Column Questions Plan for Retton Crowdfunding Donations

©Jean Nelson/Deposit Photos

The fundraiser Mary Lou Retton’s hospital stay raised over $450,000. But donors should expect a plan for crowdfunding donations.

A few months ago, the world learned former gymnast Mary Lou Retton faced the fight of her life in a hospital. She battled a rare form of pneumonia and spent time on a ventilator. Her daughters started an online fundraising effort to help with Retton’s medical bills. USA Today recently published a sports column questioning the plan for those crowdfunding donations.

Sports columnist Christine Brennan’s column carried this headline:

Mary Lou Retton received $459,324 in donations. She and her family won’t say how it’s being spent.

Retton’s daughters started an online fundraiser to help with their mother’s medical expenses back in October. They set a goal at SpotFund of $50,000. But donations poured in, totaling more than nine times that goal.

Donors have every right to donate funds even after a crowdfunding goal has been reached. Offhand, I can’t think of a crowdfunding company that stops accepting donations once a goal is reached.

The column contains quotes from “an exclusive interview” with McKenna Kelley, one of Retton’s daughters. She says they didn’t have any idea the effort would receive such support or that it would be “a big media thing.”

But then there’s this:

Kelley said that after her mother’s medical bills are paid, the family plans to donate “all remaining funds” to a charity of her mother’s choice. Neither Kelley nor Retton would comment on how much of the $459,324 from the account at has been spent or what amount would be given to charity. 

Well, the family, then, literally did say how the money is being spent. With that line, USA Today shot down its own headline.

If she was just released from the hospital around the end of October, and she’s surely still dealing with at least a few ongoing treatment expenses, they don’t likely even know what the total cost will be.

So, no, I wouldn’t expect the family to be able to say how much would be given to charity. I wouldn’t expect them to know how high the final, total price tag of their mom’s medical bills might reach.

But how much do you think you’re entitled to know?

What strikes me as so offensive about this column isn’t what some might read as a veiled insinuation of possible wrongdoing. It’s that there’s apparently some expectation that the family owes the world a detailed accounting of every penny.

News flash: It doesn’t.

Unless someone knows for a fact that there’s something rotten in Denmark when it comes to this fundraising effort — and there seems to be no evidence there — the family isn’t obligated to detail her medical bills. We have medical privacy laws in this country for a reason.

Likewise, it isn’t required to disclose how much money will go to charity or even which charity (or charities) will receive the donation.

It’s a lot like what happens when you hand a $5 or a $10 bill to the person who’s asking for a handout in the parking lot of a grocery store or at a shopping center. He may give you a convincing sob story about needing to buy food for his family. But once you hand over the cash, it’s no longer yours. You don’t get to follow him to make sure he uses that money for food. You don’t get to dictate which items he buys.

And if you see him attempt to buy, say, a pack of cigarettes or a bottle of booze, you don’t get to step in, demand the merchant stop the sale and snatch the cash back.

When you make the donation, the money’s no longer yours. You need to let it go.

Think before you click ‘Donate’

There doesn’t seem to be any evidence — certainly nothing raised in the column — that there was any wrongdoing. In fact, this seems to be the kind of good news people erroneously claim the media never reports. People came together to support an Olympic heroine facing a serious medical challenge.

The public’s love and admiration overwhelmed the woman’s family, who, by all indications, never expected such an outpouring of love.

There are plenty of cases one can dredge up that show good reason to be suspicious about donating to this or that. But that concern and worry is supposed to happen before you decide to actually donate. Once you mail the check or click the “Donate” button, it’s too late to worry about where your money went.

You can’t get that money back. Once you donate, it’s time to worry about something else.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.

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