Single dad Billy Price struggled to make ends meet before someone broke into his storage unit in Michigan, stole his identity, and ruined his credit.
The Price reported it to the police and tweeted about it to Bill Pulte, a multimillionaire he’d heard using Twitter to give money to those in need.
“They took almost everything, including everything my grandfather gave me before he died,” Price tweeted last month, but was greeted with silence. “Besides, we are about to be homeless; it’s like the world’s weight. Please help us.”
Price, 35, recently moved from Illinois to Michigan to maintain joint custody of his 5-year-old son Maddox. Price has been living in a Kalamazoo hotel for an extended period while looking for a place to live but fears that his poor credit, dwindling savings, and lack of work will leave him with nothing that no’ slum’. †
“I really don’t want that for my son,” said Price, who lost his landscape architect job during the pandemic and has depended on odd construction jobs and day trading cryptocurrency for the past year to make money.
Almost every minute of every hour, someone sends a tweet to Pulte, a 33-year-old private equity investor and heir to the giant homebuilding company PulteGroup.
A grieving mother needs $800 to collect her young daughter’s ashes. A Texas man needs help paying off more than $60,000 in credit card debt. A family of four is about to lose their home.
People send pictures of their eviction notices, tearful videos of their empty fridges, and screenshots of the meager amounts in their bank accounts.
And almost every day, Pulte responds. He gave a woman $125 to pay for gas so she could drive to her brother’s funeral. He gave $500 to a man who sent a video of his missing teeth.
It’s all part of what Pulte calls “Twitter philanthropy” — a concept of direct giving where Pulte and others provide immediate financial support to a small percentage of the thousands who contact social media daily.
“I call them hand-ups, not handouts,” said Pulte, who has grand visions of disrupting the traditional philanthropy model by using social media to build an online army of donors to help those in crisis.
Pulte’s generosity is commendable for Timi Gerson, vice president, and chief content officer at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Still, she said it has turned into a “grotesque Hunger Games” in which desperate people compete to be noticed as they struggle. to survive in a “broken system” that has “very unequal access to health care and housing and services”.
Online direct donations are nothing new — for years, people have been using sites like GoFundMe to get money for a medical, funeral, and other contingencies.
But Pulte’s approach is almost instantaneous. Within seconds, on a whim, he can send a follower life-changing money: His largest one-time donation to date is $50,000, according to his data of the more than $1.2 million he’s distributed to more than 2,200 followers over the past three years. . In that time, his number of followers has skyrocketed from around 35,000 to 3.2 million.
Gerson appreciates the “immediacy and transparency” of Pulte’s approach. Still, she said it is ultimately far too little to bring about meaningful change and likened the situation to the old story of the Dutch boy who stuck his finger in a leaking dike to trying to prevent his city from flooding.
“Endless fingers in the dike don’t solve anything when the sheet pile crumbles. You have to fix the structure,’ Gerson said. “If you want to solve the root problem effectively, you need to fund groups and organizations that look at things systemically.”
Pulte agrees that systemic change is needed but disagrees with the idea that government and giving to large philanthropic organizations is the answer, saying that such approaches come with high bugged costs, as well as “corruption, fraud and abuse”. The mere fact that so many people are reaching out to him is evidence that not enough action is being taken, he said.
“The government should do it,” Pulte told the Associated Press. “But in the absence of government, we need to stand up and help people who are dying of cancer, who can’t afford their diabetes insulin pump, who don’t have teeth.”
And it’s not always Pulte who takes care of all the money. He also partners with TeamGiving.com to promote causes – often medical procedures – for his followers, members of #TeamPulte, to rally around and help with.
In the long run, Pulte said he’s trying to build a huge network of donors for the TeamGiving community to vote on where the money goes.
“I think in many ways that could be just as good, if not better, than Social Security or Medicaid,” Pulte said, although he admits, “I haven’t figured that out yet.”
“The main thing I want to solve is how can I make it a sustainable movement outside of me? Because I am only one person. I’m just a millionaire. I can’t solve all problems.”
One person who has helped Pulte is Callie Coppage, a 32-year-old single mother who tweeted a photo of herself and her baby son to Pulte on Feb. 27, saying she had just left an abusive relationship and needed support for her two children.
The next day, while she was braiding her hair in her house, $7,000 came from Pulte through Cash App.
“It felt like I had a godparent who just popped in and put my life back on track and said, ‘Here, I’m going to look out for you,'” she told the AP.
Coppage said she immediately used the $7,000 to pay off insurance bills and buy a better car — she said her ex took her old one — and new car seats and shoes for her kids.
But as overjoyed as she was to receive the money, Coppage said she was also greeted by the dark side of Twitter philanthropy. Her Cash app was immediately inundated with messages from strangers asking for money — an experience Coppage said gave her empathy for Pulte.
“There was a point where I felt a little greedy for wanting to help, but given my circumstances, $7,000 was just the perfect amount I needed — it wasn’t like I’d won $1 million. And how do you actually choose ?”
Pulte said a few volunteers help him sort through the countless requests he gets every day.
He admits that some recipients are likely to be scammers, but he and his team are doing everything they can to ensure he sends money to people who really need it.
“We’ve gotten much better at understanding who is real and who isn’t,” said Pulte, who said a traditional charity could spend 20% or 30% on overhead. “If we help 90% of the people and 10% of them are scammers, I take those opportunities daily.”
For Price, he continues to tweet his story to Pulte regularly, even though he only gets responses from scammers trying to trick him into revealing his bank details. He’s also applied for several government housing loans — he says there’s a huge waiting list — and started a GoFundMe page, though that has yet to gain traction.
“My focus was to get out of this fight,” Price said. “And when all your focus is on that, how can you enjoy your life? That’s not a life you want to live.”