Birthday fundraisers emphasize charity over a ‘wish list’ |

Birthday fundraisers emphasize charity over a ‘wish list’

Patrick Varine
Above, screenshots of birthday fundraisers organized through Facebook and the app Venmo.
Submitted photo
Zach Harr, 28, of Pittsburgh. Harr’s birthday fundraiser for Delmont Meals on Wheels raised $897 in about 24 hours in early April.

When he turned 28 this month, Zach Harr of Pittsburgh’s South Side was looking for something a little more lasting than birthday well-wishes on Facebook.

“I wanted to try and take advantage of that traffic and make an impact beyond just birthday messages,” he said.

Harr grew up in Delmont and has fond memories of driving around with his grandparents helping to deliver Meals on Wheels.

“They’ve volunteered in it for many, many years,” he said. “They still volunteer. So it’s something that’s kind of always been there.”

Harr set up a birthday fundraiser through the app Venmo and pledged to match up to $150 in donations for Delmont’s Meals on Wheels program. He publicized the effort to friends on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Within 24 hours, 41 friends had chipped in and, along with his match, Harr had nearly $900 to donate.

“It was fantastic,” Harr said. “For me, it was a chance to show that there are a lot of good people in the world, and you can reach out and really make a difference.”

Harr is hardly alone.

While Harr’s fundraiser was organized through Venmo, Facebook has also formalized a way to create a birthday fundraiser, and users raised more than $300 million for causes about which they are passionate, company officials said.

With 750,000 nonprofit Facebook pages, there are certainly plenty to choose from.

Since November 2017, Facebook has waived any fees associated with the fundraisers, so that 100% of the money raised goes to the designated charity. Company officials have also added a tool so users can choose to make recurring monthly donations.

Other websites, including GoFundMe and Mighty Cause, also offer ways for people to set up birthday crowdfunding campaigns.

Crowdfunding has also been a major boon for larger charitable groups like the Pittsburgh Foundation, which will issue its “Critical Needs Alert” on May 7 in hopes of soliciting crowdfunded donations for 200 nonprofits in the greater Pittsburgh area.

“I think for those of us working in philanthropy, it’s so powerful to see neighbors helping neighbors in that same tradition as Mr. Rogers,” Pittsburgh Foundation Executive Vice President Yvonne Maher said.

“If you take what (Zach) did for Meals on Wheels, and you magnify it by 200, what you have is our Critical Needs Alert,” Maher said. “We’ll announce 200 nonprofits reaching out to friends and neighbors and asking them to be part of a movement that will raise up to $2 million.

The foundation will put $788,000 of its own money toward that effort. In the past decade, the foundation has raised about $40 million.

“We’ve found a way through technology of reaching the Pittsburgh diaspora who want to give back to their community, so we’ll receive donations from all over the nation on May 7,” Maher said.

Dawn March, 27, of North Huntingdon contributed to Harr’s fundraiser. She said it’s not the first time one of the social media fundraisers caught her attention.

“I’ll be 28 soon, and I don’t really ‘need’ anything,” March said. “I feel like I’m beyond creating a ‘wish list’ for my birthday.”

For her late-April birthday, March was planning to create a fundraiser for a local dog rescue. She said the simple path to donating is also a draw in the modern social media age.

“Setting up a small fundraiser that only requires participants to click a few buttons is very appealing,” she said. “It makes giving back simple and hassle-free.”

Nick Simon, 28, of Pittsburgh, another donor to Harr’s cause, agreed.

“Everyone can see the impact of multiple people making donations, whether the amount is small or large,” Simon said.

Delmont’s Meals on Wheels program is not subsidized with any federal money, so fundraising is an important component of successfully fulfilling their goals, according to coordinator Carol Hartman.

“It means a lot,” said Hartman, 82. “Other than that, we’re only getting money from the patrons we deliver meals to. We probably spend about $2,000 per month on food.”

Maher said efforts like Harr’s are “a modern-day lemonade stand or spaghetti dinner.”

“People harness that collective spirit to take care of others,” Maher said. “Anywhere people can engage others in philanthropy is a positive thing for the community and those around us.”

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.