When Tim Cadogan took the reins at GoFundMe, the world’s largest fundraising platform, on March 2, 2020, he had a mere four days to meet his employees in person before everyone started working remotely.
“In a way, that was my first big decision,” says Cadogan, who previously served as chief executive of the advertising tech company OpenX. In his first year as GoFundMe CEO, he guided the 11-year-old company through a period of unprecedented use. Donations took off in response to the coronavirus pandemic, protests for racial justice, and environmental disasters.
“I guess there’s no better way to learn how a company works than when it’s stretched to the maximum,” he says.
Here, Cadogan reflects on a crazy year, the streamlined GoFundMe Causes initiative, and how the pandemic has changed the way people give.
On making charity easier:
“Generally, you see a GoFundMe campaign for someone or something that you know about, and because you know them you’re motivated to give. But let’s say you want to help people pay rent, but you don’t know a particular person who’s in need. We’ve created Causes to make it easier to give to a general pattern of need. Basic Necessities is one of the Causes, and if you give to that fund, that money will go to a blend of charities that work on things like rent relief, and also to individual campaigns. We curate those and make sure they fit that category. It’s a way to resolve the paradox of choice.”
On 2020’s giving trends:
“Early on, we saw people putting together incredibly entrepreneurial supply chains to get PPE from factories in China to the U.S. Then, as the lockdown really started to bite, we saw a huge wave of small businesses that were struggling. Then the George Floyd tragedy happened, and we saw a huge amount of activity around themes of police brutality and social justice. June 2 was the biggest day we’ve ever seen in terms of the number of donations. The memorial fund set up by George Floyd’s family saw donations from over 150 countries. That was overlaid on top of ongoing COVID-related fundraisers, and also, tragically, a lot of fundraisers for funerals and memorials. In the summer, another trend was wildfires, and in August we saw a lot of fundraisers for Beirut.”
On the platform’s role as a safety net:
“Sometimes we’re the last resort, and, honestly, that is sad. There are situations where we would much rather there were ways for people to be taken care of that didn’t require them to use a system like ours. I think in any society there’s a certain level of need that you hope is handled by the government, and then there are needs that extend beyond that. I think the question is, where is that threshold? We’re just glad that we’re able to provide something that can make a difference.”
On the pandemic’s impact on giving:
“If there’s ever been a crisis that has affected everyone, this is it, so I think and hope that it’s created some degree of universal empathy that will carry over. There are a couple of other things going on as well, including a quest for an emotional connection. The ability to give directly to somebody else creates a more powerful emotional connection than giving through an intermediary. I think people want to see the effect of their giving. These are themes that were at work anyway, but most of them have been accelerated by the pandemic.”