THE BIG TALK
An occasional interview series with Americans who are challenging the status quo.
Heather Wilson and her younger brother, Jacob Wells, did not intend for their crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo to be an option for those who run afoul of Big Tech’s politics, but it has turned out that way.
“We’re here. We’re an alternative,” said Mr. Wells, 42. “We took our meager, God-given talent and developed a platform of freedom.”
GiveSendGo is a smaller player in what has become a kind of everyman’s venture capital, a market known as “collaborative funding via the web.” Real venture capital is involved, too, under the rubric of “investment crowdfunding.”
GiveSendGo follows a familiar model: Donors give what they can to causes or people they support. It isn’t as well known as GoFundMe, but its growth can be attributed to some extent to a distaste for politically incorrect fundraisers.
The devoutly Christian siblings fully opened their site in 2016. In the first two years, their enterprise almost doubled. It doubled again from 2017 and 2018 and more than doubled by the end of last year.
Billed as “the No. 1 free Christian crowdfunding site,” GiveSendGo now hosts as many as 1,500 new fundraisers a month, 80% of which are for individuals. In the first quarter of this year, the total number of active users on the site rose by 286% and donations increased by 836%, Ms. Wilson and Mr. Wells said.
The site got its first big taste of controversy when Kyle Rittenhouse’s defense fund was looking for a home after it was kicked off GoFundMe.
Mr. Rittenhouse, now 18, faces homicide and other charges in connection with a fracas last year in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He said he fired at people in self-defense during violent protests after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man.
Neither Mr. Wells nor Ms. Wilson would disclose figures, but an Associated Press report this month said Mr. Rittenhouse’s defense fund had raised more than $2 million.
GiveSendGo’s sibling founders said they had not taken sides in the high-profile case and wrestled with whether to take Mr. Rittenhouse as a client.
“We were like, ‘Oh, my goodness, what should we do here?’” Ms. Wilson said. “I mean, we were primarily a place for mission trips and puppy dogs.
“But everyone else had deemed him unworthy to receive funds, and we feel that in the U.S., you are presumed innocent — or you should be,” she said. “People have the right to an attorney, even if they are bad or have done something wrong.”
When William Kelly was fired from the police department in Norfolk, Virginia, for making a private $25 contribution to Mr. Rittenhouse’s defense fund and writing a supportive comment, it was GiveSendGo that allowed him to fundraise.
They have paid a price in vitriolic hate mail. Discover Card wouldn’t permit donations to the website, and Facebook has blocked it, too.
“Freedom comes with a price,” said Ms. Wilson. “But it seemed to us like a fundamental principle. It opened up a whole can of worms, but were we going to ban him because they’re not ‘following the narrative?’ You know what? That’s what we’re going to do.”
The trend continues. Most campaigns involve small, personal goals, but one of the website’s most recent drives raised more than $500,000 for Morgan Kahmann. The Facebook whistleblower was fired after leaking documents to the conservative muckraking group Project Veritas about the social network’s censorship of vaccine hesitancy.
None of that makes GiveSendGo particularly popular with Big Tech.
“The mob wants to shut us down,” Mr. Wells said, “but people get so fixated on the national news they sometimes forget God gives us sovereignty.”
Ms. Wilson, 45, calls herself “the older, wiser sister — and you can print that.”
“I think when you start a business, you’re excited and think, ‘This is going to change the world. People are going to love it. People are just going to flood to us and want to use it,’” Ms. Wilson said with a laugh. “But in retrospect, I think if we had had immediate growth, we might have failed. We’ve been able to learn our lessons as we went.”
One lesson is that no matter how deeply held one’s belief in charity and no matter how many good causes there may be, there isn’t an ocean of donors to tap.
“I think there’s a lot of misconceptions out there. There just aren’t a lot of people out there looking to give money,” Ms. Wilson said. “There has to be a level of faith.”
To that end, a GiveSendGo board member checks each proposal personally and offers regular prayer calls. It’s part of the site’s effort to ensure those raising funds are legitimate and the money goes to genuine causes, the siblings said.
“We have to verify the person, that this is a real person and not someone who might show up on a terrorist watch list,” Mr. Wells said. “We want donors to know that he’s the one who filled out the forms, it’s his bank account and when you give, you know exactly who got it.”