GoFundMe froze $350,000 in contributions after Black Lives Matter supporters mistakenly donated to an unaffiliated group with the same name

Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty ImagesBlack Lives Matter murals have been painted by activists in several US cities in recent days.
  • GoFundMe has frozen $US350,000 in donations to a group called Black Lives Matter Foundation after BuzzFeed News informed it the group was unaffiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • The foundation’s founder told BuzzFeed News the group had a different mission from that of the anti-white-supremacy movement: “unity with the police department.”
  • Employees from companies including Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Dropbox also raised over $US4 million for the group through the charity platform Benevity, which told Business Insider the funds had not been distributed to the group.
  • GoFundMe and Benevity told Business Insider they’re working with donors and campaign organisers to get the funds to the intended places.
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Donors looking to support the global Black Lives Matter movement raised an estimated $US4.35 million in June for an organisation called Black Lives Matter Foundation, but most of those funds are now in limbo after BuzzFeed News discovered that the foundation was unaffiliated with the movement.

Black Lives Matter Foundation is based in Santa Clarita, California, and was founded in 2015, BuzzFeed News reported. Robert Ray Barnes, the founder and sole paid employee of the foundation, told the outlet that the two groups had nothing to do with each other and had vastly different missions.

“Our whole thing is having unity with the police department,” Barnes told BuzzFeed News in a report Monday.

Despite differing approaches to ending racial injustice and police brutality, their similar names led many donors and supporters to give to Barnes’ organisation, mistakenly assuming it was associated with the global movement, according to BuzzFeed News.

After George Floyd’s killing following an arrest in Minneapolis prompted donations to begin pouring in to racial-justice organisations, people organised campaigns on charity sites like GoFundMe and employers offered to match donations using platforms like Benevity, and both listed Black Lives Matter Foundation as a recipient option.

Employees from Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Dropbox took advantage of their company’s donation-matching programs via Benevity to help raise over $US4 million for Black Lives Matter Foundation, according to BuzzFeed News (while both Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Dropbox CEO Drew Houston listed the organisation as an eligible organisation in letters to employees).

BuzzFeed News reported that several platforms including GoFundMe appeared to be unaware that Black Lives Matter Foundation and the global Black Lives Matter movement weren’t connected until it contacted them, and now they have halted donations to the group and are trying to get the funds to the intended recipients.

A GoFundMe representative told Business Insider that the company used the PayPal Giving Fund database to enable people to donate to causes and that it’s working with PayPal to redirect funds.

The representative said “180 campaigns have recently raised money for the Black Lives Matter Foundation, raising $US350,000,” continuing: “GoFundMe placed all funds on hold and we are working with PayPal and the campaign organisers to ensure all of the money raised is transferred to the Black Lives Matter movement via their fiscal sponsor.”

“A number of donors have recently given to PayPal Giving Fund in support of the Black Lives Matter movement by making donations through one of our platform partners,” a PayPal representative told Business Insider. “We are diligently looking into the matter and working with the donors, our partners, campaign organisers, and charities involved to ensure that the funds are granted as quickly as possible.”

A Benevity representative told Business Insider the company deactivated BLM Foundation’s profile the day before BuzzFeed News reached out and that the $US4 million in funds “have not been distributed to Black Lives Matter Foundation per our standard vetting and disbursement process.”

“No funds will be going to the Black Lives Matter Foundation as they have been deactivated from our platform,” the person added. “Benevity is working closely with our clients to redirect the funds to other social justice causes.”

The Black Lives Matter movement that has gained global attention in recent weeks began as a hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) following the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2013 and became more widely known as simply Black Lives Matter in 2014 after a police officer fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The movement’s official organisation, Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, Inc, wasn’t registered as a corporation in Delaware until 2017, and its nonprofit fundraising arm is called Thousand Currents.

Barnes defended his organisation’s name, even claiming the global movement had “stolen” his name and idea, according to BuzzFeed News, even though it was widely recognised before he started the foundation.

A representative for the Black Lives Matter movement told BuzzFeed News that the Santa Clarita group was “improperly using our name” and that the movement planned “to call them out and follow-up.”

Barnes did not disclose how much his foundation had raised in total but said he planned to use the funds for community and police bonding events, according to BuzzFeed News. As the publication noted, however, the California attorney general’s office in December sent the foundation a cease-and-desist order, which accused it of failing to properly register with its office and file annual financial reports and barred it from disbursing any funds without permission.

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