Kickstarter is pandhandling

Written by Paul Dail

The human conscience is a funny thing. I’ve always believed we should help others where we can so long as it doesn’t put us in dire straights ourselves. However, I won’t deny sometimes my charitable acts have a little hidden price tag under the broader label of “doing the right thing.” Sometimes there’s guilt. Sometimes a misguided sense of karmic return. These mixed emotions have probably colored charitable giving since before the first jingling bell of Salvation. However, the crowdfunding world of Kickstarter and GoFundMe has changed the face of charity, and when entitlement seems to drive a request for help, these mixed emotions go right out the window for me.

I can ignore them much easier in these cases. Mostly because life has taught me that I’m not entitled to anything to which I haven’t contributed some part.

I remember the exact moment in my life when I realized I wasn’t going to be the type of guy to “win the lottery” when it came to getting what I wanted. It was post-college, and I lived in a state where you could actually “win the lottery.” No, not Nevada. Montana. I was working construction at the time, which is what one does after they have earned a BFA in English with a creative writing emphasis.

“Here is your diploma; you can pick up your hammer at Home Depot.”

Our crew had stopped at a gas station after lunch break one day. The gas station had the most recent lotto numbers displayed in their windows. The jackpot was up to something like $4 million. A ticket was only a dollar, but at that point in my life, dollars were in short supply.

The realization in that moment that it would be work which would ultimately pay off for me was not a huge surprise; it was a belief I had been cultivating for many years, largely as the result of growing up with a father who held a firm blue-collar work ethic. 

That didn’t mean I didn’t want to win the lottery, didn’t want to already be getting paid to write, living a little more comfortably than my current situation. I just didn’t think it was in my cards to get there the easy way.

Maybe I just didn’t want to gamble that one dollar.

Since then, I’ve seen my hard work pay off. It took a little longer than I expected for some aspects of my life to take shape, but they did. And I’m actively working toward other aspects. So it bothers me a little when I see what amounts in some cases to sanctioned panhandling on sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe.

Before I go much further, let me say I know there are many sides of the crowdfunding phenomena, and I don’t object to all of them.

Raising money for someone else in need via GoFundMe? Awesome, provided that person knows you are doing it and is okay with it. Much beyond this, the lines of my conscience aren’t as clear.

For example, what about raising money for your own personal medical condition? This one is a little trickier. I have been pretty vocal about how fortunate I was to have insurance when I had kidney cancer, but if I hadn’t been so fortunate, I’m not sure what I would have done.

I’m not sure I would take it to the GoFundMe level of hitting up my friends or strangers–assuming in most of these cases, family has done (or chosen not to do) what they could reasonably do or chose not to do.

If it meant life or death or the bankrupting of my family and not being able to take care of my children, you can bet I would, but if I could figure out something that just meant I would have to work a little harder, wait a little longer, and take care of it on my own, I probably would do that instead and skip the GoFundMe route.

Then there’s Kickstarter, which is a whole other beast.

With Kickstarter, at least the donor (“backer” in their parlance) gets something in return for their investment. Granted, in most cases of choosing to back friends and family, I wouldn’t necessarily expect anything, but it’s a nice token, right? Kind of like if they gave you a little Santa sticker when you dropped some coins in the Salvation Army container at Christmas. You don’t need it, but it’s cute.

And let’s face it, for some of these rewards, it’s about the same as that Santa sticker. As I run in writer circles, the one that cracks me up is the oft-seen offer to have a character named after me. How vain do I have to be to make this a selling point for my financial backing?

“Hey, look! There’s my name in print!”

But it’s a token, right? And when I think about a good friend of mine, a life coach who is practicing what she preaches, relying on the Universe and the kindness of others via her GoFundMe site and offering a nearly constant stream of wisdom and encouragement in return, it is my meager donation that is just a token.

The ones that bother me are the people asking me to crowdfund their dreams while dangling a carrot that doesn’t look so savory. I’ll stay with the aspiring writer example for illustration. These are the “I’m going to write the next Great American Novel but can’t be bothered with things like a job while I’m doing it” projects. 

Gone are the days of sitting on the corner at the truck stop wearing your best college shirt, a pad of paper in one hand and a sign saying “Anywhere” in the other. Now you can put your supplication out to the world via the Internet, soliciting for funds to “live the life you want to live,” build your invention, or create your opus. 

I get it.

It’s something I’ve wanted for years—at least when it comes to making a living. But for me, to take it to the next step and ask others to make it happen for me is where the entitlement enters the picture. Just because this is something you want doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to ask others to pay for it on your behalf.

There are lots of reasons and motivations behind giving money to someone else, but I think to get back to my earlier point, most of us give money because we recognize someone else in more dire straights than our own. 

However, you can call me Generation X, but I don’t consider the fact that you aren’t able to live your dream in this exact moment as putting you in dire straights and unable to make it happen on your own. From a predestination point of view, maybe it’s just not your time. 

From a practical point, maybe you aren’t ready. To again use the writing example, I know the publishing world is very subjective, but maybe there’s a reason nobody is picking up your story idea that sounds remarkably like a mix of “Star Wars” and “Ender’s Game” (or “Harry Potter” and “Hunger Games” for Generation Y).

Maybe you need to go back to the proverbial drawing board. Or practice your craft for a few more years. Never mind your lofty timetables and promises of free signed copies of the masterpiece (or at least free e-copies).

Because all that is contingent upon completion of the project. Have you ever written a novel? Because I have, and these things shouldn’t be rushed.

“And while we’re talking, I’m sorry, but how do I know you again?” 

The success stories of Kickstarter and GoFundMe are like the big lottery winnings. While a handful of people may get lucky and we see them on the television or read about them on the Internet, I’d daresay that more often, the ride to get where we want to be in life is not an easy one where people throw money at us just because we think we’re fabulous.

In the words of a theater instructor with whom I worked in my former life as a teacher, “Check your egos at the door.”

And get a job. It builds character. 

Or at least that’s what my father told me.

Paul D. Dail received his BFA in English with a Creative Writing emphasis from the University of Montana, Missoula. In addition to news and his bi-weekly opinion column, he also enjoys writing creative nonfiction and fiction (with a penchant for the darker side of the page). His collection of flash fiction, “Free Five,” has spent over a year and a half in the top 50 Kindle Horror Shorts Stories since its publication in 2012.

Currently Paul lives on the outskirts of Kanarraville, surrounded by the sagebrush and pinyon junipers, with his wife and two children. Read more about him at www.pauldail.com. While he prefers that any comments directed at a specific article be posted in a public forum, he welcomes all other correspondence at [email protected]

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Paul D. Dail is a freelance writer and managing editor of The Independent. He received his BFA in English with a creative writing emphasis from the University of Montana, Missoula. In addition to his contributions to The Independent, he also enjoys writing both creative nonfiction and fiction (with a penchant for the darker side of the page). Paul's first novel, a supernatural thriller entitled “The Imaginings,” is available wherever ebooks are sold, and his collection of flash fiction, “Free Five,” has spent over two years in the top 50 Kindle Horror Short Stories since its publication in 2012.