In the wake of COVID-19, there’s been a surge of activity on crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe, as each month more users turn to the kindness and generosity of their communities, including acquaintances and strangers, to help pay for everything from rent and groceries to medical expenses and funerals.

Even before the pandemic, medical fundraising was the leading category on GoFundMe worldwide. And it’s not hard to understand why. Medical debt is the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in America.

Prior to the pandemic, we surveyed American consumers about crowdfunding and discovered that, by and large, few people view crowdfunded medical campaigns as the inspiring, feel-good stories they’re often depicted as in the popular media. Rather, most Americans — regardless of income and political affiliation.

The Pandemic Hasn’t Improved Americans’ Attitudes About Crowdfunding 

The pandemic certainly hasn’t improved attitudes toward crowdfunded medical campaigns, recent CivicScience data show. In fact, after a devastating year, Americans’ attitudes toward crowdfunding have only grown more dismal — and complicated. 

In December 2020, 53% of adults surveyed by CivicScience described crowdfunded medical campaigns as “sad.” Since then that number has ticked up to 55%.

Notably though, Americans are fairly evenly split on whether they believe crowdfunding is a good idea for covering health expenses. 

The share of the population that supports crowdfunding for medical expenses (24%) is only slightly larger than the share that opposes it (22%). Meanwhile, a majority of Americans (54%) are indifferent on the matter.

Younger adults hold the strongest opinions about crowdfunding for health expenses. But even among this group, there’s a roughly even split between those who support the practice and those who oppose it. All totaled, 65% of adults aged 18 to 24 say they either support (32%) or oppose (33%) crowdfunding for medical bills, roughly the same as the percentage of adults aged 55 and older who say they have no strong opinion (62%). 

Who Gives to Crowdfunded Medical Campaigns?

If Americans hold such a dismal view on crowdfunding for medical purposes, then what precisely motivates some to donate to these campaigns, which, all totaled, raise over $650 million annually on GoFundMe alone?

Although reasons for donating no doubt vary from person to person, part of the answer lies in the differences mentioned earlier about how people perceive crowdfunding. 

People are far more likely to support crowdfunding for medical expenses, our data show, when they view campaigns as a cause for inspiration rather than sadness. Compared to those who see crowdfunded medical campaigns as “sad,” those who view them as “inspiring” are twice as likely to say they support individuals or families crowdfunding health expenses — 20% vs. 42%, respectively.

And this support translates into real dollars. 

People who view crowdfunding as inspirational are also roughly twice as likely, relative to those who see it as sad, to say they’ve donated at least once to an online medical campaign.

Of course, other factors matter too when it comes to giving.

Not surprisingly, those who live in higher-income households — and therefore have more money to spend — are more likely, relative to those who live in lower-income households, to say they have donated to crowdfunded medical campaigns.

In addition, people who report knowing someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 are also more likely to give.

Americans Are Divided On Crowdfunding for Health Expenses

Americans are in need of support and assistance right now. That much is evident just about everywhere you look, from our analysis of the pandemic’s impact on mental health to our report on Americans’ strong level of support for expanding the child tax credit

Regardless, many Americans, as shown here, have mixed feelings about crowdfunding for medical expenses. Although most view crowdfunding as a sad reflection of our healthcare system, the population is split fairly evenly on whether crowdfunding is a good way to help cover medical expenses. And although most say they’ve never donated money to an online medical campaign, even a quarter of those who see crowdfunding as “sad” say they’ve done so at least once. 

What does all this mean exactly? Most likely that people are not going to stop crowdfunding medical expenses anytime soon, even after the U.S. finally comes out the other side of the pandemic.