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This Crowdfunding Site Was Made by First Responders, for First Responders

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four men standing in front of the fund the first banner
(Left to right: CEO and founder Robert Garland, CCO and cofounder Kevin Darcey, Chief Marketing Director Aaron Padin and Chief Financial Officer and co-founder Mike LaLuna. Courtesy Photo.)

When New York Police Detective Robert Garland's friend needed help to pay for his daughter's health care costs, he didn't waste time: He gathered his coworkers and started helping out.

Garland also suggested that his friend start a GoFundMe campaign. The response from his friend and coworker surprised him. Superior Officer Jason Stocker encouraged Garland to research the platform because he didn't believe the site was legitimate.

After some research, Garland discovered that the crowdfunding platform does not vet recipients, which created a problem -- especially in the first responder community.

Fund the First was incorporated in July 2019 as a solution to that problem. Accredited by the Better Business Bureau and backed by ID.me, Fund the First verifies every applicant and their financial hardship.

Because trust is at the heart of the first responder community, Fund the First campaigns are vetted, verified with a two-step process and trustworthy, according to Garland, now the chief executive officer for the crowdfunding site. Anyone can start a campaign on the platform, but the beneficiary of the funds must be a first responder. The beneficiary is notified and then creates an account before being verified -- twice.

The first step in the verification process takes place through the online identity network ID.me; for the second, beneficiaries must submit a driver's license or passport to the website. Garland said Fund the First tested the process with about 300 volunteers, and there were no problems. No personal identification is stored on the site because Fund the First uses Cloudflare for mitigation and Id.Me and Stripe integration, which is Payment Card Industry-compliant.

"For first responders, there is nothing more important than trust," Kevin Darcey, chief communications officer of Fund the First, said in a statement. "We have built a service that both first responders and financial contributors can count on."

People naturally want to help others, especially those within the first responder community. But hearing stories of fraud or seeing multiple fundraisers for the same recipient causes doubt to creep in. In fact, polling conducted and released in a press release by Fund the First found that 25% of those who said they donated to an online fundraising campaign thought they had been duped by fraudsters, and 81% admitted that they don't even know how to determine whether a campaign is legitimate.

Garland said that there are 191 donation-based platforms in the U.S. today, with more than 600 million campaigns, both active and inactive. Fund the First internal data shows that 3% of the market is duplicated, which means a beneficiary has more than one campaign active at a time. That doesn't necessarily indicate fraud, but does mean there is a need for verification and upfront information.

With Fund the First, only one campaign per beneficiary can be live at any time, including campaigns they may have on other crowdfunding platforms. Fund the First's site is also very upfront about how much money goes directly to the beneficiaries -- 92%. GoFundMe advertises a $0.30 transaction fee and a 2.9% transaction fee and defaults to a 10% tip that goes toward covering overhead costs.

Currently, there are three military-related campaigns on the website, two for nonprofits and one for a former NYPD officer and Army veteran, who died this month. His friend started the campaign, and his spouse was verified as the recipient through the vetting process, explained Garland.

"In less than 24 hours, about $3,000 has been raised for David Yu's family," Garland said.

Both Darcey and Garland are focused on helping first-responder families, which includes law enforcement officers, fire and emergency services personnel, corrections officers, medical personnel and military service members. For more information on how to contribute to a campaign or start one for a first responder that you know, visit the Fund the First website.

"Our nation's first responders put their lives and livelihoods on the line every day for all of us. That has never been better displayed than during the Coronavirus crisis over the past three months," Garland said in a statement. "Our first responders need help to deal with losses due to injury or illness. Their families need assistance when first responders make the ultimate sacrifice and die on the job. We are here to make sure that first responders in need are not exploited. We are here to make sure they are helped."

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--Rebecca Alwine can be reached at rebecca.alwine@monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebecca_alwine.

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