Julie Brewer spent two years caring for her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother. A few weeks after her mother’s death, Julie began experiencing intense migraines that eventually sent her to the hospital. The cause of her pain turned out to be a brain tumor roughly the size of a tennis ball.

Surgery to remove the growth was only partially effective. In order to prevent additional damage to Julie’s brain, her doctors could only extract about 70 percent of the tumor. She had to undergo radiation and chemotherapy treatment to try to eliminate the rest of the cancer.

The cost of Julie’s care was staggering. Even for those who are insured, chemotherapy co-payments can quickly soar into the thousands of dollars. Julie’s plight inspired one of her close friends, Yen Nguyen, to raise money to help her pay her medical bills. Rather than a traditional, small-scale approach to fundraising, Nguyen decided to try crowdfunding.

What is Crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is the emerging trend of online fundraising by individuals and small groups. Crowdfunding websites, such as GoFundMe and Kickstarter, help people raise money for a particular cause or project. Individuals seeking donations use these sites to set up profiles where they can tell their stories, communicate with donors and share their requests for funds throughout the Internet and across social media platforms.

These sites have been used to finance a variety of endeavors, including start-up companies, independent art projects and charitable causes. Some people, like Nguyen, also tap into the power of the crowd to help themselves or a loved one pay for personal expenses, such as medical bills or school tuition.

Online fundraising is a rapidly growing trend. Since it was founded in 2010, GoFundMe has raised more than $4 billion. As health care costs have continued to rise, so has the use of crowdfunding to cover these expenses. A 2015 NerdWallet study found that 41 percent of all campaigns on the platforms GiveForward (recently acquired by YouCaring), Plumfund, FundRazr and Red Basket were raising funds for medical care.

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Connecting Those Who Care

The particular appeal of crowdfunding sites is that they provide a method of connection for people who are otherwise separated by distance or lack of awareness. “The issue with modern society is that people are sick behind closed doors,” says Buckley Fricker, an elder law attorney, certified care manager and the president of Buckley’s For Seniors based in Washington, D.C. “We don’t necessarily know the extent of what our friends and family members are going through, because everyone is spread far and wide.”

For Fricker, the power of the digital crowdfunding movement lies in its ability to overcome these issues. Those in need have a place to tell their stories and reach out for help, while friends, family and well-meaning strangers can lend a helping hand, regardless of distance.

How Caregivers Can Benefit from Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding can be a useful resource for caregivers and seniors who are struggling to pay for hospital bills, wheelchairs, expensive medications, adult day care and more. While it is often friends and family who initially fork over funds, a powerful story and an established community of donors can compel even complete strangers to part with cash for a cause they identify with.

Here are a few tips for starting a successful crowdfunding campaign for your loved one’s care.

Pick the Right Site

There are countless crowdfunding platforms on the Internet, so do your research and make sure to choose one that is the right fit for you. Three important factors to take into consideration are how long the site has been operating, how successful its campaigns are and what fees it charges.

In the fast-paced world of online start-ups, new sites can come and go in a heartbeat. Make sure the platform you choose has been around for at least a year. Scope out profiles on the site to see how long a typical campaign lasts and whether or not users generally reach their monetary goal.

One of the benefits of crowdfunding is that, according to Fricker, any money you receive is considered a tax-exempt gift. However, it’s important to make sure you fully understand the policies of whichever site you decide to use. Some platforms take a portion of the money donated to each cause (generally somewhere between 5 and 20 percent) and charge fees for processing payments.

Involve the Younger Generations

According to Fricker, one of the biggest challenges of crowdfunding for older adults is that they are less likely to have friends and family who are online, compared to their younger counterparts. This can make it harder to get the word out about their cause. Since individual donations are typically smaller, Fricker says a larger social network is crucial for meeting your monetary goal.

This is one area of caregiving where younger relatives can play an important role. Ask your children or grandchildren to help you sign up for a crowdfunding site and spread the word about your cause. They are likely to be more adept at creating online profiles and using social media to connect with potential donors.

Share Your Story

In order to run a successful crowdfunding campaign, you can’t be afraid to don your marketer’s hat. Potential donors want to hear about you and your loved one, why you need help and what their money is going towards. To do this, you’ll need a compelling headline, a concise story and a good picture.

The headline you choose to introduce your story to the world can make a huge difference in the number of donations you receive. Most crowdfunding sites feature pages and pages of campaign listings. Each listing is typically composed of a headline and a single picture. You have to pique a potential donor’s interest with your title and convince them to click on your campaign. A few real-life examples of click-provoking headlines include “Fight for a Warrior,” “Marcy Ketelsen, Not Running from Cancer,” and “Help Kate Bornstein Stay Alive.”

A great picture goes a long way, too. Try to find a photograph of your loved one to upload and include in your profile. People are more likely to trust and connect with a cause if they can see the person they’re helping.

Show Your Gratitude

Try to personally thank each individual who donates to your cause, no matter how much they contribute. The message doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or long-winded, just let people know that you’re grateful for their help. Most sites have tools that make it easy for members to send a message, thanking people for contributing.

Posting updates to your profile is another excellent way of keeping your donors informed about your loved one’s situation. A thank you note is touching, but letting contributors know that you were able to pay off one of Mom’s hospital bills or arrange in-home care for your husband with their assistance is priceless. It shows that you are using the contributions as intended and clearly illustrates the positive impact of their donations.

All You Have to Do Is Ask

As with any fundraising effort, there are no guarantees when it comes to crowdfunding campaigns. But, the rising popularity of this form of online altruism is promising. Nguyen’s crowdfunding endeavor raised more than $1,700 for her friend’s mounting medical bills.

“Human beings are driven to help one another,” Fricker says, “but we have lost the ‘awareness’ factor that is a catalyst for people to know what is needed and how to help. Crowdfunding can be an excellent way to get back to easily helping one another.”

In other words, people are willing to help; all you need to do is ask.