NEW YORK (MainStreet) When Ynanna Djehuty wanted to complete her classes to become a licensed midwife, she didn't turn to her friends and family to ask for help to pay the tuition fees or get a job; she went online and asked strangers.
In 13 months, Djehuty, 29, who lives in El Paso, Texas, raised $6,916.00 from 170 people, including anonymous donations as high as $500. She appealed to donors in an 11-minute video and written commentary by explaining her cause.
"I am down to the wire and need to raise the rest of my funds," she wrote on her GoFundMe page, a crowdfunding and fundraising website. "I am answering the call to support our women who need a culturally relevant midwife and health care provider. My special interest is young teenage mothers and women in their 20s. Our women are falling through the cracks in terms of reproductive health."
Crowdfunding has become increasingly popular and commonplace as social media and has eased the way for both donors to contribute to common causes and ideas and consumers to seek funding for their projects and monetary goals.
The increase in people asking for money on social media is a "direct outgrowth of the enormous success and publicity of sites like Kickstarter," said Paul Levinson, a professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University in New York City.
"Everyone has an urge to be generous at one time or another," he said. "If artists and writers can ask the world for money to do their work, why can't anyone ask friends and even complete strangers for money to go on vacation? These new social media sites allow people to fulfill that urge, which makes them feel good about themselves any time they like."
Djehuty's donors were largely sympathetic to her career goals.
"The world needs more caring and competent midwives," wrote Cynthia Davidson, who donated $100. "I donate in honor of the midwives who delivered my three children safely and because I believe in you."
Raising money online was the only avenue Djehuty felt would help her achieve her goal quickly. Becoming a midwife would also help her give back to the community, Djehuty told MainStreet.
"I don't work, but the donations I've gotten from GoFundMe have been sustaining me," she said. "I didn't know how else to get the money I needed but to fundraise. Going to this school would make me more accessible sooner and there is a shortage of midwives of color that needs to be addressed."
Disclosing personal information, even your finances is not unusual anymore, Levinson said. Artists, writers, producers and musicians are happy to divulge that they need money for their projects.
"Privacy about finances is much less of a concern these days," he said. "Patreon.com allows people to support writers and producers on a monthly basis without even a specific project."
The gap of giving money to people who are working for artistic purposes or creating a retail item is narrowing and extending to people with other seemingly arbitrary goals, Levinson said.
"It's a small jump from that to sites that allow people to give money to others for whatever reason - artistic or otherwise," he said. "The people who ask for the money feel they are no different than the writers or artists on Kickstarter and Patreon."
Even Fidelity Investments, the Boston-based financial services company, has jumped on the bandwagon. Now the owners of Fidelity's 529 college savings accounts can encourage friends and family to help them save for college by posting a link on their Facebook or Twitter pages. Asking friends and family to contribute to a child's college fund is becoming less taboo with 28% of parents who said they plan to do so, Fidelity said.
"Parents are working hard to save for college, but it is challenging to save enough," said Keith Bernhardt, vice president of college planning for Fidelity Investments. "Many are encouraging friends and family to consider contributing to a child's college savings fund as a gift idea for birthdays, holidays or graduations."
The largest shift in crowdfunding is people asking donors to help them fulfill their "personal goals, dreams and plans, including personal debts," said Stephen Andriole, the Thomas G. LaBrecque Professor of Business in the department of decision and information technologies at the Villanova School of Business in Pennsylvania.
"There are lots of students trying to get 'the crowd' to help them pay their student debts and fund their future educational and other plans," he said. "Student debts are enormous and growing. There just aren't enough family and friends to pay off the $1 trillion in student debts that already exist or to pay for weddings, honeymoons, rent or healthcare."
Crowdfunding might be the only option for some people to level the playing field because of the large proportion of income inequality that exists, Andriole said. Personal crowd funding is an "indicator of income inequality in the U.S. and just how desperate students and other Americans have become," he said.
"It will be fascinating to watch the 'pitches' students develop to get funded and the dialogue around who gets funded and who gets stiffed," Andriole said. "There's little to no chance students will be able to pay for higher education and other debts and dreams, so why not go where the money is? All of this is just a sign of the times and a reflection of just how creative and resourceful humans can be when they must."
While BoostUp, a Detroit social savings platform, encourages consumers to save for big purchases, including a car, home, wedding or trip because retailers give financial incentives, it also allows you to fundraise.
Crowdfunding brings a lot of practicality to gift giving so people don't wind up with unused gift cards and instead can give something more "tangible," said John Morgan, CEO of BoostUp.
"There is an engagement of the story that draws people in," he said. "People are able to tell their story better by posting pictures and videos. You have a megaphone. You can touch hundreds of people."
Emotions play an important role when it comes to making charitable donations and and finding the right "fit" is crucial for the donors, said Siva Viswanathan, an associate professor of information systems at the University of Maryland.
Social media is another key fundamental factor because it allows donors to share the information without the appearance of bragging, he said. Online markets provide a number of mechanisms and tools to enable users to share information about their donations online with their social circles.
"As more people within a user's social circle become aware of the user's donation, the user might gain utility from this increased 'warm-glow' effect," Viswanathan said.
Given the plethora of causes and organizations seeking donations or investments, donors might find it "daunting to the make the 'right' choices," he said. Donations by friends can serve as a valuable signal and help users in making choices of who and how much to donate.
"Online markets have brought charitable giving as well as investments out of the closet and made it much more of the social activity that they are," Viswanathan said.
--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet