An Instagram Fundraiser Helped Forgive the Medical Debt of Over 140,000 Families

A screenshot of an Instagram post from Sharon McMahon that reads "In December 2023, Governerds raised $1,079,369.10. The purpose? To abolish the medical debt of our neighbors." It is accompanied by a screenshot of an Instagram Live featuring Sharon McMahon

Sharon McMahon, an Instagram creator and educator, lovingly dubbed “America’s Government Teacher,” spends most of her time online speaking about current events to her over 1 million followers.

But along with her daily social media work, podcast, and “Government for Grownups” workshops, McMahon has a sweet spot for fundraising.

Or — her audience, called “the Governerds,” do.

As part of McMahon’s annual fundraiser with RIP Medical Debt in December of 2023, followers donated a total of $1,079,369.10 to the organization, which purchases medical debt at cost.

This means that RIP Medical Debt uses a highly efficient model in which the generosity of donors (like the Governerds) combined with debt industry expertise allows the nonprofit to relieve about $100 in medical debt for every $1 donated — or $10,000 for every $100 donated.

Screenshots of an Instagram post by @sharonsaysso that read: "Our $1 million was able to forgive more than $170 million in medical debt."
Screenshots from @sharonsaysso's post about the fundraiser.

Don’t worry; you don’t have to do the calculations. That figure collected by Governerds in December 2023 turned into over $170 million in forgiven debt. 

“RIP Medical Debt buys medical debt on the debt market, and instead of collecting on it like a bill collector, they simply forgive it,” McMahon explained in an Instagram post

“We just received the final report from RIP Medical Debt,” she continued. “142,830 families received a letter in the mail saying that their debt had been paid.”

The organization also specifically supports individuals who earn less than four times the federal poverty level, and whose debts total 5% or more than their annual income.

Governerds were encouraged to share their funds directly on a custom donation page — or they could send funds to McMahon on Venmo, which were shared transparently in her Instagram stories. The initial goal of the campaign was $100,000, which was toppled within about a week.

Screenshots of Sharon McMahon's Instagram stories about the RIP Medical Debt fundraiser.
Screenshots from McMahon's Instagram stories throughout the fundraising period in December 2023.

This is not the first time McMahon’s community has mobilized for a cause. Her first RIP Medical Debt fundraiser three years ago raised $560,000 in grassroots donations to forgive $65 million of medical debt — within five days.

McMahon also leads fundraising efforts for regular “teacher grants,” raising over a million dollars to help teachers in need with whatever expenses they may have.

Although she may be increasingly savvy in her fundraising efforts, it seems the achievement is never shy of awe-inspiring to McMahon.

“Given that medical debt is involved in over two-thirds of bankruptcies in the United States, our gift was life-changing news for hundreds of thousands of people,” she wrote in her Instagram announcement.

“It is truly the small who are the mighty. All of us doing something has made far more difference than a few of us trying to do it all. Well done. And thank you.”

Supporters of the project were also excited to celebrate the final totals.

“Thank you for jumpstarting this opportunity and letting us participate,” an Instagram user commented on a Reel McMahon posted once the fundraiser reached $1 million. “It’s a holiday gift to each and every one of [us] who donated, as well as the recipients. What a force for good this group is.”

“Thank you for being a difference-maker,” another user commented. “This is leadership. This is compassion. This is goodness. It’s so powerful!”

Header images courtesy of Sharon McMahon/Instagram

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