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How to know if a crowdfunding effort is a worthy cause

Flickr user Scott Beale

Crowdfunding. The word itself wasn't even known less than a decade ago. But crowdfunding has become a powerful way to raise money.

EquityNet tells us that more than $20 billion in funding transactions will happen around the world this year. That is a 100% increase from $10 billion last year.

And the number of crowdfunding platforms and websites continues to grow: sites like IndieGoGo, GoFundMe, Kickstarter and Pledgie.

We're accosted with all of those crowdfunding requests each time we go on Facebook or other social media. Is it all too much?

Michigan Radio's social media producer, Kimberly Springer, says crowdfunding has been around forever, with pancake breakfasts, spaghetti dinners and community events. The difference is that online funding makes it much more visible.

Springer says crowdfunding originated from start-ups and the idea of allowing people to invest in companies directly.

"We've somehow managed to translate that into investing in one another and, in a lot of ways, where institutions have failed us," she says.

But as fundraising online has increased, it can exhaust us to figure out who or what is worthy of our money.

A campaign last year raised $55,000 on kickstarter to make potato salad, and this misuse of the medium has the potential to hurt campaigns that are more worthwhile.

For charity organizations, there is Charity Navigator that details how money is being utilized. But for crowdfunding there is currently no way to truly verify that the money is being used properly, Springer says. Instead, you have to simply trust the source.

Sites may also be beginning to monitor what is being funded, and some have shown they are willing to close down campaigns. Last year GoFundMe took down a woman's campaign who was raising money for an abortion. But interventions are rare. Springer says there are many questionable campaigns out there, often without an outline of how they will use the money.

As for the future of crowdfunding, Springer says,"I think it will continue along the lines of specialization and it's going to be up to us to just be really conscious about what makes us feel good in our giving and who do we want to help."

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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