This article is part of an ongoing series by University of Delaware journalism students as they cover the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Follow along on Twitter using the hashtag #UDatDNC.
When Catherine Ciferni won the election to serve as a Delaware delegate for the Democratic National Convention, she was overjoyed.
Given Delaware’s close proximity to Philadelphia, she thought she’d be able to commute back and forth, but she quickly learned that was not an option. Delegates from Delaware are required to have approved housing in the city. Though she was not given a cost estimate, Ciferni saw that Maryland delegates were looking at about $4,000 in costs for the convention and assumed it would be much the same.
“Passes are issued early in the morning, and they put fear in you that you aren’t going to make it in time, and then you’re stuck,” she said. “There were also a few people who had been delegates previously, and they said it’s just not possible.”
So Ciferni, along with other delegates, turned to social media to help her help the Democratic party. Using crowdsourcing sites like GoFundMe, delegates asked for help raising anywhere from $2,500 to $3,500 to cover hotel, lodging and tickets to events. If they couldn’t raise the funds, party officials made it clear they wouldn’t be going.
It took about three days for Ciferni to raise the $2,500 she needed—which was much faster than expected, she said. Most of the donations came from friends and family.
“I didn’t know how well it would do,” said Ciferni. “I thought that the first $1,000 would be quick. I didn’t think it would go so quickly beyond that.”
For Jeff Day, originally an alternate, getting the news that he would be serving as a delegate was exciting; however, the call came about the same time delegates found out the cost of participation.
Day also took to GoFundMe—which takes a 5 percent fee for itself, as well as a 2.9 percent processing fee from every donation—but was met with a shocking surprise: He had an anonymous donor matching all the donations made to his page. So he also surpassed his goal of $2,500.
“There was a message that said ‘anonymous matching begins here,’ and every donation from there forward was matched,” said Day.
Despite donating close to $1,500, the donor still remains unknown. Day didn’t have a guess as to who it could be, but was incredibly thankful.
The anonymous donations, however, did not stop there. Day received a message that said the donator would give $100 to the last person who donated to Day—the donation that put him over his goal—to give to another delegate.
Since then, Day has taken it upon himself to share other delegates’ fundraising pages to help in any way he can.
“Being part of the political process isn’t free,” said Day. “It isn’t something we can just step up to every day.”
Rebecca Faye Powers, a Bernie Sanders representative, embraced this helping mentality as well, trying to raise funds through GoFundMe and other means.
While she didn’t reach the same amount as Ciferni or Day, to date the page has raised $360 of its modest goal of $700. Nearly every donation was accompanied by praise and well wishes, as Powers prepares for the DNC.
“My GoFundMe page was moderately successful, but I didn’t push it that hard because there were other people who needed it more,” said Powers.
Recognizing that there were many individuals who did need help, Powers did her best to make sure everyone selected as delegates had the chance to go and would not be held back by cost.
“After our state convention, where we elect our delegates, people were in a panic because it’s expensive,” said Powers.
To combat this panic, Powers took to fundraising for anyone who needed it, whether they were supporters of Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton.
Searches conducted on Google, Facebook and GoFundMe suggest that Delaware’s Republican delegates did not need the same level of help.
In June, Powers held a fundraiser at Ernest & Scott Taproom in Wilmington. While it did gain significant hype and support on Facebook and was helpful in raising funds, it’s not always easy to get people to come out on a Thursday night in the summer. People have other plans, Powers said.
While official funds have not been dispersed yet, Powers said each delegate would be given over $300 towards their expenses. Ciferni said there should be a slush fund for delegates who can’t afford it, and Powers said much the same.
In the future, Powers said she would like to see people start fundraising earlier. Because Delaware is a small state, Powers said it wouldn’t be hard to rally behind the delegates and get them proper funding.
“It’s really remarkable that every four years we have these conventions and all these people get together in one city,” Powers said. “There’s no way that’s not going to be expensive. I think that parties or other people who are involved in the process should think about ways to help fund the delegates.”