The internet has made a lot of things either obsolete or virtually obsolete in recent years, including bookstores, record stores, video stores, and print journalism. In the early days of the web, however, very few would have predicted that online charity would have a sizable impact on the world at large. Yet the internet is very much making its presence felt in that realm today. There will be no telethon for muscular dystrophy this Labor Day, for instance. That traditional broadcast, for decades hosted by comedian Jerry Lewis, was phased out in 2014. Part of what killed the telethon was the relative success of such online trends as the “ice bucket challenge,” which raised both funds and awareness for ALS several summers ago. As further evidence that charity is headed online, Lyz Lenz has written a provocative article for The Daily Dot entitled “Is Crowdfunding The New Church?”
Despite that name, the story does not suggest that people go to sites like GoFundMe in order to worship or evangelize. But crowdfunding sites could be reaching millennials in a way that traditional, brick-and-mortar churches simply can’t. And part of the reason may be anonymity. It’s somehow easier for people to give money to strangers than to neighbors and community members.
This particular sea change in philanthropy is still in progress. The transition is far from complete. By this story’s reckoning, only 22 percent of people have given to a crowdfunding campaign, while a good 36 percent have never even heard of GoFundMe. And the popular site does not want wish to replace traditional charities anyway. A spokesman says that GoFundMe is “just another way of expressing [community support].” What the story does suggest is that churches, whose attendance is declining, have lost their focus on helping the poor because they’ve become too fixated on moral issues like homosexuality and abortion. When a young woman needs an abortion because she’s been raped, she cannot very well go to a church for the money, and asking neighbors and friends for help would be problematic as well. In such a case, crowdfunding might seem like a viable option. Maybe the only viable option.