September 1, 2017

When Hurricane Harvey started dumping catastrophic amounts of water on his hometown, Shea Serrano knew he should do something.

So, he turned to Twitter.

Serrano's a Houston-based staff writer for Bill Simmons' sports and pop culture website The Ringer. He could tell the flooding was bad from his parents' house in San Antonio, nearly 200 miles away. That's why he put out a call to #FOHarmy, his philanthropically minded Twitter following (FOH stands for "get the fuck outta here"). They started donating directly to Serrano using Venmo, an app friends use to pay each other back in public.

Within an hour, the fund had more than $19,000. The money just kept rolling in.

Overnight, donations to the fund passed $134,000. Serrano was shocked. He called his accountant for advice on what to do with the money. Would he have to pay taxes on it?

"Once the money got into the $50,000 mark, I started getting a little nervous," Serrano said. "It was a little intimidating for me."

His accountant advised him to donate the money directly to a nonprofit to avoid paying taxes on it.

Serrano has used Twitter to raise money before. It began in 2015, when he leveraged the #FOHArmy (then roughly 40,000 people) to promote his book launch. After that, he used it to crowdsource funding for his free newsletter. Some of the money — a few thousand dollars — went to his illustrator and some went to charity. A few philanthropic causes followed: A shelter for LGBTQ youth, free breakfast for children, a $3,000 tip for a helpful airport worker.

But none of his fundraising efforts reached this level before. In part, he says, that's because it wasn't really inspired by him. This time, his following didn't need much encouragement.

"As soon as the hurricane hit, I didn't even have to say anything," Serrano said. "People were like, 'what is the FOH going to do this time?'"

Serrano still isn't sure where the money's going to go, but he knows it'll be some kind of local nonprofit focused on helping out flood victims. And next time, he plans to use a different platform than Venmo to raise money, like GoFundMe.

As for Serrano, he's on the way back to his house in Southwest Houston with his three boys and wife. He's had to evacuate a few times before, but his house has never been rendered uninhabitable by flooding. He hopes that's the case this time.

But even when faced with the prospect of personal loss, he feels compelled to help others out.

"What else are you supposed to do in that situation?" Serrano asked. "I know that I have this at my disposal. So why would I not help people?"

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the amount of money Serrano received. It's $134,000, not $137,000.

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Benjamin Mullin was formerly the managing editor of He also previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow,…
Benjamin Mullin

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