For most, #costuming & #cosplay is a hobby. As such, should #crowdfunding be used to support the activity? Over the past few years, a number of #costumers & #cosplayers have resorted to the practice of #crowdfunding to support their hobby, often citing that the intent is to attend fundraising events in #costume to raise money for charity. In other words, they want charity from others to raise money for charity.
Now, if you reside in the United States and periodically donate money to charities that are registers non-profit organizations, those donations are tax-deductible. However, money given to individuals in pursuit of a hobby is not. That is simply a cash gift being made to an individual who may or may not use it for the purpose cited in the crowdfunding advert they wrote to obtain the monetary gifts.
Crowdfunding is a wonderful tool. When someone is trying to start a business or is in financial trouble and is desperately seeking money to make ends meet because of an unexpected costly life event (such as a medical problem, uninsured property damage, etc.), then crowdfunding is an excellent way for such individuals to start the business or to potentially stay financially afloat until they get back on their feet.
However, is the pursuit of a personal hobby (such as costuming & cosplay) similarly worthy of asking others to fund it through the use of crowdfunding? In our personal opinion, no it is not.
Cosplayer Ani-Mia posted on this subject on her personal Facebook page on May 11, 2015. Below is an excerpt from her post that she wrote. (Warning: some may find it upsetting.)
“Cosplayers, it is not the responsibilities of your fans to pay for your next costume, to send you on a trip or to a con. That is called personal financial responsibility. And before the arguments begin let me tell you that this is all coming from someone who sees so much behind the scenes garbage that fans and contributors don’t see. What you don’t see is that many cosplayers that do this spend their money frivolously on unnecessary wants, meals out and events with friends; say they are broke but then conveniently are able to attend a convention for fun and a slew of other lies that make me so ashamed at what this community is becoming.”
We agree completely with the substance of Ani-Mia’s Facebook page post and want to focus on one item in particular: personal financial responsibility. What is personal financial responsibility? According to Investopedia,
“What does it mean to be financially responsible? It’s a complex question with a complex answer, but at its core is a simple truth: to be financially responsible, you need to live within your means. And to live within your means, you must spend less than you make!”
When a costumer or cosplayer sets up a personal crowdfunding campaign to support their hobby, here’s what that is actually saying: that the costumer or cosplayer is NOT living within their means.
Let’s compare crowdfunding for an individual with donating money to a registered non-profit.
In the United States, registered non-profit organizations are governed by federal law called 501(c)(3). At the core of any organization that is registered under 501(c)(3), there are strict regulations that must be met at all times:
“501(c)(3) organizations are highly regulated entities. Strict rules apply to both the activities and the governance of these organizations. No part of the activities or the net earnings can unfairly benefit any director, officer, or any private individual, and no officer or private individual can share in the distribution of any of the corporate assets in the event the organization shuts down.”
And from the IRS’s own website is the following:
“The organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, and no part of a section 501(c)(3) organization’s net earnings may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.”
(In the above quote, the word “inure” in a legal sense means “benefit, advantage to an individual”.)
Thus, when a costumer or cosplayer sets up a crowdfunding site to get monetary gifts from people to support their costuming & cosplaying activities, it is diametrically opposed to how a 501(c)(3) must operate, especially when the excuse that the costumer or cosplayer makes in the crowdfunding request is to enable them to spend time in costume as a way to help an actual 501(c)(3) to raise money for its charitable cause.
Let’s make one more comparison between giving money to a costumer or cosplayer to support their hobby with giving money to a registered 501(c)(3) charity. How can a 501(c)(3) spend the money it collects from donations? This is answered by the law that governs how a 501(c)(3) can operate:
“To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3)…”
And what are those exempt purposes? The law clearly defines them:
“The exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals.”
By comparison, when a costumer or cosplayer starts a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to support their hobby, what obligates the costumer or cosplayer to spend any money raised solely on the hobby? Nothing. Let’s repeat that: with the exception of securities, there are no laws that require someone who initiates a crowdfunding campaign to use the money raised for the purpose specified in the crowdfunding campaign.
But how about any rules that crowdfunding websites might have? Let’s examine what is written on the popular GoFundMe website regarding whether it’s safe to donate to someone:
“With hundreds of thousands of campaigns, it’s not feasible for GoFundMe to investigate the claims stated by each Campaign Organizer. Rather, we provide visitors with the tools to make an informed decision as to who they choose to support. While GoFundMe and its payment partners do provide a number of safeguards to deter fraud, we must insist that visitors follow the advice stated on each and every campaign. ‘Only donate to people you personally know & trust.'”
In other words, any money you give on a crowdfunding website is at your own risk.
While you can be reasonably sure that at least part of the money you donate to a legitimate charity will be spent on helping who the charity claims to help, there is absolutely no guarantee whatsoever that money given to a cosplayer or costumer via a personal crowdfunding campaign will be used for the intended purpose.
In our humble opinion, if you really want to help others, donating money to an actual charity is a much better idea than giving monetary gifts to a costumer or cosplayer. If you give money to a costumer or cosplayer who has started a personal crowdfunding campaign to benefit themselves, you may be making yourself to be an enabler. What’s an enabler?
An enabler is “one who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior…by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior.”
In other words, by sending money to a costumer or cosplayer who has started a personal crowdfunding campaign, you may be enabling them to continue self-destructive behavior that encourages them to live in a financially irresponsible manner.
Finally, if you are a costumer or cosplayer considering a personal crowdfunding campaign to support your hobby, in our humble opinion, don’t. Instead, find ways to lower your own personal spending & expenses (especially frivolous ones) before asking others for financial support. If you start a personal crowdfunding campaign to pay for your costuming & cosplay hobby, you may be telling others that you are living in a financially irresponsible manner. Is that the message that you want to send? Just food for thought.