people seeking to raise money on behalf of themselves or others are reviewed by a team of experts working "around the clock" to review fundraisers related to the flooding in the Northeast, according to Erin O'Malley, a Washington, D.C.-based spokesperson for GoFundMe.

The for-profit platform, headquartered in Redwood City, Calif., bills itself as fast and safe way to raise money from friends, family and online community members for causes from emergencies to charities.

Pricing model 

A transaction fee of 2.9% plus 30 cents is automatically deducted per donation, according to the platform. Based on the fees, someone raising $500 from five donors would receive $484 in their bank account, according to a sample calculation on the platform. 

The platform promises to get funds to beneficiaries within two to five business days via bank transfers.

“During humanitarian disasters and other crises, our team proactively monitors and verifies fundraisers so the communities impacted can receive the quick and trusted support they need,” O’Malley told Mainebiz.

For a fundraiser to be considered verified, it must go through an enhanced due diligence review process, she noted.

“This process includes both a robust human review from our world-class trust-and-safety experts as well as technical tools designed to catch misuse,” she noted. “For our team to verify a fundraiser, it must be clear who the organizer is, as well as the person, business, or charity they are raising funds for, the organizer’s relationship to the recipient of the funds, and how the funds will be used. 

She also said that GoFundMe also has the first and only donor protection guarantee in the fundraising industry. 

Asked if anything sets Maine donors apart, O’Malley said, "We often see an outpouring of support and kindness on GoFundMe during these moments and it is not surprising the generosity that Mainers are showing for each other.”

That is reflected in GoFundMe’s recently released 2023 Year in Help report, highlighting stories of resilience, the most generous communities and fundraising data. 

The report ranks Maine as the second-most generous state for supporting individuals, causes and organizations after Vermont, which was No. 1 for the second year in a row.

Other ways to donate 

GoFundMe isn’t the only way to donate, and one financial expert urges donors to exercise caution before making a payment.

“For individuals and families, GoFundMe is certainly a viable option but, as always, make sure the ‘ask’  is legitimate and the website is safe and secure (look for the https:// in the browser),” says Jon Paradise, senior vice president at Town & Country Federal Credit Union. He also notes that paying by credit card is usually advised in these situations.

“However, for nonprofits, we would suggest contributing directly to that organization as it ensures that most, if not all, of your contribution is going to the cause," he added.

Paradise said that while Town & Country has not yet seen an increase in members reaching out for assistance, the Scarborough-based institution stands ready to work with any members who are affected by severe weather events and other challenges.

“Town & Country has a long history of helping people through a variety of financial situations and works one-on-one with members to find solutions that meet their needs,” he said. 

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