Real Women's Stories: 'Crowdfunding Helped Me Reach My Dream'

When money is tight, many aspirations might seem unattainable. Yet for those brave enough to ask for help online, miracles are happening: People are raising life-changing sums.

Plus: 7 Tips to Create Your Own Online Fundraiser »

Want to be showered with thousands of dollars from friends, family and random well-wishers? Well, it's possible, thanks to crowdfunding, an increasingly popular community-oriented form of philanthropy in which people set up profiles and solicit donations through websites such as Kickstarter. Meet three women who ended up wowed by the generosity of people within their social networks and beyond—and now have a baby, good health and a new dance studio to show for their efforts.

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Jessica Haley (age 30, Melbourne, Fla.) shares the inspiring story of her crowdfunded baby:

"Seven years ago my husband, Sean, and I started trying to get pregnant. But three years later, we were still struggling, and desperate. We had seen specialists and even done wackier stuff, like downing deer-antler powder and drinking cough syrup on certain days of my menstrual cycle. Finally, one doctor told us that we had only a 1 percent chance of conceiving without in vitro fertilization (IVF), a procedure that would cost us $16,000. We had some savings, but $16,000 was well beyond our means. To cover the costs, we considered taking out a second mortgage on our home or sending a fund-raising letter to our family. That's when I hit upon the idea of crowdfunding. I knew it worked for musicians and missionaries, but I'd never seen anyone try it for IVF. So I started looking around for a place where we could post. A newer site, Indiegogo.com, appeared open to anything. 

Even though we needed $16,000, we decided to solicit $5,000. We didn't want people to think they were chipping in every penny, and Sean and I wanted to do our part. We were also honest about the fact that there was only about a 50 percent chance that IVF would work, and that nothing might come of people's donations. On June 15, 2011, I launched our fund-raising page with a link on Facebook, explaining: 'Today is my 28th birthday. If given one wish, I'd wish to be a mom.'

The next day our first donation came in. It was for $100 and anonymous. Soon after, a friend of Sean's stationed in Afghanistan contributed, saying, 'I have a daughter and couldn't imagine life without her.' Then contributions rolled in from girls I hadn't talked to since high school who recounted their own fertility struggles. Within just a few weeks, we had raised more than $8,000 from 132 people, 20 percent of whom were strangers. I got my eggs harvested, fertilized by my husband's sperm and implanted in my uterus. Days later we were amazed to hear that it had worked! Nine weeks after that, we shared the good news on our crowdfunding page, and we were immediately bombarded with cheerful phone calls and messages. Due to our crowdfunding efforts, many of our contributors joined our Facebook feed and now shower us with 'likes' whenever we post photos of Landon, our son. 

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How Alison Pochebit (age 28, Barrington, R.I.) raised $50,000 to treat her cancer:

"Back in March 2012, my doctor thought I had an ear infection. He gave me antibiotics, and when they didn't help, he took a closer look. The result was a far more ominous diagnosis: lymphoblastic leukemia. Within days of my diagnosis, my mom flew in from Rhode Island (I was living in Los Angeles) and drove me to the hospital where I'd need to stay for a month of chemotherapy. I had health insurance, but its limitations became clear during the admissions process when the clerk said, 'Are you aware of your co-pay? It's $500.' My mom took out her checkbook and said, 'OK, no problem.' Then the clerk added, 'A day.' My mom burst into tears, while I stood there, shocked, doing the math in my head: $500 a day times 30 days was $15,000.

My sister Meghan, after hearing what had happened, started researching ways to get financial aid. She soon came across GiveForward.com, a website where people with medical bills could ask for donations. So Meghan and I sat down and crafted our pitch: Since I wanted a positive, upbeat spin instead of a sob story, we titled it 'Help Ali Kick Cancer's Butt.' The tone throughout was confident: I needed help, but I was going to beat this, then celebrate with a big party. After that, we e-mailed a page link to our family and friends, encouraging them to spread the word. Within an hour, we got our first donation of $100 from my sister Sarah with a note saying, 'We love you. Get stronger!' By the next day, our online fund-raiser had absolutely blown up. Donations ranging from $25 to $1,000 poured in with encouraging comments. In a week, we had raised $12,000. In a month that had ballooned to $50,000—far past our $15,000 goal. The moral support I got from the donors compelled me to keep going. And bit by bit, my health improved. Today, I still have an active disease, but I feel like a normal person again, and I'm just thrilled to be alive.”

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Karin C. Tucker (age 50, Spotsylvania, Va.) built a dance studio for kids:

"Dancing has been a part of my life since I took my first lesson at age 8. I danced professionally for a while. After having kids, I became a school nurse, but I always wanted to pass on my dance knowledge to kids. One day, I stumbled across a strip-mall space that would work beautifully as a dance studio. Recalling that a friend had raised funds for a film online, I set up a page on GoFundMe saying: 'Little dancers have no place to go. I want to provide affordable lessons, and I've found a place. Trouble is, I don't have a lot of money.' I e-mailed my friends the link to my page. My first donation arrived in less than an hour. I was so surprised I nearly fell out of bed! A former dancer I hadn't seen in 30-some years contributed $100. Overall I raised more than $2,500 from 22 people—enough to open the Courthouse School of Ballet.

So far 24 kids have signed up for classes, with many more expressing interest. We charge just $10 per class and around half that for families in need. To thank my contributors, I've decided to create a plaque saying, 'We wouldn't be here without these people,' then list their names. I'm hoping many contributors will come to our recitals."