By Shannon Pettypiece
NEW YORK — Cameron Lownie went online just before midnight April 22 to check the fundraising page he'd started for a colleague seriously hurt in the Boston bombings.
The latest donation: $15,000 from an anonymous donor.
"I was just absolutely floored that someone would do that without even putting their name next to it," said Lownie, whose page on GoFundMe.com had raised more than $194,000 from about 2,500 different donors, mostly strangers.
Personal fundraising campaigns set up online for victims of the April 15 Boston bombings have raised more than $2.5 million as of Thursday, surpassing collections by at least one site after recent national tragedies. While the immediacy of the responses show the generosity of thousands, it also suggests that so- called crowd funding has carved a role in charitable giving because it yields faster results that go right to the recipient.
"It is easier for you to understand the impact of your dollar if you give it directly to the source as opposed to giving to a charity that has a lot of other funds," said Kevin Berg Kartaszewicz-Grell, research director for Crowdsourcing Inc. "With traditional sources, your money goes into a pot with a lot of other people's money. You're impact is larger when you go directly to the people in need."
On GoFundMe.com, more than $2.2 million has been raised from 36,000 donors, according to the website. The site has about 20 pages set up by friends or family members of those injured in the marathon attacks.
Donation pages set up on Fundly.com have raised more than $250,000 for a range of Boston related charities, from buying coffee for first responders to helping victims with medical bills, said Dave Boyce, Fundly Inc.'s chief executive officer. Indiegogo, a similar site, has raised $150,000 from 2,400 contributors for 77 Boston-related campaigns as of today.
The response on GoFundMe has surpassed what the three-year- old site has registered from Hurricane Sandy or the mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., Brad Damphousse, GoFundMe's chief executive officer, said by email.
For Hurricane Sandy, GoFundMe processed $1.5 million from 16,200 donors over 174 days, he said. Before the Boston attacks, the largest individual campaign was for Farrah Soudani, a victim of the Aurora theater shooting, raising about $171,00. Funds for four survivors of the Boston bombings have each received more than that already.
One of those is Celeste Corcoran, a hair dresser who lost both her legs, and her daughter Sydney Corcoran, who just turned 18 and was severely injured by shrapnel. The mother and daughter have received more than $646,000 in donations from almost 10,000 donors.
Lownie's page is for Adrianne Haslet and her husband, Adam Davis. Haslet is a ballroom-dance instructor who lost her foot in one of the explosions. Her husband, who is in the Air Force, was seriously injured by shrapnel.
Three people died and more than 260 were injured from the April 15 marathon blasts as two bombs packed with metal objects including nails exploded. At least 13 survivors lost a limb, including some who had more than one amputation. The physical and emotional recovery may take months, if not years.
At Emerge Salon and Spa on Boston's Newbury Street, where Celeste Corcoran has worked as a stylist for 13 years, there has been a flood of calls from other salons, hair dressers and clients looking to help, said Christina Gallardo, the shop's marketing director. They have been sending everyone to the GoFundMe site.
Starting a donation page on most of the so-called crowd- funding websites takes less than five minutes and can be connected to social-media sites, such as Facebook.com and Twitter.com. The money raised is typically passed directly to the recipient minus a fee.
GoFundMe takes 5 percent of all donations, and Fundly takes 7.9 percent, of which 3 percent goes to the credit card company and 4.9 percent goes to cover Fundly's operating costs.
Donations to crowd-funding sites increased 45 percent in 2012 to $979 million, according to Massolution, the research division of Los Angeles-based Crowdsourcing Inc. In 2013, that is forecast to grow to $1.4 billion.
The donations are greatly needed, according to those making the appeals. A prosthetic foot that would let Haslet dance again may cost more than $50,000, said Lownie.
"It is medical bills, prosthetics, a new home or complete home renovation, rehab, all those things," said Gallardo. "I think they are just trying to get their bearings and put it all together. I don't think they have a true understanding yet."
Then there is the lost income as bills for rent, food and utilities begin to pile up, Lownie said. Neither Corcoran nor Haslet will be able to return to work soon.
While there are success stories, most users of the sites haven't raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from total strangers. It takes a certain amount of publicity and credibility to drive donations, and donors don't typically give to the campaigns of strangers unless they have some way to ensure its validity, said GoFundMe's Damphousse. Typically, it takes strong financial support from the recipient's family and friends to give a campaign momentum, he said.
"Campaigns that do receive donations from strangers will have already raised enough money from those who trust the organizer — and the campaign's credibility is further bolstered as a result," Damphousse said. "The earliest donors are essentially vouching for the authenticity of a given campaign."
Traditional fundraising hasn't gone by the wayside, though because of administrative processes it hasn't matched the speed and reach, for some, of online efforts.
The One Fund Boston, set up by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino, has raised more than $7.3 million from public donors and $16 million from corporations. The fund is overseen by Ken Feinberg, a dispute-mediation lawyer who administered the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and those set up for victims of mass shootings in Aurora and at Virginia Tech.
Feinberg, a Massachusetts native, will determine how much of the Boston fund each victim should receive, based on what the long-term costs of their condition are expected to be. He isn't charging a fee for his services.
The Emerge salon is planning a fundraiser in May where, for a suggested donation, clients can get their hair styled with all proceeds going to help the Corcorans, Gallardo said.
For Haslet, who teaches for Arthur Murray Dance Centers, some of the company's 260 branches have been holding dance offs and one group of children opened a lemonade stand. Still, online is where the bulk of the funding has come from, said Lownie.
"We took to the internet because that is how you fundraise in this day and age," he said. "I did a couple minutes of googling to find a trustworthy place and set up an account."