Putting your head where your money is

Gabriel Kang (right) with tourist Pham Van Thoai (second from right) who was allegedly conned into paying an exorbitant sum for an iPhone in Sim Lim Square.
Gabriel Kang (right) with tourist Pham Van Thoai (second from right) who was allegedly conned into paying an exorbitant sum for an iPhone in Sim Lim Square.PHOTO: GABRIEL KANG

IF you are someone in genuine need, then there's no better time than now to be canvassing for funds. But with so many pleas for help, are donors giving wisely?

The internet horde, as so many have discovered in recent years, can be very generous, at least for those savvy enough to use the many tools available.

Moved by the emotional stories, videos and photos that are shared ferociously online, more and more netizens are flocking to crowdfunding sites to lend support. Some people are even asking for funds to be transferred directly into their bank accounts.

You need look no further than the headlines in the past few week to see what a financial boon the kindness of strangers has been.

Madam Jamie Chua, for instance, is trying to raise S$1.7m for her toddler to seek specialised medical treatment. On top of other issues, 21-month-old Xie Yujia has a congenital defect - her oesophagus, or food pipe, is not connected to her stomach.

So far, Mdm Chua has managed to raise $200,000 on her Indiegogo page, and another $308,000 on her Giveasia page. This is an astounding amount, considering her campaigns only started about three weeks ago.

How about Mr Tan Soy Kiang, the 70-year-old who was allegedly swindled for 15 years by two women? Donors raised more than $65,000 for him.  

Or Ginger, the seven-year-old cat who suffered head injuries after a hit-and-run near Waterloo Centre. Animal lovers stumped up more than $14,500 for him.

Unfortunately, despite the best of intentions, many of these campaigns gain momentum at the start, but fizzle out later when it comes to administering the monies in a way that pleases everyone.

Remember the Vietnamese tourist who was allegedly conned into paying an exorbitant sum for an iPhone in Sim Lim Square? Many netizens who viewed the video that went viral readily fished out their credit cards and raised about $16,700 for him on crowdfunding site Indiegogo.

As it turned out, the only charity the humiliated tourist would accept was $200 worth of food items. This was much less than what Indiegogo charged for using its services, which was about $1,500 or about 9 per cent.

PayPal charged about $800, or about 5 per cent.

Mr Gabriel Kang, the man behind the fund-raising effort, then used the money to buy sweets and medical supplies for a Vietnamese orphanage and purchase an air ticket for a woman who claimed to have been a victim of human trafficking.

Suffice to say, many donors were unhappy that they were not consulted.

Given that there were 1,600 funders for the campaign, was this a realistic expectation?

The answer is no. There's no guarantee that what has been donated will eventually benefit the person whom they donated to after the campaign closes, and there isn't much anyone can do about it.

At least in Mr Kang's case, to his credit, the expenditure has been largely transparent. He has been constantly updating the page with the latest developments.

There are a few who do not even bother to be transparent once they've attained the funds.

The onus then, is upon the donor to perform due diligence and let the head make the choice when it comes to charity, rather than the heart.

Indiegogo, for instance, offers campaign starters two schemes - one allows them to keep what has been donated so far, regardless of whether the target goal is reached.

The other option, similar to what's applicable to Kickstarter, leverages on an 'all-or-nothing' approach. Contributors will not be charged unless the project reaches its funding goal.

Bear in mind successful campaigns are also subjected to PayPal and credit card processing fees, wire transfer fees and currency exchange rates.

Refunds on bank transfers on the other hand, as everyone knows, relies almost exclusively on the goodwill of the donee.

Of course, all this realism dampens the mood of giving. After all, some people are happy to be impulsive and be able to do their small bit for a good cause.

In that case, one can only hope that the fund-raiser genuinely has the best intentions, and the fortitude to carry the task through.

As Mr Dan Chen, the man behind the efforts to help Mr Tan, says: "Thanks for all your support and trusting me."

darylc@sph.com.sg