Tag Archives: charity

Help Us Help Them

I’m fighting a pretty tough bout of cynicism right now.  I got an email from a hotel chain of which I am a rewards member.  The email subject was about supporting the Australian relief efforts.  The big type pleaded for me to donate my rewards points for the cause. 

I have a long-standing issue with companies that ask their customers to help in disasters by giving them money.  Primarily because I am very, very certain that the company will use all the money collected in the drive as their own donation, and then they will take the tax write-off for that donation.  Don’t you think?  They’re not a non-profit.  You don’t get a receipt for your donation to them.  You can’t claim it as a tax deduction yourself.  Are they going to let that go to waste?  Hell, no.  Plus, they are the ones that get to say, "We donated $550,000 to the relief effort!"  And not all of it was their money, for sure.

This email plea irked me in another way.  They are asking you to give back something they gave to you to give to someone else.  That statement says what I mean it to say, but it doesn’t seem to capture the full audacity of the premise.  On the surface, it sounds legit.  The company has a liability on their books with all those outstanding rewards.  That’s value.  You’re donating something that has value.  But really, it’s nothing.  It’s all fake, virtual value.  You paid them for those points.  You redeem those rewards for empty rooms.  The empty rooms are there for offer regardless of any points balance.  What I’m saying is the hotel can just as easily make those rooms available for disaster relief regardless of any points donations.  All the donation does is reduce their future liability to their customers.

And here’s the final nagging thought.  Yes, charity is good.  Corporate charity should be good as well.  If no email had come in today, I wouldn’t have had anything to bitch about, so the fact they’re doing anything is better than nothing – I acknowledge that.  Regardless, if an offer evokes cynicism, it just doesn’t have the level of altruism that makes you proud of a company.

So when the offer from the company says they "will match up to $25,000" of donations, that’s really saying they are willing to donate $0.  As long as no one donates anything, that’s all they’re on the hook for.  And it’s also saying that if their customers are super-generous, they’ll personally stop at $25k.

I feel bad for criticizing a relief drive effort, but this offer just has a bad vibe to it.  I think they should have done it right or not done it at all.

Charitable Angst

I wouldn’t consider myself a generous person.  My charitability is off-the-charts random.  You have to catch me in just the right mood to have a successful pitch for donations or whatnot.  However, I don’t really consider myself a scrooge, either.  I think I’m overwhelmed with how much needs to be done and given and it seems that anything you give is just never enough and if I opened up to that possibility, I could really do some damage to myself.  So, I’m just really guarded about the whole thing.

But this year, two causes broke through my defenses.  And they’re kind of odd choices.  Well, they’re not odd causes, but they’re odd choices to donate to.  It’s pretty much like the case of a person who actually registered and purchased a license to WinRAR.  The two causes were both online websites:  The Internet Archive and Wikipedia.

Wait, Wikipedia?  The one that shows this begging banner a few times a year and says if everyone donates just a fraction of a penny that the donation drive would have ended 10 years ago?  Yeah, that one.  I use Wikipedia a lot, although that’s not really any sort of metric of who I should be donating to.  They’ve been doing what they do for a very long time and in that time, they haven’t changed in a way that you could perceive as “selling out” or “sucking”.  There’s something to be said for that.  So, I don’t really see my donation as a gift for the future, I see it more as a thanks for everything so far.  I suppose that’s an ass-backwards way of viewing donations, because had they started sucking a while ago, I wouldn’t have donated, but then again, why donate to a site that sucks?  See, this is why I can’t think about charity.

And the other one, The Internet Archive.  This one actually is sort of a gift for its future, because I expect them to be around when I’m ready to offload everything I’ve collected for future internet people to view.  Sometimes I’ll browse their stuff randomly and just be amazed at the obscurity of some of the items.  And other times it’s amazement at what is actually in there.  It’s so much stuff, I can’t imagine anyone could monitor it all.  So anyway, they got a little gift.

But here’s something I’ve thought about for some time, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll act on it this year.  I have heard that social service shelters of all types really like hotel toiletries.  They are the perfect size for people that are just passing through, with less waste, and it’s something that everyone needs.  So if you are at a hotel and can grab an extra bar of soap on your way out, they would appreciate it.  But collecting a few bars of soap over a year isn’t really all that useful, despite “every little bit helps”.  And really, you’re not donating the soap, the hotel is.

You can buy travel-sized soaps and shampoo from plenty of places like Target or Walgreens or CVS, but have you seen the prices?  That’s not bad when you’re on vacation and you need one, but it’s not scalable to the hundreds.  So… why not buy a whole case of mini soaps from a hospitality supply company and donate that?  And mini shampoos, too?  So I looked into that possibility a little bit.

I’m going to stick to a price of about $45 per case of product.  Depending on the size of the product and its quality, the quantity will differ.  But initial searches say you can get 200, 500, or even 1000 bars of soap for $45 or less.  And for the same amount, you can get 144, 160, or 288 little shampoo bottles.  Of course you can spend more and get improved quality, which as some might reason is a better value because you would use less product overall. 

What else?  You can get disposable toothbrushes with toothpaste included: 144 for $60.  Razors?  500 for $70.  Pretty much anything that a shelter could want, you could supply in bulk if you consider things from a hospitality perspective.  If I’m wandering a flea market or an outlet store like Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, I see boxes of toiletries for sale and I know the sellers got them for cheap – duh, since they’re selling them for so cheap.  But the problem is those are full-size, retail bottles, which might not be suitable for someone that is only staying at a shelter for a couple of days. 

And now my mind is racing, thinking of all the things that could be donated.  And this is why I can’t think about charity.

Hopefully I Remember When I’m Senile

After reading: http://ascii.textfiles.com/archives/4825

I’m actually not sure how to present this idea because in today’s hyper-sensitive world community of “activists”, anything can be construed as evil, manipulative, or exploitive.  So, I guess I will have to say that this is my idea for myself, but if anyone else thinks it’s a good idea and can run with it while dodging whatever arrows are fired by the SJW’s, have at it.

So the premise of the article is that there is an unbelievable amount of data that needs archived into some non-degradable, digital format for preservation.  I’m certainly not opposed to it, despite whatever posts I’ve made about “anchors”, “baggage”, “simplification” and so on.  And it’s something that I would like to help with, but right now, I am in a generally busy part of my life.  This is a very labor-intensive task, and it has a degree of drudgery.  Maybe 20 years ago, I would have been able to devote large chunks of time to the cause, and maybe in 20 years I will have that opportunity again, when I am retired.

That’s when it hit me.  There are a lot of people out there that are… hmm, have to be sensitive about this… underutilized.  Those people could find a purpose by contributing/donating labor to the archival project.  In the spirit of my previous post, they could do archival work.  Maybe (hopefully) they might find the work fulfilling and be driven by the same purpose.  Then they could be archivists.  For many of the people in the demographic I am envisioning, the archival process could also be a nostalgic endeavor.  This could be a potential source for metadata in the archives.

It’s a pretty well-known fact that people who end up in retirement homes fade away quicker because they lose a sense of purpose, the knowing that you are needed and the feeling that your contributions have value.  So, what if archival stations were set up in some retirement homes?  Give some of the residents training on use of the equipment, let them know the benefits their efforts are providing and let them do as much as they wish to do?

The hardware is certainly not a problem.  Hardware is cheap now.  It’s the labor that is  expensive, unless that labor is donated.  I hope I can remember to do what I can when I am too old to contribute in the fast lane of technology.  Just get me off the highway and into the rest area with a bunch of data for slow processing and I’ll do what I can.

Can’t Get No… Satisfaction

I’ve been what I would call a professional for quite some time.  One of the benefits of being a professional is that my income is pretty good.  I have read – and I agree – that once your income covers all your basic needs, more money doesn’t really make your life better.   Sure, you drive a nicer car, you eat at better restaurants, maybe you stay at nicer hotels.  The old problems of “I wish I could afford to…” kind of go away.  Then it becomes more of, “Should I…”

But something else changes.  You start looking for ways to make yourself happy by seeing other people happy.  You start spending your excess money on other people, because, well, you’re taken care of already.  This manifests itself in many ways.  For my part, I’ve gotten involved in activities that required investments and purchases for the benefit of everyone in the activity.  And that was fine for me, because everyone had a good time.

But, there comes a time when it doesn’t seem as fun, when your effort and contributions don’t seem to make as much as a difference.  And more importantly, you are not inspiring others to step up their involvement.  And then it’s not just about the money, but the money is what seems to matter the most.

2015 has been named the year of no-involvement.  It is a year of rebuilding for me, both financially and socially.  For the last couple of years, I’ve tried to get involved with projects, with the hope that they would take off and be something great.  A lot of times, I provided a lot of financial support to boost the timeline or the project’s presence for it to succeed.  But it just seemed in the end that the people involved or the people benefitting just wanted to go along for the ride.

You want to be inspiring and set a good example.  A totally made-up scenario would be like having a group that enjoyed beaches and boating and such, so I would rent a boat for the group and we would all have a great time.  I would hope that it would inspire them that if they could all put in a little more into the group, then we could do this all the time.  But, sadly, that’s not how it would turn out.  There was never a “That was awesome, what do I need to do to help make that happen again?” moment.

In some ways, it’s like I want to be a venture capitalist, providing startup money for something that would take off.  But I don’t exactly need to see a return on my investment, I just want to see things succeed and see people happy about it.  It hasn’t happened yet.  So I guess I need to improve my business sense and invest more wisely in the future.  2015 is going to be a great year.  2016 will be my chance to try again.


‘Tis the season to be homeless, or so it seems.  I’ll start by saying I’m ambivalent about homeless people.  I really don’t think there is a solution to it, much less a solution to those that actually desire to be homeless and live off of charity.  My reaction to homelessness would be, in D&D terms, chaotic neutral.  but anyway, the stories…

Case 1: The GF and I are out driving and stop at an intersection.  There is a woman wearing the standard-issue safety vest for panhandlers.  Joking around, I commented, “nice butt,”  the GF commented, “nice phone in the back pocket.”  But joking aside, the GF is a lot more generous and tolerant of panhandlers than I.  She will regularly offer a drink or a snack if she has one available.  I infrequently do that.

Anyway, to get to the point, the woman turned around and it was a person that my GF knew from her job.  Knew pretty well, in fact.  That changed a lot and not in the way it might sound.  This woman would show up nearly every day totally drunk and just be belligerent all day.  This is not someone you want to give money to, because it goes to one thing.

Case 2: I’m pulling in to a restaurant for lunch and a vagrant is in the lot.  I leave the car running and pretend to be busy with something inside.  Undeterred, he comes over and is happily gesturing at my car.  Yeah it’s a nice car.  I give him a thumbs up through the window hoping he’ll continue on.  Nope.  He continues gesturing and finally I roll down my window.

The guy is deaf, for real or not.  Signing some stuff, pointing and making noises.  I have no idea what he wants.  He eventually hands me a piece of paper with his pitch pre-written on it.  He’s deaf; he can’t hear or understand what I say; he wants money for McDonalds.  Sigh.  I give him $5 and tell him to enjoy his meal.  He seems extremely grateful.

Case 3: I’m leaving a restaurant and a guy is in the lot with a bike.  “What kind of car is that?”  “It’s a Miata.”  “A what?”  “A Miata.”  “Hold on I can’t hear you.”  He comes closer as I realize what I’ve gotten myself into.  “A what?”  “A Mee Ahh TA”.  “Oh!  That’s a beautiful car.  Must be very expensive.  Never seen one like that before.”

Trapped, I am.  “I just want to fuckin’ say something.  I want to fuckin’ thank you for acknowledging my existence.  All these other people just fuckin’ fly away.  They don’t even say anything.”  And it goes on like that.  It’s cold and drizzling outside and I’m not a fan of that situation either.  So to end the conversation, I say “you know, you really need to find shelter.”  And at that moment, I thought, “God damn it.  Why did I have to say that.”  I get more story, about his mom, who loves him.  I see him trying to figure out how to use whatever I’ve said to work in some kind of pitch, a pitch that will be full of profanity, certainly.   He points at an overpass and says how he has slept there for 5 days. (That’s his shelter, he says). 

I figure, ok, we’re going to do this, huh?  So I asked, “why do you do that?”  He was caught off guard. I said, “I know there’s shelter here in town.  Why don’t you go there?”  Well, he had to think quickly for that. “eeehhhhh, those shelters…. they’re not… nice.  They have bed bugs.  It’s not good.”  And I was getting ready to tell him it had to be better than a bridge when he commented, “he’s eyeing me up.”  I asked, huh? and he said “the cop over there.”  Then I hear behind my car, “Excuse me, would you mind coming over here and talking with me?”

The vagrant walks over and I shut my car.  I’m going to take my opportunity to get out of this.  I look in my mirror and no I’m not.  I’m blocked in by the police.  And… another car shows up.  I catch little bits of their conversation: “You from around here?”  “You have any weapons on you?”  “You said some things that worry me.  Are you going to get violent with me?” Oh boy.

So, the officers don’t find any reason to detain him and let him go.  So I’m going to just finish this up and get home.  I do the nice, dumb thing.  As he walks by the car to get his bike, I offer him a can of Coke.  I want that to be the end and I’ll go.  Nope.

More conversation ensues.  I finally tell him that he needs to clean up his presentation, stop swearing so much, and better things will happen to him.  I have to put the car in gear and start moving for him to get the hint.  I think he stroked the hood of my car as I backed away.

So there’s three recent interactions with the homeless and vagrant within a couple of weeks.  Where it goes from here, I can’t be sure.

No News is Good News

Having a hyper-connected civilization is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, we have been able to share knowledge and ideas at an unprecedented rate, which has certainly advanced the technology of our world.  On the other hand, we have been able to share stories of misery and fear wider than what is prudent.

Many people are reluctant to consider humankind as a global civilization, but these people are constantly bombarded by news (almost always bad) from other countries around the world.  Even more common, is the reporting of news across our country, again, almost always bad.  I seems it has become normal to worry and fret and become angry over people and situations that we have no connection to and will never have any connection to.

A shooting here, a dying child there, animals running from a wildfire, record cold temperatures way up there.  These things don’t matter.  They are daily trivia and conversation starters.  They do not have an impact on a national scale.  Yet, the news is full of these stories every single day.

It is not helping that the news is becoming more entertainment-oriented.  Fox News is moving towards more of op-ed reporting, instead of reporting the news, they have a personality delivering their opinion and analysis of the news.

In discussing what I felt as strange about my workplace leaving the news channel playing the Boston bombing all the time and my co-workers streaming live news at their desk on the manhunt for the bomber, I created a really long sentence.  No, seriously, it was suspected that these people who were glued to the news coverage were trying to feel connected to a national tragedy, like “where were you when 9/11 happened”?  I can’t really understand why it takes an event of misery to make people feel more connected.  And oddly, it doesn’t really work that way when the event is local.  In those cases, people tend to shut themselves in.

Think local, do local, care local.  Those are the people that really matter.  And if we all do that, everyone is covered.

The Business of Charity

What image comes to mind with the word “charity”?  Is it Salvation Army bell-ringers? Is it Girl Scouts selling cookies?  Is it 24-hour telethons?  Is it a cashier asking if you’d like to give a dollar for this or that?  In any image you may have, you are thinking of a business.

Apparently, accepting money from some people and giving it to other people is very difficult.  And because a “non-profit” organization has been used for less-than-honest purposes, there are plenty of regulations to prevent that from happening.  But it still happens, and in more subtle ways.

Let’s first look at cases where you are asked to donate a dollar to help some organization during checkout at a store.  Be cynical for a moment.  Why should you do this?  If you were a charitable giver, you would donate through the organization’s website or through some other direct channel, not through Perkins or Denny’s or Walgreens.  What’s in it for me?  Well, nothing.

However, the other parties involved are both getting a boost.  The charity itself is getting reach and exposure.  They have hundreds or thousands of people asking for money on their behalf.  The company partnering with them is getting money to claim as a charitable donation.  You’re not getting that tax deduction for $1, the company is getting tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in a deduction.  And when they advertise promoting that charity, it’s a donation as well.  They’re donating advertising dollars (but their name is on it too, so…)

Yeah, ok, no big surprise that a company is going to take advantage of this opportunity and maximize their profit from it, but surely the charity benefits from this, right?  It sure does.  But stop and think about most well-known charities.  They are businesses.  People love the term “non-profit” (or “not-for-profit” because the “not” makes it sound more aggressive).  What do these terms mean? It means there’s no shareholders, no one who invests in the business and expects a return on the investment.

Non-profit means the money stays in the company.  It doesn’t explicitly mean that all excess income goes to the beneficiaries of the charity.  It could mean that the excess income goes to capital improvements, like real estate or equipment.  It could go to salaries or even bonuses.  It could be invested.  It could be spent on advertising  (which are termed “awareness campaigns”).  Sounds just like a business, doesn’t it?

And the most backwards, nonsensical part of the whole thing? Salaries.  When someone works for a non-profit, they are making a living off of donations.  Think about it.  The non-profit organization is paying people enough to make a living, while at the same time, providing somewhat light assistance to many others.  And in many cases, there are executives that are living very well while running this business, this charity, built from donations just like the ones you are asked for when you check out.