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Welcome to the Bizarre Era of Crazy Online Fundraising

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Nicole Easton decided to try a stunt many young people have. I certainly did years ago. It seems like fun. You get a running start and jump off the roof into a pool. No biggie. Goaded on by her friends and boyfriend, Easton made the leap, only she also hesitated. The end result was a pair of broken feet and about six months in a wheelchair for recovery.

She and her roommate just moved into the house with the pool and now she's without a job and living expenses for a while. So, what did her mom do? She decided to go online to try and raise money -- $4,200 to be exact -- to help with medical bills and living expenses. Easton, to her credit, admits what she did was stupid and she doesn't expect a dime from anyone (she blames her mom for starting the fund), but she did post the video, which has now gone viral (see after the jump), online, which sort of got the ball rolling, and she posed for a photo that is on the fundraising page.

When the story first hit, she hadn't even raised $200. As of the time of this writing, it was at nearly $1,700.

Online fundraising has been a staple of startup efforts, artist support and nonprofit engagement for a number of years. In the past year or two, it has exploded as every person who wants to raise money for any hare-brained scheme can try. Most fail, but a few exceed expectations. Musicians have been particularly successful raising money for album and tour efforts in exchange for all sorts of odd payback including giving funders exclusive access, writing songs for them, even taking them on trips.

But lately, a new form of fundraiser has begun to show up and Easton is an example of that. A more local example comes in the form of Fayza Elmostehi, a former writer for the Press and CultureMap and now the social media manager for the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

CultureMap recently outlined how Elmostehi is trying to raise over $100k to pay for the student loans she amassed going to law school. Elmostehi never entered the practice of law, and decided it was a "soul-sucking" endeavor. Now, with a job that pays only a modest salary, she is heavily in debt thanks primarily to the aforementioned student loans.

Elmostehi told CultureMap she did it on "a lark," and the approach does seem tongue-in-cheek to a degree, but it's still up, having raised $65 as of this writing.

I begrudge no one raising money in whatever way he thinks is necessary, but there's a substantial difference between raising money for a business engagement, an arts project or a legitimate charitable effort and some of the more silly fundraisers that are now online. And I have to wonder if money that ends up supporting an online fundraiser for a girl who leapt onto concrete basically on a dare or for someone who has crushing debt -- join the club -- takes away from people who really do need the money.

But I guess if people can drop billions of dollars a year on all sorts of worthless stuff, why not someone's mistakes?

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