Instagrammer who raised $7M to evacuate Afghans struggles to use funds effectively

Giving money to strangers on the internet certainly has its risks. A Washington Post investigation into a viral fundraiser from Instagram user @quentin.quarantino has raised red flags.

In August, 25-year-old Tommy Marcus partnered with nonprofit leaders for an effort they called "Operation Flyaway." On their GoFundMe page, Marcus wrote "We want to be clear: EVERY SINGLE NICKEL of everything raised will go to either pay for flights, or support these humans through various non-profits." The page raised a fortune almost immediately, eventually reaching over seven million dollars.

As Operation Flyaway works in a nation run by the Taliban and torn up by decades of war, it encounters debilitating logistical challenges. According to The Post, "Flyaway spent $3.3 million on flights that were canceled for which it has not received refunds. Organizers are trying to reschedule those flights." It has also struggled to get clearances from destination countries.

"Because many of these efforts are not incorporated as nonprofits, groups such as Flyaway are not required to publish tax records detailing their activities. Nor are they required to follow guidelines governing nonprofits, meaning that their activities — though often well-intentioned — receive little scrutiny. Donors often cannot see how their money was spent."

The Washington Post

Though no Afghans have been evacuated on flights chartered by Flyaway, the group reports that it has rescued over 400 people by supporting other evacuation flights.

In some cases, Flyaway has helped pay for flights organized by other groups or lent money to make flights possible. In others, Flyaway says it has helped Afghans reach airports. Though Marcus, 26, has said Flyaway helped evacuate hundreds of people, organizers acknowledged to The Post that most of them departed on flights paid for by U.S. taxpayers or other organizations.

The Washington Post

In an August 25 call between Flyaway and allied advocacy groups, Marcus discussed the challenges of coordinating evacuations.

One participant sobbed on the call, others talked over one another and California-based activist Azadeh Ghafari repeatedly yelled "Stop spending money!" at Flyaway organizers. An attorney for Marcus and other Flyaway leaders later sent Ghafari a cease-and-desist letter demanding that she stop accusing them of mishandling funds.

The Washington Post

According to The Hill, "The U.S. military evacuated more than 123,000 individuals from Afghanistan during its operation."