14 August 2007

GiveMeaning? - Give Me a Break

I wrote recently about the plight of the Tibetan people. One of the problems is that it is hard for an average non-Tibetan to do much to help the situation. So I was pleased that Boing Boing pointed me to what sounded a worthy cause that might, even if in a small way, help preserve Tibetan culture:

The Tibetan Endangered Music Project has so far recorded about 400 endangered traditional Tibetan songs. We now have the opportunity to make these songs available online, at a leading Tibetan language website (www.tibettl.com). However, this volunteer run website is unable to fund hosting for our material. The cost of hosting space is 1.5 RMB (less than 20 US cents) for every MB. One song in mp3 format is approximately 1.5 MB. 1900 USD would allow us to buy 10 GB of hosting space, which will take care of all our needs for the forseeable future (allowing 6700 1.5 MB songs to be uploaded). It would also allow us to expand to video hosting in the future, or to provide high quality (.wav) formats instead of only compressed mp3 format.

Wow - preserving the Tibetan musical commons for the Tibetans: sign me up, I thought.

So I did sign up. But that's where the problem began.

Despite being signed up and in, I could not - can not - find anywhere to give money to this lot. Now, naively, I would have thought that a site called GiveMeaning, expressly designed to help people give money to worthy causes, would, er, you know, help people give money, maybe with a big button saying "GIVE NOW". But what do I know? I've only been using the Web for about 14 years, so maybe I'm still a little wet behind the ears.

On the other hand, it could just be that this is one of the most stupid sites in the known universe, designed to drive altruists mad as a punishment for wanting to help others. Either way, it looks like the Tibetan musical commons is going to have to do without my support, which is a pity.


Tom Williams said...

No one is as frustrated over the link from Boingboing to a project at GiveMeaning.com as I am, the CEO of GiveMeaning.

Here's the thing:
If a project lives on our site for more than 90 days without accomplishing its fundraising target.

Before closing a project, we ask the founder whether they wish to extend their project's "life" on the site and in this case, the fundraiser opted not to do so.

We closed this project back in July and distributed 100% of the funds raised to the Mountain Fund, a US charity.

I can only imagine that the fundraiser who started this page at GiveMeaning isn't aware that his page is receiving a dozen or so clicks from Boing Boing a day.

Only July 17th, we sent a request to the founder of this fundraising page for him to update his page with a report on the progress of his project but have not received any updates as of yet.

You will see by browsing through any of our ACTIVE projects that there is a clear DONATE NOW button.

Now that we've been alerted to incoming traffic looking for this specific page, we have updated the fundraising page ourselves to explain to Boing Boing readers that this page is no longer accepting donations.

While I would love to accept donations for this project, we cannot do so without the consent of the fundraiser.

Unlike an international development organization that actually carries out the projects we fundraise for, we are a site that acts as an intermediary between the fundraiser and donors serving to collect the funds, issue tax-receipts (where applicable) and then distribute 100% of the funds to an Implementing Organization whose responsibility it is to use those funds in the way described by the fundraiser.

I agree that we could as an interface component show the current status of a project and make it clear that a project is officially closed to new donations.

That is something we have planned for an upcoming launch of the site.


Tom Williams,
CEO, GiveMeaning

Glyn Moody said...

Thanks for your explanation, and apologies for my blog rage - but I did waste considerable time and effort trying to give money, so I was frustrated, to say the least.

At least you know from this experience that providing up-to-date info is a good idea.

Obviously, I don't know the detailed background, but I wonder whether you can reframe your terms so as to allow projects to live on: it's important to remember that on the Net, in the age of search machines, people can often stumble across apparently dormant pages on sites. It would be shame to lose all those donations.

Another suggestion: how about accepting PayPal and Google Checkout? These are very easy ways for people to pay - whereas giving credit card information is likely to be a barrier for many.

Brian Hauff History said...

Excerpt of article in The Vancouver Sun newspaper of January 19, 2008:


During the year ending Sept. 30, 2006, GiveMeaning received $234,643 in donations for which it gave tax receipts, according to a financial statement filed with Canada Revenue Agency. Tom Williams said these are largely donations from individuals.

It received another $730,350 from other registered charities. Williams said these donations were made specifically to pay GiveMeaning's overhead.

He refused to identify any of these donors. I found this strange: My sense is that, while some donors request anonymity, most registered charities or foundations publicly report where they are placing their money, not so much for recognition as for transparency.

More generally, I do not understand why certain undisclosed charities would give money to pay overhead for what is essentially a charitable conduit.

In the case of GiveMeaning, that overhead is disproportionately large. Of the $982,705 in total donations it received (and issued tax receipts for), GiveMeaning spent $666,070, or 68 per cent, on administrative expenses.

Those expenses included $199,043 for professional and consulting fees; $153,646 for salaries, wages and benefits; $28,433 for advertising and promotion; and $24,019 for travel.

I asked Williams whether he receives a salary. Well, yes, $90,000 per year. And his wife, country singer Jessie Farrell, who works part-time for the foundation "when she can," gets $30,000. So together they collect $120,000 per year, plus expenses.

After subtracting overhead costs, just over $300,000 was available for charitable purposes in 2006, but only $172,000 was actually given to charities (the remainder is still on the foundation's books). That $172,000 represents just 17.5 per cent of total donations.

But that's not the end of it. Many of the charities that receive money have their own overhead. So the net amount available for true charitable purposes is even less.

Williams insists that, whenever a person gives money for a particular charity, 100 per of that money gets to the named beneficiary. That may be true, but it does not mitigate the fact that the vast majority of the overall money collected during 2006 went to administration.

Williams says this was due largely to start-up costs: "Yes, we have spent more than we have given away. Just like any other start-up business, it takes time to get profitable," he said.

He said the financial return for the year ending Sept. 30, 2007, which is just now being filed, will show a greater percentage of overall donations going to charity. We shall see.

The Vancouver Sun January 19, 2008

Glyn Moody said...

Thanks for that. Very interesting - and rather sad....

Brian Hauff History said...

It is sad that there are people who'll exploit the hopes and dreams of others to line their own pockets.

It is encouraging, though, that such practices come to public light.

The internet can create a path for scammers but, at the same time, it can help unravel them. The cup is more than half-full!

Glyn Moody said...

I see that Tom Williams has responded to that Vancouver Sun article on your blog. Actions speak louder than words, so I think it would be best to suspend judgement and to wait and see what GiveMeaning achieves in the future.