GoFundMe seized $1337, blocked my book campaign and account

By Roman Pushkin

I’m software engineer almost like everyone else in the Silicon Valley. I was born in another country, relocated to United States, raised with computer as a part of the family. At some point of time I founded non-profit organization in United States called LibreTaxi to help people with libre open-source Uber alternative, and also I’m the professor in my own online school where I teach students ruby language for free.

In online school we have free 100-hour videos about Ruby language and Ruby on Rails framework (these videos are 99% in Russian). There are more than 600 people in our chat, and we like programming, ruby, web development; people sometimes meet with each other in the different parts of the world. I like contributing to this community, so I decided to write a book about Ruby.

Before the book can be published, I decided to get a feedback from users, and it was quite positive. I was using Google Docs to write the first draft, and I was half way through it, about 150 pages in Google Docs, which is about 200+ actual pages of the book.

Everyone who wrote their own book knows how tough it is. You need to contribute every day, and sometimes it’s hard to find inspiration and resources. I also wanted to translate my book from Russian to Spanish and English. So I decided to run book campaign, so I can free up some of my time on weekends, delegating care of the younger generation and dedicating more time to the book about Ruby language.

I used GoFundMe, created campaign, explained the vision of the second part of a book, provided a link to the free and live copy of the book (you could actually see there me typing). And posted this link almost everywhere, as GoFundMe recommends. I don’t have screenshots of the campaign page, but here is how posting looked like in LinkedIn:

Book campaign post in LinkedIn

Can you imagine what I felt when in about 1 hour I got the following email from GoFundMe:

Wow! I just raised $1337 in less than one hour in one payment! Fantastic result! It turned out that one of my friends was really passionate about the book and decided to sponsor the project. I reached out to him immediately and thanked for such a generous contribution. I informed everyone else in our chat that the goal was reached and there is no need to fund the project anymore. Unfortunately, my excitement was short-lived.

On Monday 7/16/2018 when I got the following message from GoFundMe:

“Upon review… all pending payments have been canceled”. There must be some mistake. I visited my campaign page, but there was no campaign anymore:

How your campaign looks like when GoFundMe doesn’t like you

I tried to sign in to see what’s going on, but I couldn’t pass login screen:

When you are banned, GoFundMe just tells you the captcha is wrong

I immediately reached out to GoFundMe through email, because there is no other ways I can reach them now:

Reply to their email with subject “Your account can no longer accept payments”

Since I had contact of my the only one funder (who is U.S. citizen, if it makes any difference), I reached out to him. He said he has no idea what’s going on, and never got email from GoFundMe, and no refund was posted to his bank account.

After 4 days I still have no reply from GoFundMe. I have no clue what could have gone wrong, I really want to know. I understand that campaign was little bit unusual, but why there is no explanation?

GoFundMe seized $1337, terminated my book campaign and closed my account. Why? The only answer is because they can. If you use GoFundMe, please know that they can just silently ban you, and consider other fundraising and crowdfunding online platforms.

I understand GoFundMe can block your account without any explanation. They don’t owe you anything, and if they think it’s better for their business to block you, they will do it and provide no feedback. Seems it’s absolutely legal, and it’s explained in Terms of service.

But this is bad, because you rely on them, you trust them, they are like your best friend, because they help you doing important thing. When I raised the amount I wanted I immediately reached out to my potential sponsor and said that our goal was reached.

Yes, I was excited, but this was my mistake — because it’s always harder to reach to your potential donors for the second time and ask them to fund again: “Oh, yesterday we’ve reached our goal, but nevermind, because GoFundMe closed campaign, let’s do it again”. It’s kinda awkward. Your donors think that something’s wrong with you, that you’re cheater, because GoFundMe never closes campaigns for no reason, right?

I was happy that my campaign was about the book, not something serious, some kind of illness of the closest relative or whatever. If you’re raising funds for these reasons, please be extra careful! Try to avoid GoFundMe, they seems becoming pretty monstrous now, maybe it was nice and cozy before, but as a growing company, they’re becoming a “funding corporation” with no human face. And there are plenty of other alternatives too: YouCaring, IndieGoGo, Fundly, KickStarter, etc.

Q: Why would a friend pay through GoFundMe, who takes a cut, rather than give to you directly?
A: You’ve just ruined their business model. But this is how it works. Your friends support you.

Q: It looks like fraud or money laundering or tax evasion. Especially since you were raising a small amount, there was a single cross border transaction.
A: It looks like, but it wasn’t. I agree they can do whatever they want with their users. But at least, somebody from GoFundMe should reach out and explain. And if it happened to me, it can happen to you, and you should know about it. There was no cross-border, it was US-to-US transaction.

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