Brenda Lynn says her autistic 3-year-old son, Kaleo, hardly speaks, and his inability to express himself frustrates him - except when using his speech therapist's iPad.
"The iPad really controlled the tantrums and helped him communicate. I tried to get him one, but I couldn't afford it on my own," said the unemployed 39-year-old from Orlando, Fla. "I applied for grants, but I wasn't lucky enough."
So she turned to Facebook and GoFundMe.com, a crowdfunding website that allows people to solicit cash for personal causes. She asked for $500 and raised $620 in 17 hours.
Crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo and RocketHub have for years helped entrepreneurs start or expand businesses. Now, people increasingly are using similar sites and social media to raise money for their personal wants and needs.
Examples of campaigns on GoFundMe include a $350 birthday trip to New York, a $2,800 religious mission to Malawi, and a $10,000 fertility treatment.
Brad Damphousse, GoFundMe CEO, said users should not expect complete strangers to pay for their dreams.
"Rather, someone's honeymoon will be funded by wedding guests in lieu of other gifts," he said.
The most popular categories on GoFundMe, which Damphousse founded in 2010, are medical illness and healing; volunteer and service; and education, schools and learning.
He did not share the number of active campaigns on the site, saying only it has "hundreds of thousands of users." Damphousse also would not disclose how many campaigns succeeded in raising their goals.
There are three types of accounts users can start on GoFundMe. A personal donations account sends the user funds as they start to roll in, and there is no deadline. A charity campaign forwards all donations to the specific charity on a monthly basis.
The "all or nothing" account is similar to those found on Kickstarter where supporters will only be charged if the campaign reaches its goal before the deadline.
Money raised is sent to a personal account created by the user, much like PayPal. That account charges users a 2.9 percent fee plus 30 cents for every donation. GoFundMe also deducts 5 percent for each donation before it hits the users' accounts.
GoFundMe also lets users post their campaigns to social-media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
"Once I posted my campaign on Facebook, the donations started to come in," Lynn said.
Others are going straight to their friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter seeking money.
Jovanny Bartoleo, a musician for an Orlando band, said he raised cash for a $1,100 guitar that he wanted for an upcoming tour. So he asked his "buds on Facebook" to chip in.
"I raised about $900 on Facebook, and my brother gave me the rest," he said.
Not everyone is on board with this. Some Facebook users say they don't want to see donation requests from their friends in their newsfeed.
"I think it's just rude," said 26-year-old Orlando waiter Tara Mathison. "It seems like something you ask friends in person, not all over the Internet."
Lynn said she was reluctant to ask for money for Kaleo's iPad on Facebook and GoFundMe, but donors' responses settled her apprehensions.
"I was really overwhelmed by everyone's generosity," said Lynn, who recently bought the device for her son. "I don't question others' intentions. To each his own, but I would not have done this if it wasn't for something necessary."
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