Yelp pauses GoFundMe Covid-19 fundraising after opt-out outcry

A fundraising program that Yelp and GoFundMe put in place this week to help local businesses impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic has been paused after public outcry over how it was rolled out — specifically, controversy over how the two provided no easy and quick way to opt out of the fundraising.

Yelp’s initial announcement was a little vague about how “participating” businesses would be signed up, and TechCrunch mistakenly wrote about it as if business owners would have to opt-in participate.

Turns out that the fundraising campaigns appeared automatically with company profiles on Yelp. To get out of running the campaigns, Yelp and GoFundMe required more identification from business owners (for example drivers’ licenses or business ID verifications). One estimate put the number of fundraisers that had been created through the program at 144,000.

After a lot of pushback on social media (and likely directly to Yelp and GoFundMe as well), Yelp said the two companies are now working together to create a “seamless” approach where businesses have to opt-in, rather than being signed up automatically.

The lesson here is that while the Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly had a major impact on local retailers and other businesses that have been forced to close, or have lost business, due to shelter-in-place and other social distancing measures, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every business want to fundraise to offset their own specific predicaments.

And if they do, ultimately it’s their own choice about which companies they want to work with.

The original fundraising feature was launched by Yelp earlier this week as part of a bigger effort from both companies to provide assistance to businesses and individuals impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. (Yelp has also committed $25 million in waived fees for those who usually pay it for premium listing services; while GoFundMe is also working with other companies like Intuit QuickBooks to build fundraisers for its business customers.)

It was only yesterday, however, that outcry began to emerge over how that integration was actually put in place, and how hard it was to remove, both for small businesses and for those that are part of larger chains.

At a time when we are seeing a huge groundswell of good works and charity to help our communities get through what is not just a public health crisis, but a social and economic one, the resulting rollout made the effort feel more a bit opportunistic than altruistic — both GoFundMe and Yelp are businesses, after all. It’s worth noting that a lot is being built fast right now as tech companies are making efforts to be as useful as quickly as they can be, in a way that’s convenient for others, but that doesn’t always work out in the intended way. (And, even among the negative reactions, there have been positive responses to this particular project as well.)

Andy McMillan, owner of the alcohol-free Portland bar Suckerpunch, was the first to attract widespread attention to the issue. In a statement, he said the core idea was good, but the implementation was not:

What if running a fundraiser, for example …. invalidated criteria on their insurance to be able to make a claim — who knows? What if it invalidated them being able to reach out for city level or county level or state level or federal level financial support for the business?

This could have an incredible like, real detrimental impact to small businesses — a thing that a bunch of tech bros sitting in a room thought was a good idea … There’s a version of this where they could have emailed everyone and done a one-click sign-up, and that would have been actually probably appreciated by most people, but at least would have been consensual and would have been thoughtful.

We’re still waiting to hear back from GoFundMe, but Yelp’s full statement is below:

On Tuesday, Yelp announced a partnership with GoFundMe to provide a fast and easy way for people to support their favorite local businesses by donating to a GoFundMe fundraiser directly on the Yelp pages of eligible businesses. In an effort to get businesses help quickly and easily, a GoFundMe fundraiser was automatically added to the Yelp pages of an initial group of eligible businesses, with information provided on how to claim it or opt out should a business choose to do so. However, it has come to our attention that some businesses did not receive a notification with opt-out instructions, and some would have preferred to actively opt-in to the program. As such, we have paused the automatic rollout of this feature, and are working with GoFundMe to provide a seamless way for businesses to opt into the program moving forward, as we have received a great deal of interest and support for the program from both consumers and businesses alike.