I had a chance to catch up with Indiegogo‘s Bre DiGiammarino at the Health Tech Forum Innovation Conference in Burlingame, CA on May 27, 2015. The theme of the conference was the Common Good with speakers exploring the role of technology in the provision of healthcare services for vulnerable populations.

Bre is now co-lead of Indiegogo Life, a new division of Indiegogo, the highly successful global crowdfunding site with headquarters in San Francisco. Bre says that Indiegogo Life was formed to focus on “personal cause” crowdfunds because the growth of those types of campaigns was in the triple digits.

You can watch the video interview here:


What are “personal causes”

Personal cause campaigns are campaigns that are related to a life event. It can be a celebration (e.g., raising funds for a wedding) or a memorial (money needed for a funeral). It can be individual (campaigns to raise tuition for higher education) or community-based, such paying for a water project in a town in Rwanda.

Pills in open handA large number of the campaigns are related to medical care because, despite Obamacare’s expansion of health insurance coverage, many people still can’t afford to pay all of the costs related to getting sick.

Here are some examples:

  • Crowdfunding the deductible of a high deductible plan
  • Paying for medications that have a high out-of-pocket cost or that are completely uncovered
  • Raising money to buy up your coverage—for example, paying for an athletic prosthetic leg instead of a regular prosthesis so that an athlete can continue his/her lifestyle
  • Covering costs that are outside of healthcare, but essential in order to get care (examples include child care when receiving chemotherapy or travel to a distant site of care)
  • Helping with living expenses, such as rent and food, because of inability to work due to illness


Disaster relief

Indiegogo Life is also being used to raise money for disaster relief. Bre describes the response to the recent devastating Nepal earthquake. She says that within hours after the news of the earthquake was out, fundraisers for disaster relief started appearing on Indiegogo Life and Indiegogo. To date, there have more than 600 campaigns that have raised $2.4 million from approximately 20,000 donors.

Collapsed building, Nepal earthquake
Photo from OttowaCitizen.com

The largest campaign was set up by a doctor from Boston, Dr. Bijay Archarya, a Nepali-born Massachussets General Hospital physician. He was already involved with a small non-profit that was doing medical work in Nepal, the American Nepal Medical Foundation (ANMF). He realized they were uniquely positioned to make an impact. Within hours, the Indiegogo Life campaign was set up. As of today, the campaign has raised almost $468,000 from more than 5000 funders; there are still 27 days left in the campaign. Here’s a link to donate. ANMF has many local partners so this project will “support not just the immediate efforts but also the intermediate and long term effects of this disaster.”


Almost free!

Unlike some other types of crowdfunding where there’s a fee for use of the platform, Indiegogo Life allows campaigners to use the campaigners for free. There is a small change (~3%), however, for use of credit cards or PayPal to process payments.


A village community model

Bre says,

“I love the idea of communities coming together to help each other.  I know when I need to do a fundraiser for a healthcare cause, my friends will come in just the same way as I will help them when they have their time of need. It is an interesting form of supporting each other in a village community model that is outside the system, but harkens back to an older era when we always would help each other out in our villages.”

It is interesting to think about the history of another model of paying for healthcare—that of health insurance. Although it has morphed into something almost unrecognizable now, the initial concept was not too dissimilar from what Bre describes: A community of individuals pay into a pool to cover unexpected future healthcare expenses. That way I get sick and need help, I draw can draw from the community pool. If someone else in the community is in need, then they are covered by a portion of the community funds. Of course, this type of community-based insurance worked best in an era before individual drugs cost tens of thousands of dollars and a hospitalization cost more than a Tesla.



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