Next time you have a few bucks to spare, how about giving it to a woman who needs cash to divorce her husband? Or the theater student who wants to make films “in the tradition of Jackass,” MTV’s raunchy stunt/comedy show?
Proving that P.T. Barnum’s theory holds true, a growing number of tech-savvy debtors are taking their sob stories to the Web – and it’s working.
“If I were to leave my husband now, I would be unable to support my daughters,” states the FAQ at helpmeleavemyhusband.com. Penny, who declined to give her last name, built the site in August after she heard about Brooklyn resident Karyn Bosnak’s savekaryn.com. Since savekaryn.com went online in July, visitors have donated $9,700 toward paying off Bosnak’s stack of Prada and BCBG-induced bills.
“At first, I couldn’t believe that this girl was drinking lattes and wearing Prada pumps,” Penny said. “But I also thought her site was really funny, and if I had a couple bucks, I’d send them to her.”
Penny’s site features a picture of a woman tied up in ropes, but she said she took the picture herself to make a point. She claims she and her husband – whom she describes as a “great guy” – have tried counseling but that they still “never see eye-to-eye.” She posted her story on her site with the hope that visitors would donate money to help her attend nursing school so she could earn her own living.
“People appreciate the fact that I’m taking initiative,” said Penny. “Eventually I’ll be doing something where I’ll give back to society.”
Penny’s husband has been out of the country on military duty since May and does not have Internet access. According to Penny, he does not yet know about the site.
Although services like PayPal make it easy to collect donations online, panhandling on the Web isn’t always easy money.
Penny admits that nearly half the e-mail messages she receives are from people who criticize her motives. Bosnak, too, receives discouraging messages and posts some of them on her site.
Despite the critics, there seems to be no shortage of strangers willing to send money. Penny received $150 within two weeks of putting up her site, and Bosnak is close to eliminating her $20,000 debt.
Bosnak, who has already made an appearance on the Today show and has been mentioned in The New York Times, attributes her success to the entertainment value of her site.
“People write and say that they’re going to donate $9 because they think my site is worth the price of a movie,” she said.
Both Bosnak and Penny noted that if they were to go through traditional means of asking for help – like declaring bankruptcy or applying for financial aid – they would be using taxpayer money.
Not all the sites are lighthearted. Canadian Jennifer Glasser is using her site, helpjennifer.com, to raise money for her battle against Lyme disease. According to her weblog, an individual in Tennessee recently donated $3,500.
What does Bosnak think of all the people who have borrowed the savekaryn.com idea?
“Someone took my website and copied it exactly,” she said. “That’s copyright infringement.”