Disaster planning and risk communication are not always effective in preparation for devastating storms, and families are left to pick up the pieces as they rebuild their lives. Social capital theory poses that social connectedness and bonds between family members and friends are especially important in times of need. Recently, requesting financial assistance via crowdfunding has emerged as an alternative method for seeking assistance after a hurricane. Drawing from social capital and ecological systems theories, we qualitatively explore how requests for hurricane relief are framed via the crowdfunding website, GoFundMe.com. Among our sample (N = 26), we find that requests for financial assistance following Hurricane Florence were framed around discussions of need and worthiness of help. We also discover that rather than emphasize their own personal needs, requesters focused their narratives on their relationships with others and others’ needs. Our findings point to how crowdfunding websites, such as GoFundMe.com have the potential to help bridge social capital through the techno-subsystem to provide disaster relief for individuals and their families.

Key Take Away Points

  • Individuals benefit from their connections with others and social capital is important for disaster relief.
  • Crowdfunding through GoFundMe.com may help individuals and families access financial support through extended social networks and various levels of the ecological system.
  • Crowdfunding operates through the techno-subsystem and this suggests that the Internet may help bridge social capital to provide disaster relief.
  • Our qualitative analysis suggest that individuals' frame their requests for financial assistance focusing on their relationships with others and others’ needs.

Author Biography

Monica Bixby Radu, Ph.D is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Southeast Missouri State University in the Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology. She earned her BA and MA in Sociology from North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC, and she graduated with her Ph.D. in Sociology from North Carolina State University. She has prior field experience providing case management for youth living in out-home-placements, and she is currently a CASA volunteer working with youth in foster care. Some of her research interests include family social capital, intimate partner violence, school safety, bullying, and juvenile delinquency. Her work has been published in American Behavioral Scientist, Child Development Perspectives, Sociology Compass, Sociological Spectrum, and The Journal of Public and Professional Sociology. Lisa McManus, PhD is a recent graduate of North Carolina State University. Earning her doctoral degree from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, her primary research explores prosumption and how technology impacts worker and customer interactions. She is a research assistant at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Bioethics and Department of Social Medicine. Her work has been published in AJOB Empirical Bioethics and Sociation Today. Additionally, Dr. McManus is a full-time instructor at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, NC.


We thank the editors and two anonymous reviewers.