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Folau’s GoFundMe take down highlights murky fundraising rules

25 June 2019 at 8:34 am
The shutdown of Israel Folau’s GoFundMe campaign raising money for his legal challenge against Rugby Australia has prompted calls from the fundraising sector for stricter regulation of international crowdfunding.   

Contributor | 25 June 2019 at 8:34 am


Folau’s GoFundMe take down highlights murky fundraising rules
25 June 2019 at 8:34 am

The shutdown of Israel Folau’s GoFundMe campaign raising money for his legal challenge against Rugby Australia has prompted calls from the fundraising sector for stricter regulation of international crowdfunding.   

Folau’s fundraiser, which on Sunday night had raised over $750,000 of it’s $3 million target, was closed by GoFundMe on Monday for violating the company’s terms of service, with a refund issued to all donors.

Nicola Britton, GoFundMe Australian regional manager, said while the platform wanted to engage in diverse and civil debate, it would not tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion.

“After a routine period of evaluation, we have concluded that this campaign violates our terms of service,” Britton said.

“As a company, we are absolutely committed to the fight for equality for LGBTIQ+ people and fostering an environment of inclusivity.”

Folau had his $4 million Rugby Australia contract terminated after he made posts on social media saying “hell awaits” homosexuals. The posts were deemed in breach of the organisation’s code to not discriminate against people based on their sexuality.  

Folau then announced that he would challenge the decision in court, and set up a public fund asking for donations so that he could stand up for “the word of God”.

The managing director of mycause an Australian rival of GoFundMe Tania Burstin, welcomed the decision to remove Folau’s fundraiser.

“Hatred and bigotry has no place in our society and we applaud our competitors for taking a stand,” Burstin said.  

She said in the past three days, mycause had shut down three separate campaigns in support of Folau, and it was positive that global corporations were also closing down campaigns that supported bigotry and hatred.

She said that international, internet-based crowdfunding platforms were not subjected to the same state-based regulation as Australian-based platforms were.

“We really hope other platforms are taking this example [with Folau] and ensuring they deliver a safe and genuine philanthropic culture while stamping out inequality and bigotry,” she said.

Sue Woodward, the head of Not-for-profit Law, told Pro Bono News this demonstrated a need to review fundraising laws.  

“I understand mycause has been put at a competitive disadvantage because they need to comply with state-based fundraising laws but overseas platforms don’t,” Woodward said.

“This is another reason to look at fundraising reforms by using the Australian Consumer Law because it covers any overseas corporations who conduct activities in Australia.”    

Katherine Raskob, Fundraising Institute Australia CEO, told Pro Bono News that according to New South Wales state-based fundraising laws, all fundraising for a charitable purpose over $15,000 is subject to the registration requirements under the Charitable Fundraising Act.

She said those rules should also apply to crowdfunding campaigns.

“FIA believes that crowdfunding, where the amount sought (or obtained) is over $15,000, should require the fundraiser to register the campaign,” Raskob said.

She noted NSW was in the process of reviewing its regulations and guidelines.

“We would expect that this update will explicitly include new platforms such as crowdfunding,” she said.

Following the removal of the campaign, Folau’s legal team said in a public statement they were “disappointed” by GoFundMe’s decision, especially seeing as the campaign was in line with the platform’s terms and conditions.

“Unfortunately, GoFundMe has buckled to demands against the freedoms of Australians to donate to his cause,” the statement said.

“Thankfully, several organisations have expressed interest in supporting Israel’s efforts to raise money for his ongoing legal case.”   

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  • Bob Cumming says:

    I am concerned about comments from the so-called ‘Australian Christian Lobby’ – about this issue today – but also most times I hear about them in the media. They do not speak for or on behalf of Australian Christians in general – but only a small (??) subset. I wonder what can be done to get the ABC and other media companies to refer to them as ‘the so-called Australian Christian Lobby’ (analogous to ‘the so-called Islamic State’).

    • david says:

      Equating the Australian Christian Lobby to Islamic State is Hate Speech or bordering on it. I hope it was a slip of the keyboard and not done with malice intent.

  • david Polhill says:

    Maggie, I wish you had quoted Israel Folau’s actual statement and not this sentence that the media have labelled him with and now everyone uses it! He was talking about sin and the understanding that we as humans need to address that in our lives. There was a list that Paul writes about in the bible that he quotes but the media picked up on the homosexuals and labelled Israel a problem.
    He is raising the funds to ask the question whether people have the rights to their beliefs in Australia and being able to air them? Which I would have thought was a far bigger problem than the homophobic label that has been pinned o him!
    Where in your article is any comment about the GoFundMe money raised going into a trust account to be used on court fees?

    My final point ….. What if he is right? Just asking?

  • david says:

    I am uncomfortable with the for-profit status of these companies. There needs to be regulation of these organizations and they should meet State and Federal laws on anti-discrimination. Did GoFundMe breach anti-discriminatory laws in excluding Israel Folau’s fundraiser? The exclusion seems to be based on Religious reasons.

  • Ewan Filmer says:

    If the Bible is seen to contain ‘hate speech and bigotry’, its only a matter of time before those who believe it will be subject to legal penalty if they use their right to free speech. Alan Joyce has the purse strings and now the ARU imagines it is able to define age old religious beliefs (which they do not hold) as subject to their approval.


    There is another issue here that has not been addressed. Using campaign sites like Go Fund Me when you are a highly paid (in the millions reportedely 1.2 million in 2012) to support your court fees should not be allowed. Originally these campaigns were for people who could not afford to pay for important things like medical bills, housing etc. His arrogance in asking other Australians to dip into their pockets is breathtaking.

    • Ewan Filmer says:

      The fact that many thousands of people want to support Folau financially is not addressed by you. It is not arrogance at all for him to do this.
      The principles at stake are important and I know that there are some people who do not agree with Folau but are still happy to financially support his court case because the next time it might be them (or yourself) directly affected.


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