ASHEVILLE, N.C. (BP) — Christians looking to raise funds for religious liberty causes have a crowdfunding option — Continue to Give (CTG) — that won’t kick them off the site for defending their faith.
In April, the crowdfunding site GoFundMe halted a campaign raising money for Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Ore. Oregon’s labor commissioner found the couple guilty of violating state anti-discrimination laws when they refused to bake a cake for a same-sex commitment ceremony and ordered them to pay $135,000 in damages to the lesbian couple. For the Kleins, their next legal step is the state Court of Appeals.
GoFundMe staff was alerted to the fundraiser for the Kleins by activists and declared it in violation of the site’s terms of agreement. Company policy says the site cannot be used “in defense of formal charges of heinous crimes, including violent, hateful, or sexual acts.”
But friends subsequently opened a new campaign using Continue to Give, a faith-based giving platform, with the goal of raising $150,000. By late July, the campaign had raised nearly $400,000 and tallied 20,000-plus social media “shares” and 8,400 comments from donors.
Jesse Wellhoefer, then a college student in 2004, first envisioned a fundraising site for missionaries while on a mission trip to Tanzania. The idea soon grew to include helping Christians with other types of fundraising — church offerings, support for nonprofits and individual causes such as adoption expenses. Wellhoefer began building the site in 2011 at night and on weekends while working as a web developer. After piloting the program with a few organizations, he launched CTG for public use in 2013.
Today, the for-profit company has five full-time employees and has raised “millions of dollars from thousands of donors,” as Wellhoefer puts it. Many users are attracted to Continue to Give because its fees are about half as much as GoFundMe’s for individual and nonprofit causes, he said. Churches make up CTG’s largest user group, with the site hosting online giving for hundreds of congregations across the nation for a low-cost monthly rate, rather than a per-donation fee.
Wellhoefer, 32, describes himself as a born-again Christian who wants to “run the company in a God-honoring way,” providing tools that truly help others, rather than just making money. But he does not require his employees or the people who use the site to share his faith. Any organization, group or individual is free to raise money on the site, which uses Facebook-based networking to help donors vet causes.
“The idea of Continue to Give is that you know who you are giving to and why,” Wellhoefer said. “We don’t stop people from supporting you. We let the community decide who they will support.”
Wellhoefer is vague about what causes are “legitimate.” He said CTG can be used, for example, by a non-Christian nonprofit or a homosexual couple trying to raise money for an adoption. He would not offer an example of a hypothetical fundraiser he would ban from the site.
GoFundMe, meanwhile, bans users from using its site to raise money for a host of reasons, including pornography “of any kind,” assisted suicide, non-prescription drug use, weapons, organized violence or rebel groups, and “funding of an abortion (human or animal).”
In contrast, CTG’s terms are short, only banning users from fundraising for causes that are “offensive, obscene, or racist.”
“Because we mostly work with nonprofits and churches, we haven’t been forced by people abusing us to make a laundry list [of objectionable causes] yet,” Wellhoefer said. “We’re just trying to do what God called us to do.”
The CTG description on the fundraising page for the Kleins states:
“Let’s help the Kleins through this hard time as they fight for religious freedom; which they are not just fighting for themselves but for all of us as our freedoms are threatened. They have been struggling financially ever since they were forced to close the doors of their bakery in 2013 as their income was basically cut in half. If they are forced to pay the damages to the lesbian couple they will be in much worse shape than they are now. They are pioneers in standing strong for the Lord and have been very courageous and steadfast throughout this whole ordeal. Please let’s rally around them to help ease the stress of everyday expenses and unexpected urgent needs. Thank you for your desire to help the Klein family, they will certainly appreciate it.”