Go Fund Me disaster Nikki H&S

Nikki Smith’s two daughters were huddled around the computer screen.

‘What are you watching?’ she asked, peering over their shoulders; it was a YouTube video of a family surprising their children with a trip to Walt Disney World, in Florida.

As the children in the video screamed with delight, her girls – aged ten and twelve – turned to her, faces lit up with hope.

‘Mummy, one day will you surprise us with a trip to Disney World too?’ they asked, and Nikki literally felt her heart twist. ‘We’ll see,’ she answered, and quickly changed the subject. She didn’t want to disappoint them, but the reality was she’d never be able to make their dreams come true.

She was already finding it a challenge to make ends meet. She worked two 12-hour nightshifts a week as a healthcare assistant at her local hospital – the most she could manage without needing childcare – and there was rarely anything left at the end of each month for treats.

Nikki knew Disney World was an extravagance, and all that really mattered was that her daughters were happy and healthy. Still, it upset her that they’d never have this wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience many families took for granted.

‘My daughters are the most amazing, kind  loving and caring people,’ she says. ‘They really are my best friends, and I desperately wanted them to have some magic in their lives too, just like the kids they watched for hours on YouTube.’

Nikki was at work when she overheard two colleagues chatting about a money raising website called ‘Go Fund Me’. People set up their own web page outlining what they needed money for and visitors had the option of donating to their cause if they wanted to. It was a totally optional site – there was no pressure or obligation to spend a penny if people didn’t feel the cause was worthy.

One woman described how she’d helped to pay for her gap year travels from donations to her page, while the other’s sister had funded her dream honeymoon.

‘I had no idea this kind of thing even existed,’ Nikki says, ‘but my immediate thought was of my girls; could this the way I finally made their dreams come true?’

Intrigued, she looked up the site during her break and was amazed to see some of the things people were receiving donations towards – everything from home renovations, to school fees, to breast implants. Figuring she had nothing to lose, she set up a page asking for help raising £5000.

(My daughters) love anything Disney and I know that I would never be able to get them there on my own; by the time I saved up they would be too old to enjoy it,’ she wrote. ‘We lost two very special people in our lives these past couple of years, and this really would give them so much to look forward to. Please help me to make my daughters’ dreams come true.’

She logged off, and promptly forgot about it. In fact, she was so sure she wouldn’t get any donations she didn’t even bother sharing it to her own Facebook page.

A few days later her phone rang. The woman on the other end mentioned ‘Go Fund Me’, and Nikki assumed she was a salesperson from the website. ‘What do you think of all the negative comments?’ the woman asked, and Nikki suddenly snapped to attention. ‘Sorry,’ she asked. ‘Where did you say you were calling from?’

She was a reporter from a national newspaper.

Heart pounding, Nikki quickly ended the call and logged on to her Go Fund Me page. She was shocked to discover it had been shared 18,000 times, and attracted a torrent of abusive messages from people outraged she’d asked for help paying for a holiday. Sick with dread, she shut the page down, and prayed that would be the end of it.

But the next day her sister rang to say a friend had seen an online article about her appeal, and the fact it had caused such an uproar. ‘It was horrible,’ Nikki says. ‘They’d had posted pictures of me and my children with their faces blurred out, and the story basically called me a beggar.’

As other outlets picked up on the story it gathered momentum, and went viral around the world. ‘I went into a panic – not for me, but for my girls,’ Nikki says. ‘As more and more stories came out I felt increasingly anxious and depressed. I had a constant knot in my stomach and couldn’t eat, and lost eight pounds in three weeks.’

Word inevitably got out closer to home. A few days later her 12-year-old was looking withdrawn: ‘Some kids keep asking me why you’ve been stealing money,’ she said. And Nikki’s heart broke. 

‘I was absolutely gutted,’ she says. ‘I’d tried to do something amazing for them, and it had been twisted into something so horrible. I thought I’d ruined their lives.’

Go Fund Me disaster girls blurred

She explained the entire story to her girls, and they hugged her. ‘Don’t worry Mummy,’ they said, ‘we know you were just trying to make us happy; we’ll stick up for you.’

As soon as the girls were out of sight, Nikki broke down in tears. What had she done?

She understood why people thought she’d been cheeky; when she took a closer look at the site she saw some heartbreaking stories and realised that – by comparison – hers must have seemed trivial. But she hadn’t lied about her situation, or tried to make out they were more deserving than any one else – she’d simply stated her wish and given people the option to support her, or scroll past.

She’d been naive, but she wasn’t the horrible person the news stories were making her out to be. 

She couldn’t believe the pure hatred that was now being directed towards her family – her older daughter continued to be teased by other children (her youngest was, thankfully, unaffected).  Nikki was told she was an embarrassment to her family, and that her children should be taken off her.

Abuse flooded in on all of Nikki’s social media channels – literally thousands of messages – forcing her to shut them all down. She even lost friends, who believed what they were reading.

After weeks of relentless harassment Nikki became too afraid to even leave her house. Reporters and television shows were hounding her for interviews, but she refused them all – she just wanted it all to go away. She slid deeper and deeper into anxiety, and ended up on antidepressants.

Thankfully, her family were totally supportive.’You’re a mum who tried to make her daughters’ dreams come true,’ they told her. ‘You’ve done nothing wrong.’

Finally, Nikki realised she couldn’t just sit back and continue to let the media destroy her; it was time she stood up to the people who were judging her, and tell her side of the story.

She reactivated her page and began to write an update: I have had the worst few months, she began. She explained that she’d put the page up without thinking it through, and had been utterly unprepared for the abuse she’d received. She apologised for offending anyone, and admitted she’d been genuinely traumatised by all the negative press, saying: I was only trying to fulfil my children’s dreams.

She set her fundraising target at £10 – which was the total amount she’d raised on the previous page – because this this time it wasn’t about the money, it was about standing up for herself.

Once again, news of her GO FUND ME appeal spread, but this time something amazing happened – the comments were kind and supportive. Your girls will be proud of you for your strength, read one. From one mum to another, enjoy Disney – don’t give up dreaming! said another.

Nikki couldn’t believe it when donations began to trickle in: I’m happy to help fund a trip that will be a wonderful lifetime memory you can share, one person wrote.

The balance continued to edge upwards – £100, then £500, then £1000. Incredibly, just one month after reopening her page, the balance had reached Nikki’s original target of £5000 – enough for her to take the girls to Disney World next summer.

‘I cried,’ she admits. ‘It really restored my faith in humanity, and made me feel like all the pain had been worth it.’

Today, bolstered by well-wishers from all over the world, Nikki is regaining her confidence and reclaiming her life back.

The Go Fund Me  balance currently stands at over £7000 – more than she ever wished or hoped for. Nikki hasn’t told the girls the good news yet; she plans to surprise them – just like the families in those YouTube videos they still watch endlessly.

‘Now my girls will get their Disney dream, and we’ll be making beautiful family memories to last forever,’ she says. ‘I can’t thank (our supporters) enough; I’ll never never forget what they’ve done for us.’

Nikki Smith hasn’t requested or received any payment for telling her story


• after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, ANIKKA BURTON used her experience to set up a business helping others.

• when SHARON MCBEAN struggled to find a music box with a black ballerina for her ballet-mad daughter, she decided to make one herself.





  1. One thing I can say about people is that they really seem to enjoy berating and belittling others… Making them feel horrible for no reason… Everyone has a story behind what they do… And sometimes, that story is a pretty damn good reason for doing it…

    • And I think that’s what upset Nikki the most – that people were making all these judgements about her, without knowing the full story. Thanks for commenting Gareth. 🙂

  2. Aww I’m so glad that the girls are getting their Disney dream! People on the internet can be so cruel sometimes.

    • I think people got so caught up with Nikki’s story that they forgot what was really important – that two little girls were going to have their greatest dreams come true! x

  3. Pat Andoniou - May 5, 2017 reply

    Iv known Nikki since she was born . She is an absolute Beautifull lovely person . I’m so glad for her and the girls .good on you Nikki xxx

    • Thanks so much for commenting Pat, I know the support and positive comments have meant the world to her. x

  4. Should work to pay for it, not be begging strangers. The ‘can’t work due to childcare’ doesn’t wash when her kids are 11 and 12, she could easily work while they’re in school. Article makes her out like little miss sunshine, I have seen her post FB statuses in groups gloating and sneering about what she’s done. And how she could resurrect the GFM after her kids being bullied over it shows no concern for them, they’ll still get targeted for it.

    Surely it’s better to work for luxuries not go cap in hand.

    • Thanks so much for reading Donna. I know Nikki was upset because people didn’t have the chance to hear her side of the story before deciding if they agreed with what she done, or not. With that fuller picture, people are completely entitled to form their own opinion – whether that be for or against her fundraising efforts. Thanks again for taking the time to comment. Jacqui x

  5. I think holidays abroad are a lovely luxury that not everyone can afford. How lovely her story had a happy ending.

  6. This is a great article! I do feel so sorry for her though, people can be so cruel and hurtful though. I totally get what she was trying to do, maybe she just didn’t go the right way about it.

    • I think that’s exactly right Sarah – she definitely didn’t think the page through properly – but the response was particularly harsh, considering her motives were innocent. x

  7. It’s awful how so many people were quick to attack her for genuinely trying to do something nice for her kids. I have seen some questionable Go Fund Me pages that are set up purely because the person wants something right there and then and doesn’t want to save up for it but this is a totally different scenario. This is a woman who is really trying to give her children a good life and it’s a shame she ended up getting slated for trying to treat them. I’m glad to hear she’s now able to take them to Disneyland; it’s the least her and her kids deserve after all the abuse.

    • Hi Mel, I think that Nikki meant well, but misjudged her approach somewhat! Whether you agree with her page or not, I think her ‘punishment’ far outweighed her ‘crime’. Thanks so much for commenting. x

  8. I am so glad she is realising her dream – the internet can be a horrible place at times. Kaz

  9. I’m on a group that she actually shared it on, this story you have printed has a lot of lies in it. People get suckered in by all sorts of people these days!
    I k ow single mum’s that save hard to take their children on holiday, so here is a thought! Give up something so you can save,
    Oh and she actually upped her target so she would have spending money as she couldn’t even be bothered to save for that!

    • Hi Sarah, I think it’s really important for people to hear different perspectives and to be able to express their individual opinions, so appreciate you taking the time to read the post and comment. Jacqui.

      • I want to say “well done” to you on your story about Nikki Smith. But more importantly — much more importantly — I recognize and praise the humanity in your reporting, something I must say has been sadly lacking in almost every story written abut Nikki.

        I have read so much horrible stuff on Nikki, but it was not until just a few minutes ago that I found myself saying to myself, “OMG! Someone has finally gotten it right!”

        From the moment I became aware of how this woman was being savaged by the online media and by the horrible, horrible things that were being said to her via social media, I was absolutely enraged, and at the same time heartbroken. Enraged that people — especially journalists and editors could write such hate-filled pieces — and heartbroken that once I did a little research, read further and then looked at her GoFundMe page, that I realized the truth was that this well-meaning mum was just being ripped apart for no reason other than the kind of spectacle which used to entertain blood-thirsty crowds in the Coliseum.

        It was by chance that I happened to see the story about Nikki roll by on my online news-feed. There was this headline that portended to tell the story of a mum who’d done something unimaginable. And there was this picture of the lady, and somehow the picture and the headline just seemed incongruous. I would usually not click on these tabloid pieces of garbage, but I HAD to know what this horrible woman had done. So I clicked on the story, and the more I read the more I just couldn’t believe it. This horrible woman wanted to take her daughters to Disney World? Horrors! Oh, surely there had to be something more to it than this, to draw this much hatred, but no, once I looked at her GoFundMe page I could see she had been totally honest and transparent in her fundraising effort, plus, I could see nothing in her desire to give her daughters this wonderful wish that was any worse than MANY other appeals of essentially the same nature on GoFundMe, yet THOSE people were not made to wear a scarlet “T” upon their breast proclaiming them to be a “thief.” Only Nikki Smith, it seemed, had “won” the privilege of being publicly stoned to death in print like that.

        I was absolutely puzzled what it was about this woman, or her campaign, that drew, as I thought of it, a feeding frenzy of sharks.

        I have since followed her story, and remained so ashamed of what what the world has become, and so ashamed of the thousands of haters who ripped her apart, that I have been waiting, day to day, for some journalist, and some publication, to finally tell her story without hatred. You, Jacqui, get a tip of my hat for being that journalist and “Mummy’s Little Monkey” being that publication.

        So, again, thank you for showing that there are still a few journalists who are professionals, and thanks be to Heaven that you have shown that there are still beings upon this too-cruel planet of ours who we can still call “human.”

  10. Really enjoyed reading this story. I think I would only take my kids to Florida if i could honestly really afford to.

  11. I was so sad reading that. Whatever your thoughts on the subject verbal abuse and bullying is never acceptable. I’m glad there was a happy ending but that poor family should never have had to go through that

  12. Oh bless her heart. People can be so cruel, there’s a real mob mentality to these things and the press/media really likes to stir things up. I’m glad that it turned around for her but she shouldn’t have had to go through all that. Loads of people fund stuff on Gofundme that isn’t to do with charity or illnesses. It’ just a fundraising site.
    This reminded me of the book ‘So you’ve been publicly shamed’ by Jon Ronson. He looks at how the public just goes completely out of control when they scent that there is some shaming to be done. It definitely made me think twice about my privacy settings!

  13. Nikki smith - May 12, 2017 reply

    I want to thank jacqui so so much for helping me get my side of the story out there and everybody who has been so wonderful to me , I really appreciate your wonderful comments and support xxxx

  14. Oh my god, the internet can be vicious. It really does bring out the best and worst in people. I’m glad Nicki got positive closure out of this, I dread to think how she would have pushed on through if it didn’t work out so well.

  15. It’s a really interesting story, as you can see how Nikki’s wish might not seem as important as some of the pleas for help for treatment etc – but the whole point of sites like Go Fund Me is that people can choose whether to donate. If they don’t want to, they should just skip past – it should never have become a witch hunt. It’s a shame that people are so quick to jump to conclusions, and really interesting how when she re-activated her site with a different message, people responded more positively. Great piece.

  16. Wow, an amazing story. All struggles in life are relative and you never know the true background to any story in the media/on social media. So glad to hear it worked out in the end – an uplifting story to read!

  17. Christopher Lawton - June 16, 2017 reply

    I don’t blame Nikki at all. In fact I am sorry to say I have now resorted to doing the same thing but for very different reasons. Due to my bank messing up as a result of a faulty cash machine, I am skint until the bank can decide to refund me and they seem to be in no hurry despite screaming down the phone!

  18. I agree that a lot of people were cruel and there are better ways to handle things you don’t agree with. My problem with this type of gofundme for luxury is because people who are truly in need get lost in the masses when it is used for trivial things. My daughter has been fighting for her life for 3 years. She has metastatic breast cancer that metastisized to the brain, liver and bones. She struggles to make ends meet raising her 3 children as a single mother. Her gofund me has raised much less than that in 3 years. Things like this is why people get upset when it is used for luxury. Gofundme is over run by trivial request, people that are truly in need get lost in it due to how many people thoughtlessly use it for want and not need.

    • Hi Ginny, yes, I totally understand your point of view on this too – there are so many really deserving people and causes being highlighted on GoFundMe and it’s heartbreaking that not everyone gets the help they deserve. Thank you for commenting. x

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