If you haven't heard this story yet, you're missing a huge win in the fight against bullying, not to mention a jaw-dropping example of the power of viral videos and online charitable fundraising.
Here's the summary: Karen Klein, a 68-year-old school bus monitor is mercilessly insulted by a number of seventh graders on tape. Earlier this week, one of these punk kids thinks it's funny and posts it on YouTube. The video goes viral, logging nearly 4 million views. A family friend of Klein's creates a fundraising page on Indiegogo to give Klein the "vacation of a lifetime." As of today, the outpouring of support for Klein has raised close to $500,000. Enough not only for a vacation but for a very nice retirement.
"Klein, who worked as a bus driver in the Greece Central School District for 20 years prior to becoming a monitor three years ago, is said to earn $15,506 a year," noted Charles Cooper of CNET News today.
How/why does this lady get $500K??
"The combination of Reddit, the Today Show, mommy blogs and Indiegogo is proving to be very potent," wrote Forbes' Anthony Wing Kosner. "And the Reddit community, that was so crucial in this thing blowing up, is asking questions as well. 'I’m thrilled Reddit got behind Karen Klein to give her a great vacation, but isn’t $368k more than enough?' now has more Reddit points as the original call to action."
My co-worker Dave Emmett and I broke this story down as follows:
AP: This is an incredible and ultra-modern example of a community rallying around something they believe in. People believe this lady was wrongfully abused. The global, online community is massive, so the empathy and contributions of its members grew on a cumulative scale. The video was compelling and the fundraising goal (“Let’s help this poor lady retire, already, and save her from this horrible, underpaid, and underappreciated job!”) was deemed worthwhile by the community. And so it goes.
DE: I think the overall sum of money raised actually detracts from the real story here, which is that 25,000 (and counting) people contributed a little bit of money to help this woman. So, the questions of “does she deserve $500K for this?” are missing the point a bit -- the question contributors were asking themselves is: "Does she deserve $20 from me?” Crowdfunding sites haven’t made it easier to answer “yes” to that question, but they have made it immensely easier for someone to actually act on that impulse. Put another way, she deserves $500K because someone asked people to give her a little bit, and a whole lot of people decided they would do that.
What does this say about the viral nature of online videos and their potential for overnight fundraising success stories?
AP: Videos go viral when they offer something that tugs at the viewers’ heartstrings (emotion) or desire to be entertained (to laugh or be amazed). Reality TV shows like American Idol, for example, offer both – an unlikely talent who’s lived a difficult life devoid of any fame (emotion) or recognition who can sing incredibly well (entertainment). While this lady’s video is wholly Column A, it was moving enough for people to get behind and deliver, what the CNET headline calls “online justice.” The take-home message to charities and NGOs out there: Create an emotionally-charged and/or entertaining video and connect it to an imaginable outcome to which viewers will be motivated to contribute money.
DE: I think I’d call this story -- and the similar recent story of The Oatmeal’s BearLove campaign -- “viral fundraising”. In a lot of ways, people are deciding to contribute money in order to be part of a bigger movement. To put a mark in the ground and say, “This is what I believe in. This is what’s right,” and a small monetary contribution is a great way to do more than just share a link and express your outrage over Twitter. I think people are generally getting over the idea that a lot of hits/pageviews can make a difference, and they're expressing that by giving money to things that matter to them. But there’s also the sense that you don’t want to be left out from something that everyone else is doing, which ends up accelerating the contributions as the total value increases.
What does this say about people, personal empathy and their collective will to help a cause or an individual?
AP: The online community is motivated to help people in need, if that need is something that resonates with its members on personal level. Clearly, the “Let’s stick it to bullies” message was something viewers could relate to personally, so much so that viewers decided to take a “Let’s give this lady a vacation” effort to the next level (a full-on retirement package). Does the fact that it’s raised nearly $500K mean her cause is more worthy than another cause that raises less money? Of course not. It means that other worthy causes have something to learn from this one.
DE: People have always rallied to help members of their communities who need help. But we’ve never been able to do it at this kind of rate or at this scale. I don’t think the underlying values of people has changed, but technology has allowed this to be expressed in a remarkable new way. A lot of people will look to this campaign and try to replicate its success, but I suspect these types of fundraising campaigns will follow a lot of the same patterns as viral videos: The next one is never quite like the last one. And if you’re focused on replicating the success of the last one, you’ll just look like you’re hopping on the bandwagon.