Ever since 74-year-old Robert Godwin was shot dead on the streets of Cleveland this past Easter Sunday, the internet has been lit up with expressions of sorrow, shock, sympathy, and of course skepticism surrounding GoFundMe campaigns in his name.
A day after the murder, Godwin’s daughter tweeted a very clear directive: “People have set up GoFundMe accounts fraudulently. Please stop it.”
At least 35 fraudulent accounts purporting to benefit Mr. Godwin’s family appeared on GoFundMe in the hours following the announcement of his death.
All but one have been removed from the platform. The campaign started by Wesley Davis, a student at Arizona State University and total stranger to the family, was never removed. It remained up, gathering thousands of dollars, even as the chief of Cleveland Police was telling the public NOT to donate to any GoFundMe campaigns in Mr. Godwin’s name per his family’s wishes. That’s the important part of all of this, a fact GoFundMe’s statement on the matter completely glosses over.
Obviously, this is a tragic and highly-publicized event, and as such GoFundMe was not going to let this campaign turn into a monetary free-for-all for the campaign organizer. They reached out to campaign organizer Davis, thanked him for creating the campaign (again, friendly reminder that the family specifically warned AGAINST any GoFundMe campaigns), and stated that they were able to reach someone from the Godwin family so they could force this money on them. Money, I will once again remind you they never asked for and did not want.
Godwin’s daughter made that clear on Sunday:
While the Godwins were speaking out about “fake” campaigns, GoFundMe was working with Davis to add credibility to his campaign, which was rapidly collecting donations.
In a statement emailed to 12 News in Arizona, GoFundMe completely glossed over the family’s wishes and instead focused on their efforts to get the money to the family.
It’s not uncommon for someone to create a GoFundMe to help another individual after a news report. We have spoken with the GoFundMe campaign organizer, members of the family, and local authorities. We’ll guarantee the money will be deposited directly into the family’s bank account.
“As with any event, there may be multiple people who want to help. With regard to additional GoFundMes, we are directing everyone to the campaign above. Regardless, all funds raised for the Godwin’s will be transferred directly to the family. It’s important to remember that our platform is backed by the GoFundMe Guarantee, which means funds are guaranteed to go to the right place.”
The station, as a result, endorsed the campaign as “verified,” lending even more credibility to the campaign despite the fact that it had never — and still hasn’t — been officially and publicly endorsed by the family. You know, the people who actually knew Robert Godwin Sr and who were most deeply affected by his death. Not Wesley Davis, not a GoFundMe spokesperson, and not the hundreds of people around the world throwing money at the GoFundMe campaign. It seems in this case the intoxication of “doing good” totally usurped the wishes of this man’s family, and GoFundMe is just as high on it as anyone.
Do we have reason to believe Wesley Davis is intentionally scamming people? Obviously not. And even if that were his intent to begin with (we have no reason to believe it was), there’s absolutely no way GoFundMe will let that happen now. Why they can’t treat all campaigns with the same diligence is a topic for another day. But why leave his campaign up and not the 34 others that were also completely unauthorized by the family? They all had the same thing in common: they weren’t started nor sanctioned by the Godwin family. Why leave any up at all? This wasn’t GoFundMe’s call, whether or not they made contact with the family to get the money to them is beside the point, the point is this family never wanted it. A point that is completely lost on GoFundMe, obviously, as they seem to think that issuing a statement about their flimsy guarantee is sufficient. *cue whooshing sound*
GoFundMe further muddled the bong water of “Doing Good” by telling The Washington Post they vetted the campaign, going so far as to serve as spokespeople for the Godwin family:
In the wake of the Godwin killing, GoFundMe is trying to resolve the problem so that donations can continue. GoFundMe spokesman Bobby Whithorne said in a statement that it’s not uncommon for numerous crowdfunding pages to be set up for one victim.
But, Whithorne told The Washington Post, in the case of Alexander’s page, the site has “spoken with the GoFundMe campaign organizer, members of the family, and local authorities. We’ll guarantee the money will be deposited directly into the family’s bank account.”
Asked whether this is protocol, Whithorne said, “We monitor the entire platform. We ensure the funds raised go to the family or [are] refunded to the donor.”
Whithorne suggested that people use Alexander’s page for donations for the Godwin family.
“GoFundMe has vetted this campaign and it’s authentic,” he added. “They are in direct communication with the family and have confirmed all funds will be deposited directly into their bank account. This is the only campaign verified by the family.”
Interestingly, GoFundMe’s statements to the Post contradict their own terms and conditions:
So I ask again: why this campaign? Why this tragedy? Judging by the headlines over the last few days, it seems to me that this entire situation has revealed a giant chink in GoFundMe’s armor. More than ever, news stations are asking Can you trust GoFundMe pages? How do you know if a GoFundMe is legit?
Worth noting, this is the first we’ve ever seen GoFundMe so aggressively insist that a beneficiary take money they never wanted, going so far as to endorse a campaign as legitimate. Wouldn’t it have been easier — and more in line what the family wanted — to close the campaign to donations and then do the right thing to get them the money?
Not your call to make, GoFundMe, and no amount of money you deposit in the family’s bank account will change that.
As of press time, the “official” (per GoFundMe, at least) campaign for the family of Robert Godwin Sr has raised $88,101. Based solely off that current number, GoFundMe and their payment processor WePay will take away $7994.68; 5% to GoFundMe ($4405.05), 2.9% to WePay ($2554.93), and an additional 30¢ transaction fee per donation to WePay ($1034.70).