"Help bring Abby home", "Our Bali medical nightmare"; for Kiwis under-insured and stuck abroad, crowdfunding has become a choice worth considering.

Over the past decade websites such as Givealittle.co.nz have helped raise millions of dollars for all sorts of causes, including travel emergencies.

Moreover, through a couple of high-profile cases New Zealanders have a raised awareness for this lifeline to travellers in a bad place.

When Abby Hartley went on holiday to Bali last year she never thought she would end up in hospital with a bill for $75,000. Nor did she expect her travel insurance would refuse to cover the costs.


Having undergone emergency surgery for a twisted bowel in Indonesia, an underlying condition caused her insurance policy to be void.

The family of the 41-year old from Hamilton would have been in an impossible situation if her daughter, Sophie, hadn't thought to turn to the internet to ask for help.

In 20 days a Givealittle page set up by her children had raised $237,602 from over 4000 donors and gave Hartley a fighting chance. It inspired headlines and made a lot more Kiwis aware of another, technology-led approach to emergency funding.

Carried by Hartley's heartbreaking story, it spread via Facebook and Twitter as an online sensation.

In spite of the tragic outcome, Hartley's cause is still one of the website's top funded pages. Photo / Supplied
In spite of the tragic outcome, Hartley's cause is still one of the website's top funded pages. Photo / Supplied

While ultimately Hartley's cause had a tragic outcome, today it is still one of the top funded pages through the website and was able to raise donations for causes including Auckland Starship hospital.

"Crowdfunding is something growing in prevalence with social media as a vehicle for it," says Chris White CEO of Southern Cross Travel Insurance.

"It's the high profile cases like Abby Hartley which got a lot of media coverage and perhaps changed a few people's perception of crowdfunding," he told The Herald.

The insurer insists that crowdfunding is not hurting the market for travel cover, but the success of certain crowdfunding cases has given people a warped sense of the odds facing under-insured travellers.


"If anything the volume of people travelling uninsured has gone down," said White, but "there's a new group of travelers" drawn to the "if all else fails strategy."

In the 10 years since it was founded the Givealittle website has raised almost $130m for causes, ranging from charities, medical emergencies to disaster relief. However, it's quite hard to break that down into successful causes and fundraisers.

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Even for the website, which is now part of the Spark Foundation, it's not a clear cut thing.
Talking to Mel Steel, customer care manager for the website, she says: "Each page on Givealittle is unique with varying circumstances so the definition of success also varies."

"Media coverage also plays a part in funds being raised," said Steel. Pages which have an urgent and or compelling cause can influence the outcome and amount raised.

With greater awareness of crowdfunding as an option Givealittle said they were seeing a growing number and variety of causes "- including travel related emergencies."


However, it is on the issue of numbers that the argument for crowdfunding struggles.

"Givealittle is a great avenue to request support during difficult and unexpected times however it can be unpredictable," said Steel, clear that crowdfunding was not an alternative to insurance.

There are more pages set up to repatriate a loved one who has died overseas to NZ then there is to provide support

When asked for data on cause success rate, or the range of donations expected by a campaign Givealittle could not help.

"We just do not capture information in that way," said the tech company.

"Not every Givealittle page has a goal - some pages are open goals so there is not target on the page to measure against."

There are 4815 public causes currently live on the website.


Using software to scrape the website's public pages we tried to gain a snapshot into a page's likelihood achieving a target. For this we looked at 91 pages about to close, 40 of which had 24 hours or less to achieve their goal.

Just what is the likelihood of having your cause covered by the crowd, and can you depend on the kindness of strangers?

As of October 1, 87% of the Givealittle pages set to expire over in 24 hours had achieved under a third of their target donations.

While under half (37.5%) of the causes had set target goals for their pages, the amounts raised varied greatly.

61% of those pages, including causes without targets, had raised under $1000. Nowhere near the sort of money needed to cover foreign medical bills.

Crowdfunding has been used to raise much needed funds for a number of worthy causes, some of them related to travel emergencies. However the amount raised by a cause is never certain.


As Mel Steel of Givealittle tells the Herald, it is very hard to forecast donations simply because each cause is so unique: "some of those pages are fundraising for charities, some have been open for 2 weeks and some have been open for over 6 months and some may even be extended."

"Regarding Abby Hartley's page, this page received a huge amount of support in comparison to other pages on Givealittle and there has not been another page similar since that has received similar support," said Steel.

"We can say for sure that there are more pages set up to repatriate a loved one who has died overseas to NZ then there is to provide support in the instance of a medical emergency when they are overseas."

Sadly repatriation of bodies is another incidence in which uninsured families are on their own.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) told the Herald that while they offer emergency advice on financial difficulties facing New Zealanders abroad, they "don't have advice on crowdsourcing or online platforms."

"People are hoping they will send in the Hercules to fly them home, but that's not what governments are there to do," says Chris White of Southern Cross.


As an insurer, Southern Cross is sadly familiar with the procedures of what White refers to as "RMR" - the industry acronym for "Recovery of Mortal Remains".

"MFAT do offer help and advice, help get in touch with relatives back home, but they won't help you with funding."

From his experience those who risk travel with inadequate cover tend to be "people who are new to travel and on itineraries where the focus is on fun."

White suggest that those who weren't covered were younger travellers "risking it" rather than older people faced with higher premiums or failing to disclose medical problems.

Southern Cross recently introduced exclusions from travel insurance for moped hire, a popular activity for young Kiwis abroad and one of the more dangerous ones.

Asked if this is exposing younger travellers to unintentionally voiding their insurance, even when they thought they had bought cover, White insists it is clearly sold as an extra.
"It is something we introduced in the last 12 months," he explains saying moped use would be treated like winter sports cover as additional cover.


"It's all under the caveat of personal responsibility," he says. It's up to travellers to know what their policy covers.

Today the same technology that can connect you to thousands of other Kiwis on a crowdfunding website can just as easily be used to buy additional cover for adventure sports or additional travel, often at a moment's notice.

While the goodwill of New Zealanders can be counted on, the crowdfunding is still not an exact science, and certainly not an alternative to insurance.