“Younger folks especially seem to want to be more engaged in their giving, to see results, to see the personal connection,” said Alan J. Abramson, director at the Center for Nonprofit Management, Philanthropy and Policy at George Mason University. “The need is concrete — to pay a bill. You feel like you can even make a difference if it’s a finite amount that needs to be raised, as opposed to the important work that other nonprofits are doing fighting poverty on a larger scale.”
Mr. Serrano, 38, grew up in south San Antonio, with his father driving a bus for the city and his mother working at a corner store. He ended up in Houston working as a middle school science teacher, explaining cellular structure and the periodic table to eighth graders. His wife was also teaching, and they made a comfortable enough living on their two salaries until she gave birth to twins and had to stop working after medical complications.
“All of a sudden, it’s one person making $42,000 a year for four people,” Mr. Serrano said. Housing costs and car payments took up $2,000 of the $2,200 he brought home each month. Everything else was a hustle, including writing blog posts at night for as little as $20 each.
He landed a job with the website Grantland, since shut down by its parent company, ESPN, that enabled him to quit his teaching job and begin developing his fan base.
Mr. Serrano’s Twitter feed is highly personal, with photographs of his wife and three children, posts about the ups and downs of his beloved San Antonio Spurs and observations about his favorite TV shows.
He has included charitable giving drives on his Twitter feed for some time, whether for a local nonprofit, relief for hurricane victims or simply help for people who need money to buy their children Christmas presents. When Mr. Serrano started sending money last week, he quickly hit Venmo’s daily $3,000 transfer limit. A contact at PayPal, which owns Venmo, helped him get an exemption, he said.
In a statement, the company said it was “inspired by how our Venmo community is helping one another during this time.” It added, “We encourage you to continue to be mindful when transacting with Venmo, including who you send money to and accept money from.”