“Twitter Philanthropy” reveals social safety net chasms
Single dad Billy Price was already struggling to make ends meet before someone broke into his Michigan warehouse, stole his identity and ruined his credit.
Price filed a police report and then tweeted about it to Bill Pulte, a multi-millionaire who he says uses Twitter to donate money to those in need.
“They took almost everything, including everything my grandfather gave me before he passed,” Price tweeted last month, only to find himself silent. “On top of that, we’re about to be homeless. It’s like the weight of the world. Please help us.”
Price, 35, recently moved from Illinois to Michigan to maintain joint custody of her 5-year-old son, Maddox. Price lives in a Kalamazoo hotel for extended stays while he searches for a place to live, but he fears that between his bad credit, dwindling savings and lack of a job, he may not qualify for a place. which is not a “dump.”
“I really don’t want this for my son,” said Price, who lost his job as a landscape architect during the pandemic and relied on odd construction jobs and daytime cryptocurrencies to earn money. money over the past year.
Virtually every minute of every hour, someone tweets Pulte, a 33-year-old man and heir to the gigantic residential construction company PulteGroup.
A grieving mother needs $800 to collect her young daughter’s ashes. A Texas man needs help paying off over $60,000 in credit card debt. A family of four is about to lose their home.
People send in photos of their eviction notices, tearful videos of their empty fridges, screenshots of the paltry sums they have in their bank accounts.
And almost every day, Pulte responds. He gave $500 to a man who sent a video of his missing teeth. He gave a woman $125 for gas so she could make the long drive to her brother’s funeral.
It’s all part of what Pulte calls “Twitter philanthropy” – a concept of direct giving in which Pulte and others offer immediate financial support to a tiny percentage of the thousands of people who take to social media every day.
“I call them helping hands, not donations,” said Pulte, who has a big vision to disrupt the traditional philanthropic model by using social media to help build an online army of donors to help those in crisis. .
For Timi Gerson, vice president and chief content officer at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, Pulte’s generosity is commendable, but she said it turned into a “grotesque Hunger Games” in which desperate people compete to get noticed while struggling to survive in a ‘broken system’ that has ‘deeply unequal access to health care, housing and services’.
Online direct giving is nothing new. For years, people have used sites like GoFundMe to get money for medical bills, funeral expenses, and other unexpected bills.
But Pulte’s approach is almost instantaneous. In seconds, on a whim, he can send life-changing money to a follower: his largest donation to date was $50,000, according to his records of over $1.2 million dollars that he has distributed among more than 2,200 subscribers over the past three years. During this period, his number of followers has grown from around 35,000 to 3.2 million.
Gerson appreciates the “immediacy and transparency” of Pulte’s approach, but she said it ended up being far too little to achieve meaningful change, likening the situation to the old story of the Dutch boy who kept his finger in a leaky levee to try to prevent his town from flooding.
“Endless fingers in the dike won’t solve anything if the dam wall collapses. You have to fix the structure,” Gerson said. “If you want to effectively address the deeper issue, you need to fund groups and organizations that look at things systemically.”
Pulte agrees that systemic change is needed, but bristles at the idea that government and donations to large philanthropic organizations are the answer, saying such approaches come with significant costs, as well as “corruption, fraud and abuses”. The very fact that so many people are reaching out to him is proof that insufficient action is being taken, he said.
“The government should do it,” Pulte told The Associated Press. “But in the absence of government, we have to step in and help people who are dying of cancer, who can’t afford their insulin pump for diabetes, who don’t have teeth.”
And it’s not always Pulte who makes all the money. He also works with Team Giving to promote causes – often medical procedures – that his own supporters, members of #TeamPulte, can rally and contribute to help.
In the long term, Pulte said, he’s trying to build a large donor network where the Team Giving community can vote on where the funds go.
“I think in many ways it could be as good as, if not better than, Social Security or Medicaid,” Pulte said, though he admits, “I haven’t figured that out yet.”
“The biggest thing I want to solve is how can I make this a lasting movement that’s beyond me? Because I’m just one person. I’m just a millionaire. I am not able to solve all the problems.
One person Pulte has helped is Callie Coppage, a 32-year-old single mother who tweeted a photo of herself and her infant son to Pulte on February 27, saying she had just left an abusive relationship and needed support for her two children.
The next day, while she was braiding hair inside her house, $7,000 suddenly arrived from Pulte via Cash App.
“It was like I had a godfather who just stepped in and helped me get my life back on track by saying, ‘Here I’m going to watch out for you,'” she told L ‘AP.
Coppage said she immediately used the $7,000, paid the insurance bills, bought a better car — she said her ex took the old one — plus new car seats and new shoes for his children.
But as thrilled as she was to receive the money, Coppage said she was also greeted by the dark side of philanthropy on Twitter. Her Cash app was immediately inundated with messages from strangers asking for money – an experience which Coppage says made her sympathize with Pulte.
“There was a time when I felt a bit greedy because I wanted to help, but knowing my situation, $7,000 was just the perfect amount I needed – it wasn’t like I had won 1 million dollars. And then how do you even choose?
Pulte said a few volunteers help him sort through the countless requests he receives every day.
He admits some of the recipients are probably scammers, but says he and his team are working to try to make sure he sends money to people who really need it.
“We’ve got a much better understanding of who’s real and who’s not,” said Pulte, who said a traditional charity might spend 20% or 30% on overhead. “If we help 90% of people and 10% of them are scammers, I’ll take those chances anytime.”
For Price, he continues to regularly tweet his story to Pulte, even though the only responses he receives are from scammers trying to trick him into revealing his banking information. He has also applied for various government housing loans – he says there is a huge waiting list – and launched a GoFundMe page, although that too has yet to gain traction.
“My goal has been to get out of that struggle,” Price said. “And when all your attention goes to that, you know, how can you enjoy your life? It’s not a life you want to live.