My experience with Fundable.com

Edited to add: In 2009, the original fundable.com shut down. In 2011, Virtucon Ventures (http://www.virtuconventures.com) purchased the domain. They are not associated with the original Fundable.com or Mr. Pratt, and will be re-launching the site in April of 2012.

This page remains as an archival record of my correspondence with Mr. Pratt but should in no way reflect on the new organization.

—-

Edited to add: October 1, 2009.  Fundable.com has apparently shut down.

Edited to add: Sunday, August 23rd, 12:50 am

John Pratt, Co-Founder of fundable.com, has emailed me privately to work out refunds for the people who donated money to me through Fundable.  He has given me permission to post his emails, which I am going to do at the bottom of this post because I do think it is important to read things chronologically.

Further edited to add: Sunday, August 23rd 8:24 am
The paypal refund to Donor 2 has been received.  Mr. Pratt sent screenshots of the checks to Donor 1 and my dad.  Those are scheduled to go out on Monday and arrive by the 31st.

Original Post begins here:

You know. I wasn’t going to blog this, but I just saw a friend thinking about using fundable.com and realized that I ought to provide a warning.

Back in January, my computer died and several friends and family members offered to chip in and help me buy a new one for my birthday. I found fundable.com and did a little research on them. There were no negative references to them and they seemed completely legitimate.   Seemed is the operative word here.

On their website they explain what happens when you don’t raise enough money.

“Fundable acts as an intermediary between groups (ad hoc or otherwise) and the trustee (or Group Leader) who collects their money. After a group action reaches a predetermined collection goal, Fundable transfers deposits from members of the group action to the Group Leader. In the case a group action expires before collecting enough contributions to meet its target, Fundable refunds all payments associated with the group action. “

So, I set up the fundraiser and because my friends and family rock, I met my goal on the day I set up the account.

All day, I got emails like this:

This e-mail confirms that [name]  has pledged support to:

Marys birthday computer (groupaction.2009-01-05.3541594791)

That’s great news, but remember, you only have until 1/31/2009 to raise $760.00 more or all $560.00 collected so far will be refunded.

Culminating with:

You have met your goal and now have $1910.00 in contributions!

Followed by:

Your PayPal payment will be sent within 48 hours following a review of the collection’s payments.

This was the first hiccup in the process. Nowhere on the site does it say anything about needing 48 hours to review the payments. I’ve searched. It still doesn’t say anything, but I gritted my teeth and waited out the 48 hours.

January 8th, I sent the following email to contact@fundable.com, the only email listed on their site at the time.

Hello,

My fundable concluded on January 5th and I received an email at 10:36 pm stating that the money would be transferred to me within 48 hours. I was wondering if you could let me know the status of the transfer? I’m sorry to be impatient.

http://www.fundable.com/groupactions/groupaction.2009-01-05.3541594791

Thank you for your time and attention.

Yours,
Mary

On January 13th, I sent the following email.

Dear Fundable,

Please tell me the status of my disbursement. It is listed on my
fundable account as having been disbursed, but I have not yet received the funds in my paypal account.

My fundable account name is maryrobinette.  The fund completed on 01/05/2009 10:37 PM EST.  Significantly more than 48 hours have passed.

Yours,
Mary

I called their 1-800 number which goes straight to voice mail and left messages, but never heard back from them.  That and the email were the only ways to contact them.

At one point, they had a chatroom set up and a jpratt was in there. I asked if he were John Pratt, the founder, and he said he was.

I did not save the transcript of this chat, and I wish desperately that I had. Paraphrased, he told me that there were irregularities with my fundraiser, because I had contributed money myself.

a) Their guidelines suggested that.

b) That’s fine, but why hasn’t someone contacted me or any of the people who donated money?

On January 22nd, I sent the following email.

Dear Mr. Pratt,

I have attempted through several emails and a chat session on the Fundable site with you to find out the status of my funds.  Since I have received no communication back, whatsoever, I’m forced to take action to retrieve the funds I placed in the account and to ask my friends and family to attempt to reclaim theirs.

I am deeply disappointed.  Your site is such a good idea. It’s too bad the execution is so flawed.

Yours,
Mary

Since I had email records from them, on who pledged what, I deleted all the pledges hoping that would trigger an automated refund. No luck.

Then! Behold! On January26th, I got this email from them.

Dear maryrobinette,

Congratulations!  It takes a lot of work to run a successful fundraising campaign, and whether you raised the total amount you needed for “Mary’s birthday computer” or just part of a larger fundraising strategy, we’re thrilled that you were able to reach your goal on Fundable.com!

We wanted to take this opportunity to ask you for feedback.  We hope you found Fundable an easy and friendly place to raise money, but if there’s anything we can do to improve our service, please e-mail us to let us know.

We also want to hear you success stories!  We’re publishing a monthly newsletter, so if you have any interesting anecdotes, stories about what happened after you got the money, or advice for future group leaders, please send it on.

Finally, if you’re still looking for more funds, we’d love to see you use Fundable.com again, but we also wanted to let you know about Pay Day One, our partner who specializes in loans for projects just like yours.  As a Fundable member you’re pre-qualified so please visit Pay Day One to see how they can serve you.
http://www.fundable.com/static/faq/paydayone/

Please visit our website to check out some of our other active projects, and let your friends know how you used Fundable for your Fast Secure Fundraising.
http://www.fundable.com/static/success/

So, clearly they can send me email when they want to. Just, you know, not in response to queries or anything involving disbursing funds.

I replied:

Are you kidding me?

I’ve been trying to get a response from fundable.com for twenty days now and have heard nothing back. After my fundraiser completed, I waited the requisite 48 hours for the review of my funds and then for them to appear in my paypal acccount. I heard nothing. I emailed. Nothing. I waited a week and emailed again. I heard nothing. I found John Pratt in the chat room on Fundable and inquired with him. He said that he would email customer service on my behalf. I waited another week and then emailed a third time explaining that if I did not hear back that I would begin a paypal claim.

Which I’ve begun and have instructed my donors to do as well.

Is there anything you can do to improve your service? Yes, respond to emails and communicate with your clients.

Sincerely yours,
Mary

I’ve also had an email from them on March 5th called “Fundable.com tips and tricks for trying again.”

Those two emails are the sum, total, of correspondence I’ve received from them since the fundraiser concluded.

I’ve since challenged them for my paypal payment and got that money back. But My dad still hasn’t gotten back the $700 he pledged and other people are waiting for theirs. I think they are still holding some $1410. It pisses me off no end.  Oh, and yes, Rob and I wound up going into a bit of debt because I’d ordered the computer when the fundraiser completed. Funny thing, I started the fundraiser because we couldn’t afford a new computer on our own.

You should read their FAQ and all the parts about refunding money.  I particularly like all this part:

Fundable holds your pledge until the project reaches its goal, and then collects payment. This works much like a self-serve gas station in which your credit card is “authorized” before you pump gas.

If a collection falls short of its goal on deadline, Fundable deletes your pledge and you have paid nothing.

Any day now…

Edited to add: Saturday, August 22, 2009, 5:02 pm

Mr. Pratt stopped by the blog at 11:35 last night to reply to my post. I had emailed him a link when I put it up, because it only seemed fair.   Though he responds to several other commenter and those are worth reading, I thought that I would add his comments here to make them easier to spot:

Hi Mary,

Every company has customers who fall through the cracks.
I am very sorry that you were one of them.

I am investigating your collection and I will get back to you by email.

-John

Co-founder
Fundable.com

I replied at 12:30 am:

You know. You said pretty much the same thing when you chatted with me back in January. I notice the chat room is no longer in existence on the site, by the way.

I’m curious. Are you here because I emailed you with a link to this — in which case we know that my emails get through — or because it turned up on your Google Alert?

I look forward to your email.

He responsed at 3:30am this morning and I do appreciate him taking the time to do that on a weekend.

Mary,

Yes, I am responding to your blog post because you sent me the link to this page by email. Also, an angry storm is building from your blog post.

I have checked the details of your collection and it is marked as deleted, which means that all of your contributor’s pledges should have been voided.

If there are any outstanding payments from your contributors that we have not refunded, I certainly want to know about it. Once again, I’ll get back to you by email.

The irony of the intense anger of these blog comments, accusing Fundable of being a “scam,” is that we constantly must delete the projects of fraudsters who are gaming our web site with fake credit card numbers, which costs us thousands of dollars in chargebacks.

The overwhelming majority of projects are paid promptly, without issue. Otherwise we would not be able to operate.

All commenters who have questions about Fundable (or its legitimacy) may email me at johnpratt [at] fundable.com

-John

Me at 9:03 am

Thank you for responding so quickly now that an angry storm is building. It’s good to know that my email didn’t slip through the cracks.

As a reminder from my blog post, I deleted the individual contributions after not receiving any reply from Fundable.com because I hoped that it would trigger automated refunds for my friends and family. It did not.

I do look forward to your email.

Mr. Pratt’s next replied to another commenter at 2:50, but it bears directly on this so I’ll include it.

No one writes passionate blogs posts about how they received their money on time from Fundable. It is a non-event. The few cases that go wrong for a company are the ones that attract the most attention and provoke intense anger.

What makes blog readers worry is that they fear we are not held to the same level of accountability as a publicly traded company. But what they may not know is that we rely almost entirely on word-of-mouth to for our traffic. If our users can’t use our service, they won’t recommend it to other people.

Successful projects finish every day, without issue: http://www.fundable.com/recentlycompleted?SearchableText=&portal_type%3Alist=GroupAction&review_state=finished&review_state=finished-approved&sort_on=finished_time&sort_order=descending

While commenters are quick to ask, “what are you doing now for Mary?” we are in the process of investigating why Mary’s contributors did not get refunds (if in fact that is the case).

Again, anyone with questions can e-mail me at johnpratt [at] fundable.com

-John

The page Mr. Pratt directs us to does show successfully completed projects. My project also successfully completed, as you can see from this screenshot I took on January 23rd.

Mary's birthday computer - Google Chrome 1232009 120433 AM

I had deleted one of the contributions, for $50, hoping to trigger an automated refund since the funds had not been disbursed to the group leader.  Only after I did that did I realize that the software keeps no online record of changes to the account.  A deleted record simply doesn’t show up anymore.

I’ve had emails from Mr. Pratt starting at 2:59pm letting me know that he is trying to discover what happened with my account.  I will let you know the outcome.

Continuation of Sunday, August 23rd, 12:50 am edit:

Mr. Pratt has given me permission to post our correspondence.

At 2:59 I got this email:

Hi Mary,

I’m looking into your collection and from our end it looks like all of your contributions were refunded.
But, you say that’s not the case so we plan to dig deeper.  To do this, I need to ask you about your collection.  I also want to get a better idea of what you experienced in January so that doesn’t happen again.
Would you be willing to discuss this over the phone?
You can call me or I can call you at your convenience.
My cell is [redacted]
best,
John

I replied at 3:06 pm

Dear John,

I’m on the phone with my father now and he wants to know when the refund went through so he can look for it.

This is the email I received about his contribution.

Dear maryrobinette,Your collection has a new contributon!
This e-mail confirms that handsaw@… has pledged support to:
Marys birthday computer (groupaction.2009-01-05.3541594791)
You have met your goal and now have $1910.00 in contributions!

Yours,
Mary

John Pratt at 4:02 pm

Hi Mary,

So far I uncovered one transaction by you for $500.00 that was refunded on January 5.  I will send details.

Can you give me your father’s name and I’ll look up his transaction?

Thanks,
John

Me at 4:20 pm

Dear John,

That is very interesting. I initiated a claim with paypal on January 22nd to recover my $500 seed money. By my records, and the ones on Paypal’s claim center, that refund went through on January 27th, not January 5th.

My father’s name is [redacted]. However, my father asked me to do use the credit card linked to his account but in my name rather than having to go online himself. The email address that it was tied to that transaction is [redacted]  The amount was $650

I’ve spoken with [Donor 1], who donated $50 and he said that he hasn’t received his refund.

When I last spoke to [Donor 2], he hadn’t received his refunds either. I have sent him an email today to see if this is still the case. He made three pledges, thinking they were anonymous, $10, $400, $300.

If it would help, I have screen shots of the transactions which I took on 1/23/09.  The only one missing is [Donor 1]’s because I deleted it before realizing that no record would be kept in the online.  I have not posted the shots because I need to get permission from the donors first.

Yours,
Mary

Me again at 4:29pm

Dear John,

I’ve heard from [Donor 2] now and he also says that he’s received no refund that he knows of.  Perhaps if you could give us the time, date and mechanism by which these took place, it would help.

Yours,
Mary

John Pratt at 4:59pm

Ok.  Once we account for all of the non-refunded contributions, would you like us to send you the total at [my email address]?  No fee, of course.

-John

Me at 5:10pm

Dear John,

How are you going to account for them?  Will I see records of the contributions that are refunded?

And no, thank you, I would like you to refund the money to my friends and my father.

Yours,
Mary

I’m going to pause here to explain why I made that choice.  I’m not normally comfortable with sponging of my friends or family but I justified it in my fuzzy little brain by the rationale that my 40th birthday was coming up.  Everyone I asked to chip in was someone who was likely to give me a present.  Though we could not afford the new computer at the time, I had to have one so we bought it using the credit card, believing that the proverbial check was in the mail.  Since then, I sold my first novel and the signing check went in part to pay off the computer.

Back to our story.  John Pratt, 5:28 pm:

There is a 60-day window for refunds for our payment service provider, PayPal.  So, what that means is that we will have to issue checks in the mail to your contributors or send them payments by PayPal.

I am sorry that it is this way.

I am looking up the names that you mentioned and accounting for how much they contributed.

When my customer service representative gets back on Monday, I will try to find out why there were no responses to your initial emails.  I searched my own email archive on my computer and I can’t find your name.

-John

Me at 6:14pm

Dear John,
On Sat, Aug 22, 2009 at 5:28 PM, John Pratt wrote:

There is a 60-day window for refunds for our payment service provider, PayPal.  So, what that means is that we will have to issue checks in the mail to your contributors or send them payments by PayPal.

I am sorry that it is this way.

I am too.  It would have been so much easier to deal with back in January.

Please paypal [Donor 2]
[email address]
Please mail checks to:
[My dad + address]

[Donor 1] plus address

I will update the post on my website when you tell me the payments have gone out and also when they are received.

I am looking up the names that you mentioned and accounting for how much they contributed.

Since you said that everyone had received refunds, I’m not clear why you are having such trouble finding the names and what they contributed. To help, I have attached a screenshot of the payment screen. I had already deleted [Donor 1]’s contribution before taking the shot. The first donation listed “Mary Kowal” was the seed money your tips recommended adding to a fundraiser. That was refunded on January 27th, five days after I placed a claim with Paypal.  The second donation listed “Mary Kowal” is my father’s credit card, [Dad’s full name]

I also have attached a .doc with the emails I received from Fundable in response to each contribution.  I can forward the actual emails to you if that would help.

When my customer service representative gets back on Monday, I will try to find out why there were no responses to your initial emails.  I searched my own email archive on my computer and I can’t find your name.

At the beginning of the year, the only email address that I could find on fundable.com was contact@fundable.com.  It and the 800 number were the only visible means to contact the company although briefly you had a chatroom up. You, or someone claiming to be you, and I chatted. This is the one piece of documentation I didn’t record and I regret that I have to paraphrase from memory.  I gave you my account info and you looked up the fundraiser.  At the time you said that there were irregularities because two of the donors had my name and three donations came from the same person. You said that you would email customer service to find out what was happening with my account.

Since my name isn’t in your email archive, I take it you never contacted your customer service department.

John Pratt at 10:00 pm

OK.  I have the following:
$500 – Refunded to Mary on January 27
$10 + $400 + $300 – Requires PayPal payment to [Donor 2 + email]
$50 – Requires check sent to [Donor 1]
$650 – Requires check sent to [My dad’s full name]

I have strong suspicion as to why your collection was not paid out on time.  During end of 2008 and beginning of 2009 we were suddenly plagued by fraudulent fundraisers.

What would happen is that a criminal would enter stolen credit card numbers into Fundable as contributions.  As a shortcut, they would use the same credit card in large amounts multiple times to finish their collection.  After we paid out their collection, the credit card companies would reverse all of the payments they made on behalf of the real credit card holders, costing us thousands of dollars.

To add to the confusion, the criminals would act angry and threatening like a normal customer would when we definitively identified their collection as fraudulent and refused to pay it out.

Until we finally found a service that could detect fraudulent payments, we had to take strong measures and I suspect that your collection got caught up in the process.

-John

Me at 10:15 pm

Those are the correct numbers for the refunds. Will you let me know when they go out?

The explanation of the fraudsters is very much what you said to me in the chat room. What I don’t understand is why your policy is apparently to keep the money if you thought it was part of a fraud.  Wouldn’t it make sense to refund the card holders?

If you want me to post your explanation as to what you think happened as an addendum to my blog post I would like to do that.  Unless you’d rather post it yourself in comments. Otherwise, I’ll paraphrase, since I dislike posting private email without permission.

Yours,
Mary

John Pratt at 12:45am

Yes, please post anything I have e-mailed you as soon as possible, preferably at the top.

Since I was not answering calls or general e-mails in January, I can’t yet say what lead to this.

Outside observers don’t know that we would have quit a long time ago if we weren’t motivated by helping people realize their projects using our system.  Financially, the site breaks even.  This is NOT the most efficient way to make money on the internet.

-John

My last reply written at 1:04, which I sent right after I finished inputting the rest of this into the blog.

The one thing I want you to understand is that none of this is okay.  If you are serious about helping people, you need to put a system in place so that people can get in touch with your company without having to make the internet fall on your head.  Whoever your customer service person is, isn’t doing his or her job right.  It should never have been necessary for me to escalate like this.

Despite your explanation about what happened with my fundraiser, if you had doubts about the legitimacy of the charges I can think of no good reason for fundable.com to have kept the money. If you thought I was a crook stealing other people’s funds, why didn’t you return it [to them] in January?

Now, I’ll ask again, will you let me know when the refunds go out?

Yours,
Mary

In an additional email, he has reiterated that my collection had looked like a fraud and that is why they didn’t disburse the funds to me at the end of it.  I’m sympathetic to that, but I still lack any adequate understanding of why fundable.com held onto the donors’ funds for months.

I’m not going to wrap up with a commentary, because if you’ve made it this far, you can draw your own conclusions about what happened.  But I will promise to let you know as soon as those refund checks arrive.

Edited to add Sunday, August 23rd 8:24 am

As promised, the paypal refund to Donor 2 has been received.  Mr. Pratt sent screenshots of the checks to Donor 1 and my dad.  Those are scheduled to go out on Monday and arrive by the 31st.

Did you know you can support Mary on Patreon!

117 Responses

  1. Vy

    I’m sorry. That’s awful. 🙁

    Looking online, I see a number of people saying the same thing about them. Maybe worth contacting them? When I’m researching a business, I always search for “[name] sucks” because I often find horror stories that way.

    Good luck. Maybe someone here can tell you what action to take next.

      1. Suzanne Andrews

        Thanks for posting this Mary. I just looked up Fundable.com and see that the website is no longer in existence. I am the host of Functional Fitness on PBS TV and also wanted to raise money through the sales of my DVD’s for seniors in nursing homes without family. ( I also work in one as a Occupational Therapy Practitioner) I wanted to start a fund to buy them sweaters since they are all cold, even in sunny Florida where I work. Your posting saved some grief.

        Healthiest Blessings
        Suzanne Andrews

      1. Francesca

        Mary, thank you so much for blogging about this. I came to this conversation thanks to Sherwood Smith’s link on LJ. My daughter was thinking of using Fundable for a fundraiser, but after reading about this dreadful experience of yours, and seeing that Clumpy reports a similar incident, I’ll keep her away from it.

        I hope that your donors get their refunds very soon. Any agency that deals with money transfers has to be absolutely scrupulous–this one seems not to be.

  2. Sean

    Wow, that’s crap. Sorry you had such a bad time with them, but I wanted to say thanks for going ahead and posting the story. Have you considered submitting this story to The Consumerist? You’d be able to reach an even wider audience, and I’ve seen many success stories from consumers who post their problems there. Just a thought.

    Anyway, thanks, and I hope this all get resolved for you soon!

  3. Josh Jasper

    If they don’t respond to repeated contacts, informing the state AG’s office where they’re heaquartered is the next step. If they don’t take action to address those claims, they can get in real trouble.

  4. N. K. Jemisin

    Sounds like a scam to me. Ditto on posting this to Consumerist and lawyers and maybe the police — that’s theft, IMO — and also the Better Business Bureau. Become a squeaky wheel, and either they’ll grease you with your money, or get shut down.

  5. -e-

    What a fiasco! Lawyer up lady. Amazing what legal offices can accomplish just on the basis of letterhead alone. I am pretty certain this will eventually be resolved, the question is how long, and how aggravating the process will be. Updates appreciated.

  6. John Pratt

    Hi Mary,

    Every company has customers who fall through the cracks.
    I am very sorry that you were one of them.

    I am investigating your collection and I will get back to you by email.

    -John

    Co-founder
    Fundable.com

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      You know. You said pretty much the same thing when you chatted with me back in January. I notice the chat room is no longer in existence on the site, by the way.

      I’m curious. Are you here because I emailed you with a link to this — in which case we know that my emails get through — or because it turned up on your Google Alert?

      I look forward to your email.

      1. Jim Crider

        The address in the blog comments Christie posted is for a UPS Store, by the way: it’s just a mail drop. (I posted on your FB to that effect).

        I’ll see what else I can dig up about Mr. Pratt and Mr. Helm.

  7. Jim Reilly

    Wow, just read this thanks to a tweet from Sizemore, and, man-oh-man, am I ever pissed off. Here’s hoping John Pratt and fundable.com take care of this pronto Tonto, or they’ll have to face the wrath of an angry lot of sci-fi/horror writers who blog like madmen! Seeing as how I get around 30,000 unique visitors a month on my site, I’ll be glad to post a little linky-poo to this very story if they don’t make good on their promise to “check into it”.

    I’ll be watching…oh yes….

  8. cathy

    Since they clearly operate interstate, you may want to consider filing a complaint with the consumer division of the Federal Trade Commission.

  9. David W. Goldman

    State attorney general’s office, absolutely.

    My experience with going that route is that it tends to result in quick action from the dishonest company (once the AG’s office gears have turned for a couple of months). especially if it’s a larger company that’s trying to have a decent reputation. With true scammers, though, you usually just find out that they’ve filed for bankruptcy.

    (As far as using the interwebs to widely badmouth a company, while that may feel very satisfying, I’m not convinced that it’s remotely as effective as full-time bloggers and site-masters are likely to believe.)

  10. John Pratt

    Mary,

    Yes, I am responding to your blog post because you sent me the link to this page by email. Also, an angry storm is building from your blog post.

    I have checked the details of your collection and it is marked as deleted, which means that all of your contributor’s pledges should have been voided.

    If there are any outstanding payments from your contributors that we have not refunded, I certainly want to know about it. Once again, I’ll get back to you by email.

    The irony of the intense anger of these blog comments, accusing Fundable of being a “scam,” is that we constantly must delete the projects of fraudsters who are gaming our web site with fake credit card numbers, which costs us thousands of dollars in chargebacks.

    The overwhelming majority of projects are paid promptly, without issue. Otherwise we would not be able to operate.

    All commenters who have questions about Fundable (or its legitimacy) may email me at johnpratt [at] fundable.com

    -John

    1. Deirdre Saoirse Moen

      John,

      At the risk of stating the obvious, you should be the one doing the investigation, not Mary.

      Absolutely Mary should double-check your work.

      BUT SHE SHOULDN’T HAVE TO.

      Fundable absolutely failed in her case and Mary is absolutely correct to warn others off.

      Deirdre

    2. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Thank you for responding so quickly now that an angry storm is building. It’s good to know that my email didn’t slip through the cracks.

      As a reminder from my blog post, I deleted the individual contributions after not receiving any reply from Fundable.com because I hoped that it would trigger automated refunds for my friends and family. It did not.

      I do look forward to your email.

  11. Mike Munsil

    John Pratt,

    I notice that you acknowledge Mary’s email, that the anger on this site is growing and that the account has been deleted (meaning that the pledged funds should have been voided). Further, you state that you want to know if any contributors payments have not been refunded and that you will respond by email.

    1. Nothing in these statements even comes close to implying that a resolution is in progress.
    2. You have provided no information you could not have acquired here.
    3. You seem to be unaware of the status of the refunds.

    Rather than wasting time writing emails, why don’t you just write a check?

    I’ll add a link about this on my Facebook acount. As soon as the situation is resolved to Mary’s satisfaction, I will take the link off my blog AND note that the situation was resolved to Mary’s satisfaction. After all, there IS a chance that you are honest but overwhelmed by life’s issues, or just honest and incompetent.

  12. Jason Sanford

    John Pratt:

    Are you serious stating that people like Mary, who complain about their problems with Fundable, are the cause of your problems? I mean, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this statement of yours: “The irony of the intense anger of these blog comments, accusing Fundable of being a ‘scam,’ is that we constantly must delete the projects of fraudsters who are gaming our web site with fake credit card numbers, which costs us thousands of dollars in chargebacks.”

    If you had handled this complaint in a proper manner months ago, none of this would have been mentioned on any blog. And I can’t believe you’re suggesting a genuine complaint like Mary’s might be the cause of your problems.

  13. Beth

    John Pratt:

    You don’t seem to get it, do you? Your company FAILED to hand over money owed to Mary. Then your company FAILED to respond to emails for *months*. And now you are FAILING to fix the problem.

    FAIL times three adds up to scammer. Or maybe just incompetent. In either case, I’m warning all my friends against doing business with you.

    –Beth

  14. John Pratt

    Beth,

    No one writes passionate blogs posts about how they received their money on time from Fundable. It is a non-event. The few cases that go wrong for a company are the ones that attract the most attention and provoke intense anger.

    What makes blog readers worry is that they fear we are not held to the same level of accountability as a publicly traded company. But what they may not know is that we rely almost entirely on word-of-mouth to for our traffic. If our users can’t use our service, they won’t recommend it to other people.

    Successful projects finish every day, without issue: http://www.fundable.com/recentlycompleted?SearchableText=&portal_type%3Alist=GroupAction&review_state=finished&review_state=finished-approved&sort_on=finished_time&sort_order=descending

    While commenters are quick to ask, “what are you doing now for Mary?” we are in the process of investigating why Mary’s contributors did not get refunds (if in fact that is the case).

    Again, anyone with questions can e-mail me at johnpratt [at] fundable.com

    -John

    1. Martha Bechtel

      “if in fact that is the case”

      … Nice. You know you could have said the rest of it without adding the bit about ‘because she might be lying about all of this.’

      I’ll be linking this bit of fail on my own blog and Facebook now, I was actually going to give you the benefit of the doubt until that little crack.

      Tact, get u sumz. [insert unimpressed LOLcat icon here]

      1. Mary Robinette Kowal

        To be fair, I haven’t heard back from one of my friends so he might have received a refund. And when I filed my claim with Paypal, it only took five days for fundable.com to initiate a refund to me.

    2. Rachel

      John Pratt:

      Your derisive comments are not making your customer service skills look any better. 🙂

    3. Jim Crider

      John Pratt:

      Keep digging your business’s grave. What kind of legitimate business uses a mailbox at a UPS Store (the favorite maildrop of ‘net scammers for over a decade), conveniently about a mile down the road from your partner’s apartment, as its primary contact? How many “suspected fraudulent” contributions that your company kept went into building your new house (so new Google Maps shows a vacant lot)? Madoff got 140 years for his scheming. You aren’t operating to that scale, but it still smells, walks, looks, and quacks like a scam.

      Finding the above information has been a trivial exercise — a few keystrokes and mouse clicks of readily-accessible (and free) services (Google, whois, NetworkSolutions, AnyWho, WhitePages, ZoomInfo). I’m still trying to figure out how the house in Portland, Oregon, is connected to your business, but I’m sure it’s an interesting story.

      Yes, it’s good that the contributors to Mary’s attempt to use your service are getting refunded *8 months* after the fact. I’d hazard a guess that the amount of ire raised here about your lack of response — and your “policy” of keeping the money of “fradulent” fundraisers instead of refunding it to the contributors immediately — may just have had something to do with this. It’s clear from your own words that your record-keeping is appallingly lax.

      And while you have issued refunds in this individual case, keep in mind that your inaction and shoddy record-keeping has cost these people 8 months of credit card finance charges, at the least.

      And what of the others who have not raised a *public* ruckus about their poor experience with your company? Will you continue to hold their money until they raise enough of a stink (or until the Texas AG’s office sends a few Rangers over for a chat)?

      You might just want to rethink your business model with a much greater emphasis on legitimacy. You can start with ethical behavior.

  15. Beth

    John Pratt:

    The question is not just “Why didn’t Mary’s contributors get their refunds?” It’s also “Why did you ignore her emails and voice messages for several months?” And, “Why didn’t you bother to respond until she posted her complaints on her blog?”

    In other words, You talk real pretty, son, but you ain’t done your job.

    –Beth

  16. James A. Owen

    Mr. Pratt –

    Mary didn’t slip through the cracks, as you state above. You told her in your own chat room that there were irregularites with her fundraiser. You. Personally. So you knew in January that a customer was having problems, you told her what you believed the problem was – and then you failed to respond to ANY other queries she made. And now, eight months later, you respond by saying that she slipped through the cracks.

    Every business has problems – but no communication means there are bigger problems than someone slipping through the cracks. And now you are worried about the tide of anger building up because of her posting about your lousy service? Well, to be honest, your problem is a lot bigger than this thread.

    I’m a friend of Mary’s, and a colleague who has worked with her. And this may not matter to you – now – but she is highly regarded, respected, and well-liked within the Science Fiction community. And all of her friends – including many, many writers – are all reading this, and will be spreading the word. Because as much as we hate scams, we LOVE to write. And we love to point people away from situations such as the one you’ve put Mary in.

    Fixing this, and putting things right with her – publicly, not by email – would go a long way towards mitigating that. But the fact you didn’t find out what happened when she sent you the link here – so you could post and say “my apologies, it’s all fixed now” just makes it look worse. As it will the longer it takes.

    There seem to have been other people with the same problem – maybe legit, maybe not. But ending your post with a sideways slam on Mary and the folks who donated to her didn’t win you any fans. Or new customers.

    James A. Owen

  17. Arachne Jericho

    John Pratt,

    People blog happy posts all the time about software, projects, programs, stores (online and brick & mortar, [inter]national chains and independent), other people, other blog posts, etc etc etc.

    That there are very few, if any, such posts about Fundable.com, that aren’t possibly sock puppets, doesn’t say any good about Fundable.com, and even perhaps something bad.

    By the way, this article just hit Boing Boing. You’re on your way to Slashdot fame, John.

  18. Jonquil

    I second the suggestion upthread to notify The Consumerist. I hope Mr. Pratt rectifies your situation; if not, The Consumerist is the place to go to make sure other people aren’t scammed.

    tips@consumerist.com

    The Consumerist is in the business of publicizing scams and atrocious customer service; they’ve helped several people get refunds and have also warned people against businesses that victimize customers.

    Thank you for blogging about this, though; people need to know about e-scammers. You may have protected somebody else in the same situation.

  19. Clumpy

    James and others,

    Agreed that the problem here is that Pratt’s company essentially ignored Mary for months. John’s right to ask us to keep this in perspective – no doubt most Fundable users receive good service (or don’t need to contact them at all!) but I’ve rarely seen a company drag their feet as much as they have on this issue.

    I’d still buy from an online retailer with 97% positive feedback, unless the 3% negative implied that the company couldn’t care less about being courteous and prompt in communicating when there’s a rare problem (error?) with a transaction.

    For example, this case last year is virtually identical: http://blog.taniith.com/2008/09/fundable/

    That’s a trend and a HUGE flag against this promising service.

    1. Eleri

      I’m the other Fundable victim mentioned in the blog Clumpy linked to, and my experience was oh so similar. We set a goal and didn’t reach it, but were able, on the Fundable website (and after the consent of the contributors), to lower the goal to the collected amount so that our efforts were not in vain.
      Weeks later, it took multiple emails and phone calls to Fundable to find out why the money had not been dispersed, only to be scolded like a child that I’d “broken the TOS”. Even if that were true (I could find nothing at the time about it being against the TOS to lower your goal) Fundable hadn’t contacted me in any way (except for the 48 hour review email, which was also not mentioned anywhere on their website) NOR had they returned the funds that had been pledged. I had to fight to get the money returned to the people who had pledged it.
      To have the money not only not sent to me after the so-called “48 hour review”, but not returned to the people who pledged it was horrible customer service. To have them respond to my requests for perfectly legitimate information by attacking me and accusing me of perpetrating fraud was outrageous and offensive.

  20. James A. Owen

    @Clumpy – that’s why I wrote what I did, as a caution. I believe they probably DO have a lot of satisfied customers who haven’t blogged about the service they got. But this customer, who seemingly couldn’t get attention UNTIL she blogged about it, needed to be taken care of right away because of the community she is in.

    Relying on word of mouth to build a business also means NOT screwing over someone who is friends with one of the founders of boingboing. Just saying. 😉

  21. Mike

    Lovely, just lovely. John’s snarky comment (“if in fact that is the case”) is one of those statements that implies exactly what it purports NOT to…namely that Mary is somehow making this whole thing up or is in some way mistaken as to the whereabouts of her money. Well, fair is fair….So I’d like to go on record as saying that “as far as I know, John Pratt isn’t just another internet con man out to steal money and fleece people”.

    Mike
    http://QuickTrivia.com

  22. Erbo

    Mary, I’m sorry to hear that these people ripped you off. I’m helping spread the word by Tweeting this post.

    I think it’s high time you consider small claims court. You and everyone else who donated to this project should file individual cases against them. If it’s such a small operation, likely the company will default on most of these cases, and you’ll be armed with judgements against the company. Then you can sic collection agents on them…(evil grin)

  23. William

    Wow! Mary’s original post made me suspect that Fundable doesn’t know how to run a business. And John Pratt’s replies here confirm it.

    This notion that there are mysterious cracks out there just hoovering up money, emails, and data is ridiculous. John Pratt needs to step up and take ownership of what he’s built, faults and all. Accounting for money is not some cutting-edge science whose secrets are closely held.

    I hope you get things sorted, Mary!

  24. Nargel

    Somebody should also go after these scammers for the interest they’ve gotten off the money they’ve stalled (stolen?) for months.

  25. Oskar

    What a strange way to raise money! I wonder why you didn’t just get on the phone to your friends and family and tell them of your situation and ask them to help by sending you a check directly?

    To me, it seems as if you have taken a simple and safe task and made it complicated and risky. What a ring-dang-do you have made of this.

    Caveat emptor! Don’t expect the nanny state to protect you from every scam in the world. You must bring some awareness to your own life and learn how the world works, the good and the bad.

    The reply above mine from Nargel is particularly amusing in that he expects compensation for interest the scammers received on their funds. Does Nargel realize interest rates are near zero?
    What many of you need is a good dose of reality that you must have been sheltered from in your childhood.

    1. John Scalzi

      Oskar:

      You strike me as the sort who says “you shouldn’t have worn that dress” to a woman who was assaulted. For future reference, blaming the victim isn’t the brilliant strategy you appear to think it is. Likewise, Ms. Kowal gives every appearance of having done due diligence before engaging Fundable’s services to make it easier for friends/family to send money to her, so castigating her regarding her “awareness” is making you look like you’re not actually paying attention, and instead simply trying to lecture in an arrogant and unpleasant fashion.

      As for your “nanny state” stupidity, please note that Ms. Kowal seems to be well on her way to resolving her issues with Fundable by properly embarrassing them online concerning their poor customer service. No government intervention required.

  26. Sarah Beach

    What disappoints me in Mr. Pratt’s responses is that he focuses entirely on the matter of the refunds!

    What I would like to know is why there was a failure to deliver the funds of a “successful” collection in the first place? Or why she had to be told in a *chat*, rather than an immediate direct email, that there was a “problem” with the donations?

    Both of those problems shouldn’t have even happened in this age of computers: the records should be easily accesible, and should have automatic sorting capablilities. Why should it take weeks and months for Fundable to confirm that all refunds had been made?

  27. Spring

    Oh Mary, how awful!
    I’m sorry you are going through this, and hope that resolution is swift.
    Your tenacity is inspiring.
    (When you get out to California, let us buy you a drink!!!)

  28. John Chu

    Yeah, it reads like the two choices available are either scam or horrendous customer service. If fundable actually is incompetent rather than outright malicious, I hope they take this lesson to heart and do better. (Regardlessly of how frequently or infrequently they screw up, IMHO, this screw up seems pretty epic.)

    I hope that they make right with you soon and actually refund everyone their money. (Of course, they should have given you the money back in January so that you could buy your computer, but that ship has clearly sailed.)

  29. Angela

    Make a BBB Online complaint. I’ve used them many times to get the attention of companies who have better things to do than, oh, DEAL WITH CUSTOMERS. I got ripped off (and put in a dangerous situation) by Budget Trucks and I took them to task with the BBB Online. I got *almost* all my money back, but I did have to get mean about it. You can look it up on my site.

    Then, check out thepoint.com for your fundraiser needs. I learned of them via Groupon.com, which is a cool service. They are nice, responsive and seem to have it together. The owner is on twitter every day and will answer you if you need anything. @groupon

  30. Mike F

    I saw the beginning of this yesterday and am glad to see some things moving this morning. It’s too bad this was the only way to get them to look into the matter. Even though Mr. Pratt is working on it now, it doesn’t help how one would view their customer service in normal circumstances.

    Mary, I hope your friends and family get all their money back soon. Thanks for posting this.

  31. Simon

    It sounds horrendous, but I think the worst aspect of this is the communications and response time, if this is a small time operation (a handful of part time guys and a couple of full timers) it is hard to sort things asap. It sounds like they are running on a shoestring (I am not defending them at all – if they are trying to operate a service they can’t fulfill it then is a disservice).

    Maybe mr pratt can rethink the anti-fraud measures, but depending on his agreements he may have unusual terms with the financial end – i.e everything goes OK then there is no problem, something goes wrong however and the next level up has to get their own procedures involved (paypal)?

    It’s very bad and this incident will stick in my mind for an org not to recommend if ever asked (quite likely), but I do have some sympathy for them. They are probably big enough to break even and no doubt have good intentions, just are overwhelmed.

    Bottom line – customer should not have to be troubled by the suppliers problems – why couldn’t the money be paid immediately by mr pratt – why couldn’t the payments be just cancelled? – seemingly it was out of mr pratts hands to sort this out, unless he paid out his own pocket and took the risk.

    1. Kai Jones

      Oh, George S, you’re so funny! I love how you subvert the content of your message to make it humorous and show how Mary Robinette is an admirable, honorable, and wonderful person! I know you must mean it ironically, because it would be impossibly rude to tell someone how rude they were being, and that kind of hypocrisy just doesn’t exist online.

      1. Mary Robinette Kowal

        They have different IP addresses, so I think that’s just a coincidental assignment. Or maybe my AI program is coming along better than I thought… On the other hand, Oscar has a different IP address every time he comments. He’s in the moderation queue at the moment.

  32. Kate Baker

    Mary, I’ve been watching this since you posted and I’m glad you got some resolution.

    The amount of money you recovered is the issue here though. I’m wondering if people have walked away from trying to gain any sort of refund for smaller amounts. While I won’t make any accusations regarding Fundable, there are internet scams that depend on that mentality. It still took how many hours, emails, blogs and internet posts to finally gain some attention? Yeah, I’m betting people have walked away resigned that they would never see their money again.

    No where in the replies by Mr. Pratt does he try to make me feel better about the company. Having a lack of customer service, having a lack of people trained to spot fraudulent transactions, over-reacting to legitimate customers, (or having no reaction at all) does not a happy business make.

    Fundable.com shouldn’t have been in the business of taking people’s money, especially in this economy without multiple people to field questions and concerns. Every business has loss, Mr. Pratt. Some business more than others. Loss prevention is usually a top priority along with reassuring your customers that all is under control. This was a poor show of both. While I won’t go as far as to yell, “Scam” at the top of my lungs…I will not be using Fundable.

    Thank you, Mary, for putting this out there.

  33. george s

    Maybe the reason it didn’t turn out well because of the bad karma in sponging off of your loved ones. Where is your pride? (or shame?) My god you are obviously literate and have produced a well crafted website …why can’t you make money the old fashioned way and buy your own computer like the rest of us? Sorry to rag on you but everyone else on the blog seems to have missed the point that this is so boorish. Personally I am unemployed and searching for work myself, just so you don’t think I am coming from some entitled place. (I don’t know you I was alerted to this by a boing boing post.) Again, I think the whole fundraiser is rather tacky, although I guess I’m the odd one out in thinking so. Thank God.

    BTW I have no control over what icon gets posted….

    1. Jim Crider

      George S, blaming the victim is rather, well, tacky and boorish, to use your words. Coming into the victim’s “house” to do so is flat out rude. Your surprise that Mary’s friends would rise to her defense is most telling. Maybe if you didn’t show up as a new visitor and castigate the host by way of introduction, you’d have some of your own.

    2. David

      George, I love it! *She* is being boorish? George, did you break your mirror? That’s seven years’ bad luck, you know…

      But it’s good that you let everyone else know your opinion of the whole thing. I know you have to tell them, for their own good, and I certainly appreciate your time and effort in coming here from BB so you could pass your judgment on what Mary is doing, and criticize her for it. That took a lot of … something.

    3. Mary Robinette Kowal

      You aren’t sorry to rag on me. You are enjoying it. And you’ve now lost your unmoderated posting privileges here.

      Everyone else, please don’t bait George S. by responding to him.

  34. Colorado Bob

    Mary –
    Nothing like a shout out from Boing Boing.

    I raised over $2,000 this year for 2 separate projects using Fundable. The second one , the payment came almost immediately. I had zero problems with them.

    Not defending them or attacking you, just an report on my experiences.

  35. Catherine Shaffer

    Wow! What a story! I have to say that it sounds like Fundable is indeed a scam, based on the very dodgy story and the reluctant way that Mr. Pratt is returning your money. It is normal for a business to have dissatisfied customers. It is not normal for a business to take nearly $2000 from a customer and refuse to refund the money or communicate when the service/goods are not delivered. Imagine getting this BS from Best Buy after you paid for a refrigerator, and then the refrigerator was not delivered. For eight months. “We thought you bought the refrigerator fraudulently with someone else’s money.” Huh? “People buying fraudulent refrigerators was costing us thousands in chargebacks?” Huh? “Fraudulent refrigerator buyers write us angry emails.” Huh? Really?

    I’m glad that you and your friends/family are getting refunds, finally, but no credit to Pratt and Fundable for doing the absolute minimally correct thing.

  36. robcat2075

    If this problem has happened once to you this problem has probably happened 100x over with other users. It’s unlikely that an automated web business makes unique mistakes.

    Hopefully other disappointed users have as visible a way to get the company’s attention because it sure appears that their standard channels are just a way to appear to be paying attention and/or a tactic to delay any need to address them.

    There is a certain mindset in many companies that customer complaints must be mistakes.

  37. Pingback: Taniith’s Relto » Holy Insanity On A Stick

  38. -d-

    Today I got a refund check from Fundable for the full amount of my contribution. Maybe it was a legimate fear that he was being scammed himself.
    Anyway, I’m glad that it has been resolved.

  39. Neely

    Wow! I am SO glad I found this blog. I found the Fundable.com website from a rescue site for pit bulls. While all of the other links seem legit for federal and private grants for my situation, this one triggered an alert on my Security Center which led me to “google” them. And this is what I found. I was trying to raise money for my sick dog’s surgery and have already created a site but thanks to your blog, I’ll be retracting the fundraiser and keep my fingers crossed that one of the grants I applied for comes through. I am SO sorry you had to go through this Mary. John is right though, in saying that you hear about the “bad” things a company does more so than the “good”. Bad news travels fast that is certain and thank God for that! I hope you have resolved ALL of your issues with them and are enjoying your computer! Best of luck to you.

  40. FamiliesInRecovery

    Thanks for the blog. We are a small nonprofit that works with kids from alcoholic families and I was thinking about testing Fundable for one of our programs. Your blog saved what could have been a lot of pain and embarassment if things had gone poorly with them. Fundraising should not be a crap shoot.

    One other quick point. They take 10% off the top as their revenue source, and then they send the money to paypal where an additional 3-4% will be taken off for processing. 13% is way too steep for processing donations and makes it a high-cost solution, on top of a risky one as you point out.

    Much appreciated for the public service!

  41. Alan Smith

    Well, if you check fundable.com, you’ll find that now it’s dead. Is it good or bad, hard to tell.

    No doubt there were criminals that tryed to scam them, but Fundable scamed a lot of people too. They did not send payments (however they were saying that payment was sent), they did not refund payments, they did not reply to emails/calls. They were sending SOME payments, however. So overal, they were in profit. Someone scamed them, and they scamed someone too.

    Anyway, the idea was really cool and useful, but they weren’t able to make it work. So, is there any other site that works in the same way? Where usual people can ask for help and RECEIVE it?

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Whoa. Thanks for pointing that out, Alan. Am I the only one fascinated by the difference in the narrative there and the exchange I had with Mr. Pratt?

      As for other place? I’ve seen some other fundraisers out there but don’t have any personal experience with any of them so wouldn’t feel comfortable making recommendations at this point.

    2. Eleri

      I wish there was Alan, we did a lot of looking. My friends have graciously tried the ‘pimp the wordpress blog’ thing (www.helpthehamiltons.wordpress.com), but that requires asking and asking, which is hard on the pride.

  42. Deirdre Saoirse Moen

    Wow.

    I don’t know of any place that works the same, really. There’s places that are sorted out for loans (Prosper and LendingClub), but I don’t know of any for outright gifts.

  43. Ed Reggi

    Well I believe I was just screwed out of $1000 by fundable.com too. I had an auction for a wedding and it ended on Tuesday for $1100 and I was supposed to receive the money in 48 hours but when I went to fundable.com tonight it seems the site is no longer in business. And Mr Pratt urges I sue Louis Helm for my money. I am beyond words right now, very upset.

  44. Marie

    Hello Mary,

    Thank you for your helpful post. Have you seen the fundable site today? I am very disappointed- I was really excited about the possibilities of such a service. I must admit that I did no background check on the company because I had heard about them on NPR.

    All best,

    Marie

  45. Ed Reggi

    Yes supposedly now they are sending out checks because PayPal blocked their account. Oh lord, this is getting me nervous. I hope my $1000 comes via mail and the check doesn’t bounce.

    1. SF

      Hey did you ever get your check from Fundable? I am going through the same thing with them! WHat a horrible company!!!!

  46. SF

    Mary,

    I currently have a Fundable page up to help raise money for a friends dog surgery. Well, a couple of days ago someone went into the pake to make a pledge and the Fundable page had disappeared!!!! Not one that but there was a message stating there was some inter-company issue with the owners and that they had to shut down!!! It’s horrible!!! We were almost done with out collection to! So now the page is back up but it doesn’t let you click on “make a pledge” I’ve emailed the company several times and no one gets back to me! I will try calling again tomorrow. I also noticed that you were in contact with the owner himself! Is there any way you can give me his email address!!! This is horrible how this company is scamming poor innocent people that just want to help others!!!!

    Thanks!

    SF

  47. John C. Randolph

    Note to self: never do business with John Pratt.

    Mary, sorry you had to go through this. Thanks for blogging it.

    Dierdre: Small world! How’s everything? Still working for the Famous Company in Cupertino?

    -jcr

  48. saul

    I went through the motions of setting up a fundraiser, and after I emailed it to all my friends, I got emails that the pay pledge screen was frozen, I contacted fundable several times and no one ever got back to me. I delete all my info.
    It’s a very bad business ethic to have a non working site up an running which does not work…
    sad sad sad

  49. Thomas

    There is another new site called DonateGroup.com that is similar to Fundable. Have you guys tried it yet?

  50. Eric Neal

    Mary,

    Wow. I’m late finding this post (esp. since Fundable has since closed shop), but it was a very enlightening read, nonetheless. I’d thought about using Fundable on several occasions, and now I’m so very glad I didn’t, just on principal. We’ve all encountered the inadequate and downright rude customer service like this, and it’s great that you’ve brought your nightmare to people’s attention so that they could avoid this kind of crapola. Anyway, the real reason I’m posting is to put the final punctuation mark on the Pratt experience, namely this tasty little post in which he offers his POV on the business tanking and his new business venture at the time of writing http://groups.google.com/group/barcampla/browse_thread/thread/4b4091eaf6fb6743 His truest colors show in his own words and he even gets into some mudslinging with the responders calling him out as a Grade A douchebag. I almost feel bad for the guy. Almost. Hope your friends and family have recouped their losses by now.

    -EN

  51. Dr. Mike Wendell

    Just discovered this post after I noticed that the fundable site was pointing to an archive.org copy of it. I have to admit that I was rather surprised to see this. I used them back in 2006 when I needed to raise money for a laptop due to having lost my internet access. Have to admit that I found them very pleasant to work with and quick to respond to emails. Although that was back in 2006/

    I’m sorry you had trouble with them but I have to say that not all experiences with them turned out bad. They did a lot of good for me and I spend most of my day trying to help others.

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