The economy stinks, you’ve lost your job, and you can’t make your house payment. Maybe it’s not quite so dire: you need a new pair of glasses or some dental work, and your insurance plan won’t cover it. Or perhaps you’re a college student and you want to finish up your degree without accumulating quite so large a mountain of debt. It could be these or one of a thousand other situations, but one thing is clear: you need more money than you can put your hands on right now, and you have no idea how to get it. Has it ever occurred to you to just ask?
We’ve all heard the old adage, “ask and you shall receive.” What if it’s true? What if we could get our needs met, our wishes fulfilled, merely by asking? Recent history has shown that some people can! Documented examples of “cyber-begging,” as it’s become known, can be traced as far back as 1998, but it first became widely known during the summer of 2002 when a twenty-something woman from Brooklyn, New York, started her own web site. She wanted to raise $20,000 to pay off her credit card debts, and she did it! Within 20 weeks, her website had received over two million hits and her debt was paid off.
Since then, there have been other notable examples of successful cyber-begging: a woman in 2003 who paid for her breast implants with donations she raised online; a family from Aberdeen, Maryland who in November 2008 raised almost $11,000 online and saved their house from foreclosure. So, how do they do it? And will it work for you?
There are two basic approaches to asking for money online: you can set up your own web site with your own domain name, or you can create a page on a site that is dedicated to providing space for people to do this. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods.
Setting up your own dedicated web site may appear to be the best, most successful approach to asking for money online. You aren’t competing with anyone else’s hard-luck story (that may well be more compelling than yours). Furthermore, all the “famous” successful sites have revolved around one person/family and their specific need for money. On the other hand, publicizing and driving traffic to you own personal cyber-begging site is easier said than done. The Internet is no longer a world where “if you build it, they will come.” So, unless you get an extremely lucky break and your situation gets picked up by the media or something else happens to send your story “viral,” you could easily spend the time, money, and effort to set up your site with no return.
Alternatively, you can tell your story on a web site that’s designed to allow people to set up their own page to describe their situation and ask for money. For someone who doesn’t have much experience administering web sites, this may be the best way to go. There are usually features you can select (such as presenting your link in a different color, or in bold, or closer to the top of the list), that will make your page stand out a bit in the crowd. Also, if you can create a compelling, well-written story with an eye-catching title, you may also persuade more site visitors to donate to you, rather than to your fellow “beggars.” Finally, this is a low-cost, low-commitment approach. Most sites allow you to advertise for a small monthly charge, and you can cancel your listing with no further obligation. You don’t need to secure your own domain name, arrange for personal web hosting, or design your own site.
Finally, no matter which approach you try, make sure you take advantage of any opportunities you have to bring traffic to your site through free publicity. If you have a Facebook or Myspace page, add a link to your site there. Do you regularly visit or post on a message board for one of your hobbies or interests? Check the terms of service to see if you are allowed to add a link to your site in your signature. Many grocery stores, libraries, or other public places in your area may have bulletin boards – see if you would be allowed to post a short summary of your situation and include the URL of your site. You may even want to invest in business cards (you can sometimes order them online for free or for a small shipping charge) or flyers – take these with you when you visit your local mall, park or other place where people congregate and pass them out or place them on car windshields. Anything you can do to make more people aware of your site will boost your traffic and make you more likely to succeed.
So, is asking for money online an option for you? You may never know until you try!