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Crowdfunding for Emergency Personal Expenses – 11 Steps to Success

Maybe you’ve heard the stories: A family uses crowdfunding to raise thousands to help manage the costs of cancer treatments or to recover from a hurricane. Perhaps you’re facing a similar predicament and are wondering if crowdfunding for emergency expenses can work for you.

Everyday Americans face unimaginable expenses. Whether these are for medical treatments not covered by insurance, the difficulties of ongoing unemployment, or the devastating results of a natural disaster, many have few resources available to deal with these exorbitant expenses.

According to a 2019 survey from GoBankingRates, two-thirds of Americans don’t have even $1,000 in savings to cover an unexpected expense. Even worse, 45% of Americans have $0 in savings — meaning any size financial emergency could easily derail nearly half of Americans.

A 2018 report from the Federal Reserve Board reports that one-fifth of Americans turn to credit cards and personal loans when faced with unexpected expenses. But credit can only take one so far. Many families are overextended, not due to irresponsible spending but because they don’t make enough money. A 2017 CareerBuilder survey found that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. More, 71% of all workers say they’re in debt, and of those, more than half believe they’ll never be able to climb their way out.

It’s no wonder so many are turning to crowdfunding as a financial resource. A 2019 survey from the University of Chicago found that 20 million Americans have set up a crowdfunding campaign to pay for medical expenses for themselves or someone else. And crowdfunding for all personal causes is such a well-used resource that more than $5.5 billion has been raised worldwide by individual (nonbusiness) crowdfunding campaigns, according to Statista.

But despite the occasional success stories covered by the media, the harsh reality is that very few campaigns reach their fundraising goals.

A 2017 study from the University of Washington, which focused on medical campaigns, found that 90% never reach their target. Worse, the margin of shortfall isn’t small: On average, the campaigns only reached 40% of their goals, and 10% of the campaigns never raised more than $100.

There’s no way to guarantee your campaign will succeed. But there are certain things you can do to help raise as much of your fundraising goal as possible.

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How to Run a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign for Emergency Expenses

1. Choose the Right Platform

The first step to launching a successful crowdfunding campaign is to choose the right platform. The Statistica data notes there are hundreds of platforms, and each comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Some of the disadvantages include steep fees and commissions that eat into any money you raise. Moreover, some types of campaigns do better on some sites than others. That means choosing the right site for your cause can make a real difference in how much money you raise.

Before you launch your campaign, browse several crowdfunding sites. There are a few things to look out for.

  • Types of Causes. Make sure your chosen platform allows fundraising for personal causes. Some crowdfunding sites, like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, are only for business fundraising.
  • Ease of Use. Check to make sure the setup process is user-friendly. The best platforms provide plenty of tutorials on how to create your page, including how-to’s on embedding pictures and videos, using social media sharing, and posting updates.
  • Payment Processing. Check to see how you get the money that’s donated. Most platforms connect to PayPal or a similar payment-processing service. If your situation results in ongoing expenses, some of which you must pay sooner than later, choose a platform that allows you to access your funds as soon as the donations come in. It’s called a “keep-it-all” option, and it means you don’t have to reach your fundraising goal to withdraw donations.
  • Fees. Investigate any setup fees and commissions. Some platforms charge an upfront fee to set up your page. Others offer free setup but claim a percentage of your donations. Still others provide “free” fundraising, which means they won’t take a cut of your contributions. But no crowdfunding platform is genuinely free. All deduct at least a payment-processing fee from each donation because the fee comes from the processing company.

2. Tell a Compelling Story

The most important thing you can do to ensure a successful campaign is to tell a compelling story. Your story is what donors connect with, moving them emotionally to donate to your cause. Not only can honest and powerful storytelling turn passive visitors into donors, it can inspire them to share your story with others. And the more potential donors you can reach with your story, the more likely you are to reach your fundraising goal.

To learn how to tell a compelling story, first study successful fundraisers at your chosen platform. What is it about their story that you connect with? In other words, would you be moved to donate, and if so, why?

There are seven elements to crafting a compelling fundraising story:

  1. An Eye-Catching and Unambiguous Title. In the title, include the name of the beneficiary and the major challenge they’re facing. For example: “Help Melissa beat cancer!” Avoid ambiguous titles like “A Family in Need,” as they are less likely to attract attention.
  2. An Intriguing Opening Sentence. A good story opener hooks readers and makes them want to know more. Start your story with something memorable about the campaign’s beneficiary or something that helps illustrate your cause. For example: “Melissa’s friends and family know her for her warm and generous spirit — and her delectable homemade apple pie.” Follow that up with a few sentences about how she’s always baked pies for family get-togethers or sick neighbors. That helps paint a portrait of who Melissa is and why she deserves help — and reminds potential donors of their own fond memories — before you ask for donations.
  3. A Human Element. Whether you’re campaigning for yourself, a family member, a friend, or a cause, the beneficiary of your campaign is your story’s main character. Highlight their accomplishments, personality, dreams, and goals. This personal touch helps potential donors connect with them, emotionally moving them enough to donate. For example, you could add details about how Melissa has been teaching fourth grade for many years and how beloved she is by her students. You could talk about how she dreams of building schools in disadvantaged areas or how she always wanted to take her own kids backpacking through Europe.
  4. Urgency. Why do you or the recipient need this donation? How can it help them? Be as specific as possible. Donors like to know their contributions will be effective. For example, does Melissa need to travel to a specialty hospital for her cancer treatments? Will doing so increase her chances of surviving the cancer? What’s Melissa’s prognosis if she does — or doesn’t — get treatment?
  5. Clear Intent. Donors appreciate knowing exactly where their money is going, so be as explicit as possible. The more specific you are about what their donations will cover, the more likely people are to donate. That’s because people who aren’t in your situation don’t know how much things cost. A precise breakdown of your expenses helps them understand why you’re asking for specific amounts. For example, detail what travel to the cancer treatment center will cost. Are there food and lodging costs involved, and if so, how much? What will the treatments themselves cost (what’s not covered by insurance)?
  6. A Degree of Self Help. Let donors know what you’ve already done on your own to try to meet expenses. That helps you come across as someone in genuine need and not one trying to take advantage of others’ goodwill.
  7. Adequate Length. You can’t create a compelling story that moves donors to give to your cause with just one short paragraph. Instead, aim for 500 to 700 words. The best campaigns fully explain all the details in addition to telling a compelling story. On the other hand, you don’t want to make your story so long you lose your audience either.

After you’ve written your story, be sure to get some feedback from family and friends. We’re often so close to our stories we can’t tell how compelling they are to someone who doesn’t know us.

Coworkers Discussing Soething On The Laptop Coffee Shop

3. Use Photos & Video for Maximum Emotional Impact

According to GoFundMe, fundraisers with five or more photos raise more money than those with one. Photos are the first thing potential donors see when they visit your page. Pictures help tell your story. Donors are better able to visualize the people and cause they’re supporting, and you become more than just words on a page.

When choosing images, pick those that help tell your story. The right pictures show the beneficiary’s character and illustrate the cause you’re asking donors to support. For example, in Melissa’s campaign, the fundraiser could include a good-quality picture of Melissa with her school class and a picture of Melissa with her family, smiling and happy and having fun. Also include a picture or two that shows Melissa’s current condition — like a photo of her in the hospital.

As powerful as photos can be, adding a short video can take your fundraiser to the next level. Crowdfunding campaigns with videos raise 105% more than those without, according to 2020 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems statistics compiled by Fundera, a resource for business funding. A video draws potential donors into your world, helping them empathize with your story.

Likewise, focus videos on the same general elements, and keep them short — no more than five minutes. Just like your text, videos should tell an honest, heartfelt story that helps viewers get to know the beneficiary in a way that feels personal. It should describe who the beneficiary is and the urgency of the need. If possible, record the beneficiary at home, in the community, and with their loved ones. And include family or friends speaking about their relationship with them and what makes them so special. For an example, see the video “Saving Mila — Time is Running Out!” on YouTube.

4. Offer a Variety of Giving Levels

People with different levels of resources will see your campaign. Offer a variety of giving levels, including the smallest possible donation at your chosen platform, even if that’s $1. Though you may not think $1 is of much benefit to your cause, some donors will give more over time. And if you receive many small donations, that can add up to a lot.

Even more critical, crowdfunding platforms display the total number of donors in a prominent spot on the fundraising page. Visitors to your page use that metric as a form of social proof to decide if they want to join in giving a gift. Research from the Department of Management Engineering at the Politecnico di Milano in Italy found the total number of donors is more important for encouraging donations than the amount donated.

That can mean small donations turn into large sums.

5. Offer a Gift in Exchange for Donations

Many campaigns offer thank-you gifts in exchange for donations. In fact, some platforms can help you with that — for example, Fundly’s customized T-shirts.

Thanking your donors is a crucial element to keeping your community engaged with your cause, and it can even inspire repeat donations. Some ideas for thank-you gifts include:

  • Customized playlists
  • Homemade crafts like knitted scarves
  • Handwritten letters or cards
  • Customized swag like T-shirts, mugs, and refrigerator magnets.

You can also offer different gifts for different donation levels, depending on your resources. For example, the New York Post reported in 2014 on a couple, one of whom is a marketing director who’d previously worked on a charitable campaign for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. They offered albums autographed by a Broadway and television star Patti LuPone to donors at the $30 level and Broadway show tickets for those who donated $150.

But don’t offer extravagant gifts. It can backfire. If you’re genuinely in need of financial help, it doesn’t make sense to donors that you have lavish gifts to give away.

6. Collect Some Donations Before Your Campaign Is Live

Before you go live with your fundraising page, start by asking a few friends and family members to donate. That way, once you officially launch your campaign, visitors to your page see that others have already donated. Nobody likes to be first, and potential donors are more likely to give when they see others have.

7. Promote Your Campaign in Every Way Possible

In addition to telling a compelling story, promotion is essential to your campaign’s success. It can make all the difference between reaching your fundraising goal and being one of the 90% the University of Washington study showed never make it to their target — or worse, one of the 10% who never raises more than $100.

GoFundMe spokesperson Kelsea Little told Kiplinger it’s a common misconception that charitable individuals are sitting around browsing the Internet looking for places to donate their money. And even if they were, it’s essential you understand your campaign is competing with millions of others — 20 million in America alone, according to the University of Chicago study. So it’s highly unlikely much of your money, if any at all, will come from random donors. And it’s even less likely your campaign will “go viral” amid all the everyday noise of the Internet.

Most donations will come from people you know: friends and family and friends of friends and family. And that only happens when you share your campaign as much as possible with everyone you know — through Facebook, Twitter, texts, email, and word-of-mouth.

GoGetFunding CEO Sandip Sekhon suggests fundraisers spend at least three to five hours every week promoting their campaigns. “The effort,” he told Kiplinger, “needs to be continuous throughout the campaign.”

There’s simply no way around it. Even if it feels emotionally demoralizing to ask friends and family for money, you can’t throw up a fundraising page and hope donors will come. If you’re not willing to put the word out in every way you can imagine, your campaign will fail.

There are several ways to promote your fundraiser.

Use Social Media

Social media is a powerful tool. Not only does it let you reach out to friends and family anywhere around the world, but friends and family can share your campaign with others in their own social circles, further extending your reach. Social media can exponentially increase the amount of exposure your campaign gets.

Keep your social media post brief and to the point, and always include the link to your fundraising page. That makes it as easy as possible for people to donate. And be sure to send regular updates, especially when your campaign hits important milestones.

Also consider creating a unique campaign hashtag to use in all your social media posts — like #SaveMelissa. Hashtags allow you to organize all your posts on one topic page so people can easily find them and learn more about your campaign. And encourage your donors to use the hashtag as well. It can help you keep track of what others are saying about the campaign so you can draw in new supporters.

Just remember that each social media platform has its own personality and rules, so the guidelines for posting to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram vary slightly.


  • How Often to Post: Post a minimum of once per day and no more than twice per day.
  • Images: Include a good-quality photo of the campaign’s beneficiary.
  • Hashtags and URLs: Include a link to your campaign page and a hashtag if you’re using one.
  • Description: Provide brief details about what the campaign is and why you’re asking for money. And be sure to include a polite request for friends and family to share your request with their own social networks.


  • How Often to Post: Post 3 to 15 times per day. Twitter moves fast, so tweets have a short shelf life.
  • Images: Include a good-quality photo of the campaign’s beneficiary.
  • Hashtags and URLs: Include a campaign hashtag and a link to your campaign page. Note that Twitter automatically shortens URLs to 23 characters to make room for more words in your tweet.
  • Description: Include a very brief description of your donation request — Twitter limits posts to 280 characters. Fill the tweet with strong verbs that encourage people to take immediate action.


  • How Often to Post: A minimum of once per day and no more than three times per day.
  • Images: Include a high-quality, engaging photo. Instagram is primarily visual, so a fantastic image is the most crucial element of an Instagram post.
  • Hashtags and URLs: Include your campaign hashtag. Instagram disallows links in photo descriptions, but they do allow them in your bio. So a workaround is to put a link to the campaign in your profile and reference it in your description (for example, “Link in bio”).
  • Include a brief but detailed description.

Example Social Media Posts

Facebook or Instagram: “We’re raising money to help Melissa beat cancer, and we need your help! Even a small donation helps us get her lifesaving medical treatment. A donation of $50 covers the out-of-pocket cost of one x-ray. $100 buys her a single chemo treatment. Read more about the campaign and donate. #SaveMelissa” For Facebook, include the link. For Instagram, include the text “Link in bio” or “…by clicking the link in my profile.”

Twitter: “Help us raise money so Melissa can beat cancer! We only need $1,000 to reach our goal. You can make a difference! [Insert URL] #SaveMelissa”

Cell Phone Social Media Texts Games Tweets Emojis Communication

Send Personal Messages

Send personal messages to people you know or who are a part of your community, such as a church or social club. Focus the message on your and the recipient’s connection to each other. Writing to individuals can make a huge difference in meeting your fundraising target. Recipients of personal messages are more likely to feel connected to your cause because you reached out to them personally. An impersonal social media blast is much easier to ignore.

In fact, of those who receive an email request, 53% end up donating, according to the statistics compiled by Fundera. That’s true of only 12% of Facebook shares and 3% of Twitter shares.

A few guidelines to follow for writing fundraising emails include:

  • Write a subject line that’s brief and informative but not spammy. Avoid, for example, something like, “Donate now to keep Melissa alive!” and opt instead for, “Melissa could use your help with her cancer battle.”
  • Start the email by first acknowledging your relationship (“I’ve enjoyed getting to know you in our knitting club.”) Then ask them about themselves (“How is your knitted blanket coming along?”). The idea is to establish the connection before asking for money. When your relationship takes center stage, it comes across less as asking for a handout.
  • Keep it short but detailed. Remember, people are often pressed for time, and you’re not likely to keep their attention with an overly long email. Plus, if they want to know more, they can always click the URL for your campaign page.

If you’re stuck on what to say, you can find templates for emails to use throughout your campaign on Fundly and GoFundMe.

Tap Into Existing Communities

In addition to reaching out to family and friends, be sure to tap into any larger communities you are a part of. This could include:

  • Your local township
  • Local businesses
  • Your religious organization
  • Any social clubs you’re a part of

This tactic works best if the community you’re appealing to already knows you or if it’s part of their philosophy to take care of their own, such as a house of worship.

Although it may feel uncomfortable to air your struggles so publicly, aside from friends and family, your social groups are the most likely to donate.

8. Follow Up With Your Donors Via Email

Send every donor an immediate thank you email or letter after they contribute. In addition to saying thanks, suggest they help spread the word through social media and email.

Personally thanking your donors is one of the most important things you can do when fundraising. It helps donors feel appreciated, which can move them to share your campaign or donate again in the future. According to Penelope Burk, author of “Donor-Centered Fundraising,” 85% of donors will donate again if they receive a personal thank you.

9. Post Frequent Updates

Burk also discovered that 74% of those she surveyed would give again if they received consistent communication. And 93% would give again if they received both a personal thank you and regular communication. Conversely, 46% would never give again if they received neither of those things.

Additionally, according to the Fundera crowdfunding statistics, campaigns that post frequent updates raise 126% more money than those that don’t. And campaigns that post fewer than two times have a 97% failure rate. GoFundMe notes there is a direct correlation between sending frequent updates and the amount of money people can raise.

So, as you begin to receive donations, be sure to keep your donors updated. They’ve given you their money, and they’ll be eager to know if their contribution was useful.

It’s essential you see each donation as only the beginning. Keeping donors posted as your story unfolds brings them into it. That can inspire them to share your story and potentially give repeat donations to help you reach your goal.

You can update donors by sending emails, posting on your fundraising page, or sending social media messages. Let them know how the cause is going as well as how the beneficiary is using their donations. For example, let donors know Melissa is now in treatment at the cancer center, and their contributions have helped fund those treatments. Tell them if Melissa is doing better. But it’s also important to let them know if her cancer has progressed, especially if it increases the need for donations.

10. Do a Final Push

A 2010 study authored by researchers from Carnegie Mellon and Washington Universities found that the closer a fundraiser gets to its goal, the more likely people will donate. That’s because there’s a greater perception their donation will make a difference. Plus, it’s exciting to see a goal reached and to have been a part of making that happen.

So as you inch toward your goal, many donors — especially those who’ve already given — feel motivated to give more. They want to help you reach your target. That means it’s a prime time to send out a final push in the form of an email or social media blast or both.

11. Set Realistic Expectations

When you hear the stories of people raising tens of thousands of dollars for adoption or cancer treatments, it’s tempting to set a lofty goal. Yet one needs to remember the campaigns that receive media attention are atypical.

When it comes to what’s usual, 2019 crowdfunding data from Statista shows the average amount raised per campaign is $794. And 2019 statistics provided by Fundly show the average amount raised by successful campaigns, those that reach their fundraising target, is $7,000. That suggests that asking for the full $50,000 you need for IVF or adoption could lead to an unsuccessful campaign.

It’s a matter of psychology: If it seems you might never reach your goal, donors fear it’s a waste of money. People are also sometimes less likely to donate if they feel your goal is too lofty or unattainable. You appear less as a person in need and more like one trying to take others’ money.

Final Word

Until all Americans have access to more resources, such as improved disaster relief and health care coverage, crowdfunding is a resource families will continue to turn to when they need emergency financial assistance. Whether a campaign is ultimately successful, it can at least provide some small ray of hope during otherwise hopeless situations.

The high failure rate of crowdfunding campaigns means they might not be the most effective way to deal with emergency expenses. But when you have no other choice, do everything you can to help your campaign succeed.

Are you considering crowdfunding for an emergency expense?

Sarah Graves, Ph.D. is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, parenting, education, and creative entrepreneurship. She's also a college instructor of English and humanities. When not busy writing or teaching her students the proper use of a semicolon, you can find her hanging out with her awesome husband and adorable son watching way too many superhero movies.