How to Raise Money for Medical Bills

Out-of-control hospital bills lead some to crowdsource for funds. Here’s how to meet your goal.

Out-of-control hospital bills lead some to crowdsource for funds. Here’s how to meet your goal

A short hospital stay can cost thousands of dollars. If you don't have insurance, you could be responsible for the entire bill.

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There are also crowdfunding sites that raise money for a specific medical purpose. For instance, HelpHopeLive.org helps individuals and families raise money for uninsured medical expenses related to transplantation, like organ and bone marrow, and catastrophes involving, say, an amputation or a spinal cord injury.

Atuk used Indiegogo.com, which takes 4 percent of what is collected, provided you hit your fundraising goal. If you don't hit that goal, you can either have all the money sent back to donors or you can keep the money, but instead of 4 percent, Indiegogo.com gets 9 percent, a plan designed to encourage fundraisers to hit their targets. Atuk admits to not reading the fine print carefully enough, but that 9 percent left a bad taste in her mouth.

"We had a fire-drill mentality," says Atuk of her rush to raise as much money for Dixon as possible. She says if she could do it over, she would have tried to raise less than $30,000 on Indiegogo.com. It's difficult to discern the psychology of crowds, but a smaller amount, like $10,000, might have seemed more attainable to donors and thus encouraged them to give more—and she would have avoided losing 9 percent.

Raising money is more challenging than it looks. Yes, social media is amazing, but perhaps because there are so many people on Facebook and Twitter with their own agendas, or because consumers still feel cash-strapped in this post-recession economy, it takes some serious reaching out to get people to donate.

Atuk was able to raise more money with off-the-Internet events, like a live auction, versus online fundraising, and says if she does another round of requesting money, she is going to get a few people to help her. "Just like any other sales endeavor, the more people you contact, the more response you get. But also I'd just bring in other people to help avoid burn-out, and you can encourage each other. It would make it a lot easier," Atuk says.

Don't be afraid to ask for help. It's almost imperative, unless you have a lot of experience running nonprofits or fundraising. When her 27-year-old sister, Alison, was diagnosed last year with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Meghan Pochebit of Los Angeles jumped into the fundraising fray. But Pochebit knew she'd need help, so she went to the Cancer Legal Resource Center in Los Angeles. "They were an incredible asset during this process and, free of charge, walked me and my family through the basics of fundraising, setting up a trust—we chose not to, but many people do go this route—with such compassion. They're a really amazing resource for questions about insurance as well."

Ultimately, Pochebit used GiveForward.com to set up a page for her sister, and she raised a little under $50,000.

"She has health insurance," Pochebit says of her sister, "but the medical costs rapidly built up, from items needed for home care to consultations with specialists."

Be sure to say thanks. "It's a simple piece of advice, but so often overlooked," says Pochebit, who adds that it's not only the right thing to do, but might also help with fundraising. "I sent a personal thank you to every single person who donated, at least five days within their donation. If you can't do it alone, ask someone to help you. Building those personal relationships encouraged donors to spread the word and help fundraise, but more importantly, it created a network of support for Ali that our entire family relies on to this day."

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Taylor echoes Pochebit's advice. "Show your gratitude," Taylor says. "These people are taking money out of their pocket and giving it to you. They don't have to. It's not their responsibility, but they want to. So making sure you thank these people is huge."

Taylor says she tried to write personal thank-you notes to everyone who donated, but adds, "I know I missed people, and that bothers me. I used my blog and Facebook to thank everyone on multiple occasions, but that still doesn't seem like enough. When you are asking people to help you in the way I did—basically to help save my life—a few words on a blog or a status update on Facebook just seems grossly inadequate."