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Philly GoFundMe campaigns have record-setting year

A month before 2016 comes to a close, Philadelphia GoFundMe campaigns have already raised a record $15.2 million.

A month before 2016 comes to a close, Philadelphia GoFundMe campaigns have already raised a record $15.2 million.

The sum marks a second year of huge growth for the social fundraising site, which has been used to raise funds for everyone and everything from gunshot victims to Benjamin Franklin's gravestone.

GoFundMe, which lets anyone create an easily shareable online campaign to solicit funds, launched in 2010. Since then, there have been 33,000 campaigns from the Philadelphia metro area, raising a total of $37 million, according to data from the site released Tuesday.

Most of that money has been raised in the past two years. The $15.2 million raised through 230,000 donations for 12,000 campaigns in 2016, as of early December, inched past 2015's total of $15 million. Combined, the past two years account for 70 percent of Philadelphia GoFundMe campaigns launched and more than 80 percent of funds raised.

"It's really exploded," said Rob Solomon, GoFundMe's chief executive. "When something happens, people want to help and want to react and they start a GoFundMe."

Such campaigns were staples in GoFundMe's early days, Solomon said: Efforts to raise money for medical costs, as a memorial or to help after a disaster. But as the platform has grown, more types of campaigns, and more unusual ones, are popping up.

In recent months, Philadelphia-area campaigns have been frequent and varied. An effort last month to raise money to repair Franklin's damaged gravestone at the Christ Church Burial Ground drew more than $14,000 in donations, including a high-profile gift from Jon Bon Jovi and his wife. A Southwest Philadelphia principal used the platform to raise money for her school while training to run the Philadelphia Marathon.

GoFundMe sites have been set up for scores of victims of tragedy, from the well-known, like chef Eli Kulp, who was paralyzed in last year's Amtrak derailment, to the otherwise anonymous, like the family of a 14-year-old boy killed in a Mayfair shooting.

Other local campaigns from the past two years range from Philly Jesus, who sought to raise funds for his ministries, to college students seeking money for tuition to a woman who procured donations for her trip to Las Vegas for the "Fight of the Century" between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao to an Uber customer who started a campaign for her driver, the father of a Delaware County shot putter who couldn't afford to travel to Brazil to watch his son compete in the Olympics.

"That, to me, was pretty magical and special," Solomon said of the effort to aid the Olympian's father, describing it as an instance of "strangers helping strangers."

The recent growth of GoFundMe, included on Forbes' latest list of the "next billion-dollar startups," isn't limited to Philadelphia. It took five years for the site to reach the $1 billion mark in donations. Nine months later, it hit $2 billion. Eight months after that, in October, the site crossed the $3 billion threshold. On this year's Giving Tuesday, Nov. 29, $7.4 million was donated through GoFundMe, the largest one-day tally in the site's history.

"It took a few years for people to understand how it worked," Solomon said. "It's become very normal and acceptable and accepted."

Most donations are small, with an average of slightly more than $60. Across Pennsylvania, users have launched 89,000 campaigns during the site's existence, raising $89 million through 1.4 million donations, according to GoFundMe.