Funeral Costs, GoFundMe as the New Obituary

The Business of Tragedy: How GoFundMe is Making a Killing Off Funeral Fundraisers

GoFundMe funeral

On September 9 at approximately 7:15pm, 13-year-old Shevy Lynn McGiffin of Clarion, PA left her home for a quick trip to Dollar General. Her body was found in a local stream on the afternoon of that following Sunday.

A GoFundMe campaign started by a family friend on the day McGiffin’s body was found — hours before the discovery of her body was announced — raised over $12000 before it was closed to donations. Not before it received a barrage of “negative” comments. For example:

I don’t know what is worse. the family using this girls death and publicity to ask for hand outs or the morons that eat this shit up and empty their wallets. “MY DAUGHTER WAS MURDERED, GO FUND ME!!!!!”


There are a lot of felons around the organizer of this fund raiser, including someone she dated who was arrested for the rape of a child. I would be wary of donating to this campaign, but if someone has an address for the mom, I’ll send her something directly.

An archive of the campaign (please forgive the pop up) can be found here.

When San Antonio couple Matt and Sunday Rowan died in a tragic hot balloon accident in late July, a scammer quickly threw up a GoFundMe campaign asking for $15k to bury them using photos and a story lifted directly from a news story in the San Antonio Express-News. That campaign was quickly removed after it was found out to be fake, but how many countless more escape detection?

Obvious scams aside, who are we to tell a family how much they’re allowed to ask for, or why? That question is rhetorical, of course. Going public with a plea for funds means opening yourself and your family up to questions; questions that may not always be pleasant, but should be expected. Don’t like them? Then don’t ask the public for money.

But just how prevalent is the funeral campaign trend? It feels like no one can die these days without a GoFundMe page going up within hours, but is that truly the case?

There’s absolutely no way for us to monitor every single funeral campaign on GoFundMe (LOL, that’s GoFundMe’s job), but as an experiment, we searched “died” in Google News. Let’s see what happens…

Houston Chronicle: Medical examiner: High school football player died of heart defect
GoFundMe: Support my family

People: New York Teen Dies from Brain-Eating Amoeba After Contracting Infection on Vacation: ‘She Was a Shining Light,’ Says Mom
GoFundMe: In memory of Kerry Stoutenburgh

KBZK: Community mourns death of Bozeman man who died while helping orphans in China
GoFundMe: Family travel/memorial expenses

The Plain Dealer: Patient whose sign in University Hospitals window went viral, died Sunday
GoFundMe: NOPE! The family suggests donations be made to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

This half-assed little experiment shows that it’s likely you’ll find a GoFundMe campaign attached to a news story (sometimes even within the news story itself) but it isn’t ridiculously common.

So just how many funeral fundraisers are out there and how often are they being put up?

We know that a new GoFundMe campaign is created every 18 seconds. We also know — using the most recent available numbers — that funeral fundraisers have raised $340 million on GoFundMe. Subtracting that from the total — again, based on the most recent available numbers we have — raised on GoFundMe of all-time, $2 billion, that tells us funeral fundraisers make up about 17% of all GoFundMe campaigns. If we crunch the numbers just a tad further, we find that a new funeral campaign is started about every 5 minutes. That means approximately 280 GoFundMe funeral campaigns every single day. With 7115 deaths a day in the United States, that means nearly 4% have a GoFundMe funeral campaign. [Ed. note: no one over here likes math, please feel free to audit our numbers]

If you consider the big picture, suddenly the thought of GoFundMe as the new obituary doesn’t seem nearly as widespread as it might appear at first glance. Mind you, we’ve cobbled together census data, CDC numbers, and GoFundMe self-reporting so, you know, take it for what its worth.

The business of dying isn’t one GoFundMe invented. The average North American funeral can run $10000 when all is said and done. Add to that, the number of Americans with life insurance dropped to a shocking 50 year low in 2010.

No doubt, a large majority of GoFundMe funeral pleas are legitimate. We’ll get into “legitimate” in a moment, first we need to get some alleged and confirmed fraudulent funeral campaigns out of the way.

The list goes on and on. An easy solution to this — as we’ve suggested countless times before — would be for GoFundMe to hold on to any funeral funds raised to be released only to the person legally authorize to oversee the deceased’s estate. Or, more simply, the person who signs the death certificate. Problem solved.

Well, kind of. What if it turns out someone legally authorized to collect money on someone’s behalf turns out to be a suspect in their murder? Yup, that happened. Jeanie Ditty and her boyfriend Zachary Earl Keefer are facing first degree murder and child abuse charges in the death of 2-year-old Macy Grace Ditty. This is after they raised over $6000 for her funeral on GoFundMe.

We stand by previous statements that it’s tasteless for these campaigns to pop up before the coroner has even picked up the body. We also stand by previous statements that it’s far too easy for random third cousins of someone’s kindergarten teacher to create a GoFundMe campaign for a dead person and then potentially run off with the cash. But we’re happy to report this trend isn’t nearly as pervasive as it seems. Still out of hand. Just not, you know, completely out of hand. Yet.