Death may come suddenly or after a long illness. But whenever it arrives, there’s a financial impact, and millions of families may have little or no assets to draw on for lost wages and funeral costs when they lose a loved one.
According to a NerdWallet analysis of four large online donation platforms, Americans are increasingly turning to crowdfunding for help at a time when funeral costs are high, savings are low and traditional safeguards such as life insurance aren’t part of the picture.
“People tend to plan for these expenses when they’re older or if they have a terminal illness, but these campaigns often involve unexpected deaths and, unfortunately, younger people,” says Josh Chapman, CEO of GiveForward. The need for help arises because people don’t, or simply can’t, plan for these tragedies, he says.
Crowdfunding after a death in a high-profile incident draws attention and donations. Recently, a campaign on GoFundMe for Brenda Marquez McCool, who was killed in June’s mass shooting in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, raised over $70,000 in less than two weeks.
Campaigns for people who’ve died suddenly in other circumstances are also becoming more common. Ellyn Koelsch, of Providence, Rhode Island, was killed in a car accident in May 2016. Her memorial fund on YouCaring has raised nearly $50,000 for the family she left behind.
Funeral campaigns increasingly popular
GiveForward, GoFundMe, Plumfund and YouCaring all report that funeral and memorial crowdfunding is growing quickly — twice as fast as other campaign categories on GiveForward, according to Chapman — and often bringing in more money than other kinds of fundraisers.
“The ‘Funerals, Memorials & Tributes’ category is among our largest,” says Kelsea Little, GoFundMe’s spokesperson. GoFundMe is the largest crowdfunding platform in terms of money raised on a site. “Since our launch in May of 2010, more than $340 million has been raised in this category across over 113,000 campaigns.”
That’s about an average of $3,000 per campaign. GiveForward told NerdWallet that its memorial campaigns earn an average of $2,400, on par with the $2,358 average reported by Plumfund.
Memorial campaigns bring in more money
A few thousand dollars is significant help: The median funeral cost $7,180 in 2014, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. It’s also more money than other campaigns raise — 10% more than the average campaign at GiveForward, 12% more than an average Plumfund fundraiser and twice the average campaign at YouCaring.
This boom in memorial crowdfunding comes as the nation’s personal savings rate has fallen over the past several decades, from 13% in 1975 to 5.1% in 2015, according to federal data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Meanwhile, sales of life insurance policies, which help many Americans cover death-related expenses, fell 32% from 2001 to 2014.
“The fact that fewer policies are being sold is an indication that many consumers are unfortunately not taking advantage of lower rates,” says Whit Cornman, a spokesperson for the American Council of Life Insurers. “Tough economic times often discourage people from planning for the long term.”