Should you ask strangers to pay your rent?

PJ Gach posing for her fashion blog.

PJ Gach posing for her fashion blog. Photo: Facebook.

Earlier this year, when fashion blogger PJ Gach found herself freshly unemployed and two months behind on her rent, she turned to a notoriously scary place for help – the Internet.

After getting repeatedly rejected for rental assistance from the government, she fired off a series of tweets to fellow bloggers and readers, saying “Can you please help? Could you pls RT? I may be homeless in 36 hours.”  

“I’ve been tweeting my heart out,” Gach told The New York Observer. “But if worse comes to worse I have someone who will take my dog, then I’ll be homeless. Homeless.”

Being a freelance writer can be tough. And you do occasionally have to rely on the kindness of to make it through. (Free Wi-fi for the one cup of coffee you purchase, editors throwing you a quick turnaround story before pay day) But what’s the etiquette of asking for anything more than a reliable internet connection?  Is it financially kosher to ask strangers to crowdfund your rent?  

At the time of Gach’s ‘rental crisis’, the New York-based freelancer was living alone in a two-bedroom apartment in Harlem for $1700 a month. Like her, many of her writing pals were living from paycheck to paycheck so couldn’t afford to help, and since her parents have passed away, the Hanna Horvath solution was out of question.

There was also another pesky problem: people who are facing imminent homelessness traditionally looked more ‘homeless’ than Gach. Being a white, well-dressed fashion blogger, Gach felt that her “middle class status” was holding her back from getting the financial assistance she deserved.

Having worked as a full-time freelancer, I must say I feel torn about Gach’s plight. On the one hand, I’ve felt the panic of not knowing whether my credit card would go through every time I dared to splurge on things like a bunch of basil. On the other, I’ve never once contemplated reaching out to friends – let alone strangers – to pay for my living expenses. And in Gach’s case at least, one can’t help but ask the obvious questions: could she not have taken in a roommate? Was there really no chance of a temporary – albeit less aspirational – part-time job? Are there absolutely no further steps one should’ve taken before tweeting Perez Hilton for urgent financial assistance?

Fundraising may have once been an altruistic gesture, but these days it seems like our personal problems have increasing taken on the rallying tone of legitimate social causes.

Forget old-timey campaigns like the Biggest Morning Tea or MS Readathon, as one struggling renter puts it, “Why can't I just throw a party and have people just donate money to a cause? The cause being me."

The full force of this only hit me when I woke up to an unusual Tumblr plea for rent donation one day. It came with the following postscript, “Don’t even dare tell me to ‘get a job’, I currently have two and I work as much as I can and GUESS WHAT living is STILL EXPENSIVE and I am NOT RICH.”

While some people might choose to rationalise the social cringe with a casual, “desperate times call for desperate measures”, a closer look at some of the ‘campaigns’ that are running on crowdfunding sites like Go Fund Me reveals a slightly different story.  

Nestled among the pleas for medical funds and university fees are what’s best described as ‘lifestyle’ emergencies. Typically, these fundraisers are middle class battlers who appear to be struggling with the difference between wants and needs.

There are ' “devastated” gap-year students campaigning for money “to go to Costa Rica as a vacation ...so we could relax and enjoy each other’s company before we had to buckle down, study, and get serious”, career-weary grownups rallying for sabbatical ‘sponsors’ because they “see an opportunity to tell a story”.  And, perhaps my favourite, the man who posted: “Single father of 2 young kids and working full time...needs a free Harley.”  

It’s hard not to be shocked (or at least amused) by the sheer outrageousness of some of these requests, yet according to a recent report on Forbes magazine, the appeal of personal crowdfunding sites like IndieGoGo, FundAnything and GoFundMe are growing by day, with the latter raising more than $37 million in 2012 alone.

The rationale is simple: “It’s a lot less uncomfortable to ask someone to check out your campaign than to put your hand out,” says Brad Wyman, chief creative officer of FundAnything. These personal fundraising campaigns also seem to benefit from what feels like the bystander effect in reverse – every donation, social media shares and retweet is visible to the public – making it more appealing for others to join in. In other words, the more social capital you have and the bigger your reach, the more likely you’ll have strangers paying for your personal cause.  

This may well explain why fashion blogger PJ Gach managed to keep a roof over her head in the end. But it’s also an ironic reminder that those who truly need a leg up are probably least likely to ask for it. Or at least not via Twitter. 

15 comments

  • Bender: Don't like working. Would rather sit at home all day watching TV and surfing the net. Please fund me.

    Commenter
    Bender
    Date and time
    October 24, 2013, 8:41AM
    • You should probably ask for money for beer and chips as well. In for a penny, in for a pound.

      Commenter
      Hurrow
      Date and time
      October 24, 2013, 11:00AM
    • I figured I'd start off small. You tend to scare investors away when you ask for too much upfront.

      Best to start off with a small market cap then when the business model proves itself go again for a second tranche.

      Commenter
      Bender
      Date and time
      October 24, 2013, 12:30PM
    • I misunderstood you initially - I thought you were asking for money, but, upon reading your second post, you are asking for people to invest in you.

      Right, sign me up - what are your account and BSB numbers? I presume you will send through confirmation of the investment in the post?

      Commenter
      Public Joe
      Date and time
      October 24, 2013, 1:30PM
  • Does she not have "fashion" items she could sell to fund her rent?

    I would prefer to donate to someone who deserves it rather than someone who thinks of crowd funding as a simple solution.

    There are peer-to-peer lending options available if cashflow management is an issue.

    Commenter
    Public Joe
    Date and time
    October 24, 2013, 9:06AM
    • like some girl on facebook last week asking for money to fund her around the world trip because she'd always wanted to travel around the world, and she would take special pictures and write in her blog for you. Ummm, how about you get a job and save the money to fund your round the world trip like everyone else does? Just like this one in the article, why don;t you also get a job and pay your rent like everyone else does. Who do these people think they are?

      Commenter
      perplexed
      Location
      nsw
      Date and time
      October 24, 2013, 9:14AM
      • the critical note in the article "struggling with the difference between wants and needs", too often people are not creating their own financial buffer whilst still paying for needs and saving for wants

        I lost my full time job of 11 years about 18 months ago, it has been almost hit and miss some times to meet the mortgage and so on, but currently working 3 jobs. The family has cut back on all wants, altered our needs to meet medical and other requirements.

        Could not this fashion blogger have sold off some of her fashion items? Surely these are easier to let go than some self respect? Which raises the question, where are the self respect of these people asking for others to cover their wants, I would rather give money to people in genuine need, not someone wanting to cover their rent.

        Commenter
        Jim in Glenroy
        Date and time
        October 24, 2013, 9:44AM
        • What a great article indeed, fun reading. I myself was thinking many times to go to the Chinese or Indian embassies in Canberra, and beg them for some help with my housing costs; I cannot see any other way, no other hope. I would get down on my knees and beg for days, that's how Australians have it in this "lucky" country.
          Help me China, help me, you're my only hope, you're my saviour, my arms are wide open to your presence in this country of ours, I will fly high your gracious flag...Help!

          Commenter
          Renter
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          October 24, 2013, 9:53AM
          • I've got no doubt whatsoever that there are plenty of people out there who genuinely need and deserve a helping hand, but PJ Gach isn't one of them. If you're spending $1,700 a month on a 2 bedroom apartment and there is only you living there and you can't afford it, surely the solution is staring you in the face.

            On the wider issue, as the author puts it quite often it's a case of want vs need. If it's possible to live within your means but you have chosen not to (ie champagne lifestyle on beer money) then that's pretty much your own fault. And in a lot of instances this is indeed the case, often to the extent of putting wants ahead of needs. I do feel genuinely sorry for those who are working hard and still aren't making enough to support themselves and their family but in a first world country like Australia there is normally at least some government assistance even if it doesn't give people the lifestyle they want.

            Commenter
            Hurrow
            Date and time
            October 24, 2013, 10:45AM
            • The real suckers are the ones who actually pitch in to pay for someone's overseas holiday. I mean, really. If you have money to give away, why aren't you donating it to actual worthy causes - there are hundreds of them? I find this article and the crowdsourcing phenomenon just incredible.

              Commenter
              Lola
              Date and time
              October 24, 2013, 11:48AM

              More comments

              Comments are now closed