Go Fund Me made a big mistake deleting Israel Folau’s fundraiser

Go Fund Me made a mistake pulling down Israel Folau's campaign, argues Patrick Southam. The fundraising website has taken sides - and that isn't good for its brand.

Yesterday, fundraising website Go Fund Me entered the divisive free speech and religious freedom arena by announcing it had closed rugby star Israel Folau’s fundraising page. And in doing so, it’s alienated a good portion of its market and unwisely entered the murky territory of religious freedom versus LGBTIQ+ rights.

A couple of months ago, Folau shared his deeply-held religious views in a post on Instagram which stated that “hell awaits” drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters. Folau urged “sinners” to “repent”, which led to Rugby Australia tearing up his $4m contract last month, accusing him of a “high-level breach” of its player code of conduct.  

Folau is challenging his sacking in the Fair Work Commission, arguing he was unlawfully axed for expressing his religious views, and last week launched a Go Fund Me campaign seeking to raise up to $3m to help fund his legal case.  

Remarkably, his campaign raised more than $750,000 in four days, despite critics pointing out that he is multi-millionaire who owns a string of investment properties and once owned a Lamborghini.

But yesterday, Go Fund Me pulled the campaign, stating that after “a routine period of evaluation” the campaign violates its terms of service. It announced it would refund all donations. 

“As a company, we are absolutely committed to the fight for equality for LGBTIQ+ people and fostering an environment of inclusivity. While we welcome Go Fund Me’s engaging in diverse civil debate, we do not tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion,” its statement said. 

Go Fund Me’s justification and timing were, to coin a phrase, very interesting, and raise plenty of questions about its policies, motivations and PR strategy.  

For example, why did it take Go Fund Me nearly a week to decide Folau’s campaign “violated” its terms of service?  Faced with a growing social media backlash when Folau’s fundraising page reached the $580,000 mark on the weekend, did Go Fund Me just decide it was all too hard, and easier to cave in to the Twitter and Facebook mobs?

Why is it acceptable for Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young to use Go Fund Me to raise money for legal costs in her defamation battle, but not acceptable for Israel Folau to do the same? 

And as a supporter of “diversity” and “inclusion”, how can it justify excluding someone from their platform on the basis of his faith identity?

These are obvious and relevant questions for a brand that has decided to enter a highly acrimonious and polarising arena characterised by strongly held beliefs and ugly slurs from religious freedom supporters and LGBTQI advocates.

But, is this really the space a feel-good brand like Go Fund Me should be entering? Go Fund Me is about helping sick kids, cancer sufferers and supporting good causes. Rightly, or wrongly, being seen to take sides in such a febrile environment is not good for business, or the brand. And alienating a good portion of your market is not smart. 

In a direct counter to Go Fund Me’s decision, yesterday, the Australian Christian Lobby launched a new fundraising website for Israel Folau, and donated $100,000 to his defence fund. 

Ironically, he could end up easily surpassing his $3m target.

In the wash up,  perhaps Go Fund Me will decide that, in the future, it’s easier to allow people to make their own decisions about supporting a Christian millionaire’s fundraising activities. 

After all, it’s a free country.

Patrick Southam is the co-founder of, and partner at, Reputation Edge


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