Giving sounds good
The Vancouver Sun's David Baines has published a piece on Tom William's new charity site GiveMeaning. Baines concludes his article by saying:
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.
Finally, there is the question of the quality of the charities that are listed on GiveMeaning's website. Many are extremely obscure, such as The DuncanAfrica Society, whose stated objective is "to train Ugandans to build world-class acoustic guitars" and Wild ARC, whose mission is "to help rehabilitate Ollie the Otter and his aquatic friends."
I do not mean to disparage these endeavours. I am sure they are well-meaning. But every time a donation is made, GiveMeaning issues a tax receipt, which means Canadian taxpayers are subsidizing the donation. I think that, in such an unregulated environment, we have a responsibility to scrutinize all charitable endeavours to ensure that we are getting decent value for our dollar.
Williams has now posted a defence on the company's blog which I think is totally reasonable. He says:
A writer named David Baines called me on Friday morning to let me know he was writing a piece on me and GiveMeaning in the next morning's paper. Armed with our 2005 and 2006 annual reports we file with Canadian Revenue Agency, he recites publicly available numbers namely that we received $234,632 in tax-receipted donations (which are largely donations we received through our website for the projects on GiveMeaning.com) and another $730,350 from charitable foundations to pay GiveMeaning's administrative costs in operating the website in Canada.
He specifically states that I "refused to identify any of these donors" when in fact, I offered for him to speak with some of GiveMeaning Foundation's donors and yet he didn't take me up on this. I find it odd that Baines appeared to rush to publish this article, calling me for the first time the day before the article was supposed
Nevertheless, his main contention is that GiveMeaning Foundation has spent more money building the GiveMeaning brand and service than it has raised money for its projects. This is not only not in dispute but not surprising to anyone that knows anything about a start-up business. GiveMeaning launched its re-vamped website in late September of 05. Prior to that, our web presence was in Beta and very little transactions flowed through. The numbers that Baines is reporting on is our first full year of collecting tax-receipted donations in Canada for the GiveMeaning website. Given that our
average donation through the website is about $40, our first-year tally of money raised for projects is not surprising. It's also not surprising to anyone that understands the nature of a start-up that in the first few years of operation that start-up costs will exceed revenues. It took eBay eight years to make a profit.
Baines can't understand "why certain undisclosed charities would give money to pay overhead for what is essentially a charitable conduit." Foundations are investing in GiveMeaning because they recognize that the GiveMeaning service is helping charities of all sizes make fundraising easier and less costly. By supporting our work at
GiveMeaning, they are providing an infrastructure for all charities to use. He seems unaware that foundations regularly make grants to other foundations for capacity and infrastructure costs.
Of course I draw a salary and yes, my wife works as a contractor for GiveMeaning. Baines seems to think that GiveMeaning should run without staff and expense and that it's wrong for charitable foundations to provide GiveMeaning with the financial resources to build its service, a service used by charities of all sizes.
Baines seems unable to draw distinction between money raised through the GiveMeaning.com website for projects and money raised separately from donors who support our admin costs. When he says "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." By lumping together these two costs as one, he is ignoring the simple fact that the donors giving to our operating costs are doing so specifically FOR our operating costs and that donors giving through the website for projects have 100% of their funds passed on the Implementing Organization responsible for carrying-out that
It can't be laid out more clearly than what we have in our About Us section which reads "We charge nothing for donations collected online and even cover the credit card costs associated with each donation. We rely on the support of generous donors and advertisers to provide this service."
Baines leaves readers with his own judgement on what is or isn't philanthropy, passing judgement on a fantastic grassroots economic development initiative out of Uganda which trains Ugandan people to build guitars and then sells those guitars in North America to create self-sustaining, economic development and on Wild ARC, which is the
division of the BC SPCA that provides rehabilitation and care to injured animals. Baines doesn't think Sea Otters and poor Ugandan people fall into the class of "quality charities." He's entitled to his opinion but the whole point of GiveMeaning is to give grassroots initiatives an opportunity to find their audiences as we believe that any charitable initiative deserves to have the opportunity to better find and connect with supporters who care about those causes.
Baines' final point sums it up nicely. He says that "we have a responsibility to scrutinize all charitable endeavours to ensure that we are getting decent value for our dollar." He clearly doesn't think that GiveMeaning's service is needed, valuable or useful to the charities and donors we serve. And that spending money on a new way
of fixing a big problem is not warranted. He's entitled to his opinion.