BIG TALK: Christian crowdsourcing site sees phenomenal growth

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THE BIG TALK

An occasional interview series with Americans who are challenging the status quo.

When Heather Wilson and her younger brother, Jacob Wells, launched the crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo, they did not intend it to be an option for those who run afoul of Big Tech’s politics.

But it has turned out that way.

“We’re here. We’re an alternative,” said Mr. Wells, 42. “We took our meager, God-given talent and developed a platform of freedom.”

GiveSendGo is a smaller player in what has become a kind of everyman’s venture capital, a market known in internet lingo as “collaborative funding via the web.” There was a time when Kickstarter seemed something exotic, but now the field is crowded with options. There is actual venture capital involved, too, under the rubric of “investment crowdfunding.”

Certainly, GiveSendGo, which follows the familiar donation model in which people give what they can to causes or people they support, isn’t as well known as GoFundMe. But to some extent, the former’s strong growth is attributable to the latter’s stink eye for politically incorrect fundraisers.

Since 2016, when the site fully opened, the devoutly Christian siblings behind GiveSendGo have seen their enterprise almost double in the first two years, double again between 2017 and 2018 and more than double that by the end of 2020.

Billed as “the No. 1 free Christian crowdfunding site,” it now hosts as many as 1,500 new fundraisers a month, 80% of which are individuals. In the first quarter of this year, the site saw its total number of active users rise by 286% and donations increase by 836%, according to Ms. Wilson and Mr. Wells.

The site got its first big gulp of controversy when Kyle Rittenhouse’s defense fund was looking for a home after it was kicked off GoFundMe.

Mr. Rittenhouse, now 18 years old, faces homicide and other charges after he was involved in a fracas during violent protests last year in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He has said he fired at people in self-defense during the unrest that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man.

While neither Mr. Wells nor Ms. Wilson would disclose figures, an Associated Press report this month said Mr. Rittenhouse’s defense fund has raised more than $2 million.

GiveSendGo’s sibling founders say they have not taken sides in the high-profile case, and in fact, wrestled with whether to take Mr. Rittenhouse as a client.

“We were like, ‘Oh, my goodness, what should we do here?’” Ms. Wilson recalled. “I mean, we were primarily a place for mission trips and puppy dogs.

“But everyone else had deemed him unworthy to receive funds, and we feel that in the U.S. you are presumed innocent — or you should be,” she said. “People have the right to an attorney, even if they are bad or have done something wrong.”

Similarly, when William Kelly was fired from the police department in Norfolk, Virginia, for making a private $25 contribution to Mr. Rittenhouse’s defense fund and writing a supportive comment, it was GiveSendGo that allowed him to fundraise.

They have paid a price in vitriolic hate mail. Discover Card wouldn’t permit donations to the website, and Facebook has blocked it, too.

“Freedom comes with a price,” said Ms. Wilson. “But it seemed to us like a fundamental principle. It opened up a whole can of worms, but were we going to ban him because they’re not ‘following the narrative?’ You know what? That’s what we’re going to do.”

The trend continues. The majority of campaigns involve small, personal goals. But one of the website’s biggest most recent drives raised more than $500,000 for Facebook whistleblower Morgan Kahmann, who was fired after leaking the social network’s documents on censoring posts about vaccine hesitancy to the conservative muckraking group Project Veritas.

None of which makes GiveSendGo particularly popular with Big Tech.

“The mob wants to shut us down,” Mr. Wells said. “But people get so fixated on the national news they sometimes forget God gives us sovereignty.”

Ms. Wilson, 45, calls herself “the older, wiser sister — and you can print that.”

“I think when you start a business you’re excited and think, ‘This is going to change the world! People are going to love it! People are just going to flood to us and want to use it!’” Ms. Wilson said with a laugh. “But in retrospect, I think if we had had immediate growth we might have failed. We’ve been able to learn our lessons as we went.”

One lesson is that no matter how deeply held one’s belief in charity, and no matter how many good causes there may be, there simply isn’t an ocean of donors to tap.

“I think there’s a lot of misconceptions out there, there just aren’t a lot of people out there looking to give money,” Ms. Wilson said. “There has to be a level of faith.”

To that end, a GiveSendGo board member checks each proposal personally and offers regular prayer calls, all part of the site’s effort to ensure those raising funds are legit and the genuine recipients of the funds, the siblings said.

“We have to verify the person, that this is a real person and not someone who might show up on a terrorist watch list,” Mr. Wells said. “We want donors to know that he’s the one who filled out the forms, it’s his bank account and when you give, you know exactly who got it.”

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