Archive for the ‘Charity’ Category

Service of the Fight to Fix Homelessness

Thursday, January 25th, 2024

Like most, I’m more concerned than ever about the burgeoning homeless crisis. There are so many charities pulling at our purse and heart strings that I fear the homeless get pushed down the list of priorities.

I wanted to learn what initiatives major players were planning for this year in NYC so I arrived at 7 PM the other night to hear a panel consisting of the executive directors of several essential charities and the NYC department of social services commissioner. After a few minutes nothing happened. Eventually we were told that the panel would begin at 8:00 PM and that the commissioner was expected at 9:30. A handout passed around later indicated that the event would run from 8:00-10:00. Why did the flyer I was given last week note a 7:00 PM event? There were enough people in the auditorium to indicate I wasn’t the only one to be misinformed.

So, I left and wasn’t alone. Another escapee said as he headed for the door, “It ends at 10 pm? Don’t they realize that tomorrow is a work day?”

Before I left, the audience was invited to take paper bags filled with a sandwich, juice and chips to hand to a homeless person on the way home. A symbolic gesture, if a drop in the bucket, and not a smart strategy for a woman like me, walking the streets alone at night.

I am concerned about a team that people count on to address a monumental problem that can’t get straight the time of a panel and is oblivious to the schedules of an audience.

Because I’ve already expressed my views about the homeless crisis in quite a few posts**, I’m sharing the thoughts of my cousin Deb Wright who lives in the Midwest. She reacted to my squelched attempt for enlightenment. Her experience underscores what we know too well: that sadly, the homeless crises is old news.

[**One idea I proposed in a prior post is worth repeating. Top, overly compensated executives who receive extravagant holiday business gifts from vendors should donate them to charities so that they, in turn, can regift them to their clients or sell them at auction to generate funds to support their outreach programs].

Deb wrote:

“It sounds as if the event was poorly organized.

Homelessness is a huge problem in our country; we have the very rich, also. Going to the symphony in San Francisco with my cousin a few years ago, I couldn’t believe the contrast. You had to step over these poor people to get to the marble stairs! One major reason that no one mentions is that Ronald Reagan as President closed all the halfway houses. We know that mental illness is a huge factor in the homeless population.

“I know in our town, [population around 40K], that there are people who clearly have no place to live. My daughter worked in a shop here all the way through high school and on college breaks. People would come in to keep warm. Often the owner had to call the police if they simply wouldn’t leave or were muttering, etc.  The policeman tried to get this one individual to a shelter and then on to social services. The man would have nothing to do with it.

“So mental health is part of the equation. I had a student whose family lived in their car… eventually they moved to Tennessee.

“In our land of plenty, it is hugely ironic. Drugs are in the mix too.”

Reading about the homeless on the San Franciso Symphony’s marble steps reminded me of the Clark Street, Brooklyn subway station where, decades ago, if you got home late enough, you’d thread your way through a floor full of flattened cardboard boxes laid out like yoga mats with a homeless person trying to sleep on each one.

Have you heard of or observed effective initiatives that help homeless people? Was the confusion in time and the obliviousness of running an event like this so late on a weeknight typical of charity-run events or a one-off?

Service of Giving as it Should Be

Monday, October 16th, 2023

Philanthropist Charles F. Feeney preferred to take taxis or busses over limos or a private car the last decades of his life.

NPR’s “Weekend Edition” Saturday host Scott Simon brought the death of Charles F. Feeney to his listeners’ attention. I suspect that many, if not most, didn’t know who he was, which is just as he wanted it to be.

Simon shared highlights of the obit that Robert D. McFadden wrote in The New York Times: “Charles Feeney, Who Made a Fortune and Then Gave It Away, Dies at 92.

“After piling up billions in business, he pledged to donate almost all of his money to causes before he died. He succeeded, and then lived a more modest life.” According to McFadden, he’d succeeded by 2016, “a rarity in the philanthropic world.”

And there was another twist to his beneficence: Only one percent of Americans give money away anonymously as Feeney did.

McFadden wrote: “Unlike philanthropists whose names are publicized, celebrated at banquets and emblazoned on building facades and museum wings, Mr. Feeney gave anonymously to universities, medical institutions, scientific endeavors, human rights groups, peace initiatives and scores of causes intended to improve lives in the United States, Vietnam, South Africa, Australia, Israel, Jordan and other lands.”

He funded 1,000 buildings anonymously, paying by cashier’s checks.

He grew up in NJ during the depression, joined the Air Force, went to Cornell’s school of hotel administration and founded a “duty-free shopping business by selling liquor, cigarettes and perfume to homeward-bound American servicemen in Europe in the 1950s.”

He gave up the 7 estates he owned in the U.S., UK and in France and began to fly economy, took subways, busses and taxis, gave up visiting pricey restaurants and bought off-the-rack clothes. He lived in a two-bedroom rental in San Francisco, wore a $10 watch and owned no car.

According to McFadden, his philanthropy over 15 years first came to light 26 years ago due to legal filings when he sold his interest in Duty Free Shoppers.

When, wrote McFadden, he signed a Giving Pledge 23 years ago with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett in which the three promised to give away most of their fortunes, [though not necessarily while still alive], he said: “I cannot think of a more personally rewarding and appropriate use of wealth than to give while one is living, to personally devote oneself to meaningful efforts to improve the human condition.”

Do you know of others who share Feeney’s approach to giving? Do you think he should have identified himself?

Inside NYC bus.

Service of Sloppy Fundraising

Monday, October 9th, 2023

“Sloppy fundraising.”

Those were the words of a friend, who once worked for a charity, when I told her about the huge package of swag that arrived in my mailbox containing socks, a stack of Christmas cards, pens, address labels and other stickers as well as a calendar. I’d never given $1 to this charity which has a good reputation and has been in business for ages. She added, “if they are going to be so careless with their marketing dollars, they aren’t an appropriate place to support.”

What were they thinking?

Here’s a guess why this largesse happened. Previously I’ve only attracted a very occasional calendar and more often notecards, a little notepad and/or address labels. Earlier this year I’d given much more than I normally do to a charity. It was a one-time thing for a specific reason. If this charity sold my name to other charities as someone with deep pockets, shame on them.

Here are other examples of careless fundraising marketing. My friend mentioned that her dad had asked a prominent charity to stop sending mail and requests for money to her deceased mom. They didn’t heed his request, so he stopped sending checks.

My mom had a similar thing happen. Dad had donated to a nonprofit religiously, and she promised that she would continue to do so in his name but, she asked several times–both on the phone and in writing–would they please exchange her name for his. They never did.

A friend launched a fund in his deceased wife’s name. He hit the ceiling when the phone would ring at dinnertime with the caller treating him as she would any cold call prospect. He was irritated that names of substantial donors such as he had been for years weren’t scrubbed from all the organization’s other fundraising lists.

I just received a request to attend an annual fund reception to honor the organization’s donors. It was also addressed to my husband who has been gone four years. The place should have a record of this. Lazy marketing.

Have you noticed sloppy fundraising outreach? Can you share fundraising efforts you admire?

Service of Thinking Twice: When NOT to be Generous

Monday, July 3rd, 2023


Image by Joshua Woroniecki from Pixabay

My nearest and dearest are breathtakingly generous, consistently giving to causes that sorely need support.

However, I think there are instances in which the faucet of human kindness should be turned off and sharing information for small immediate gain reconsidered.

Here are some examples.

You should think twice before giving…..

  • Your mobile phone number to a company so it can send you texts in exchange for a one-time minor discount–unless you don’t mind incessant text pings announcing a new product or sale.
  • Money to beggars. Charities recommend you should instead give money to them. [I know—this sounds self-serving, but it is the prudent thing to do.]
  • More money to someone who didn’t repay you for the last loan–unless you consider both a gift in which case say so.
  • Up your aisle or window seat in exchange for the middle one in a long flight because another passenger made a last-minute booking and nevertheless wants to sit where you are–next to a family member.

The New York Post covered this topic with a compelling example. The flight originated in Japan. The woman who wanted to switch her middle seat for a window seat so she could be next to her toddler was part of a tour wrote Brooke Kato. The passenger who wouldn’t budge said the mother should have asked another tour member or the tour operator or a flight attendant for a switch and yet she only approached her. I don’t blame her digging in her heels and wonder if I’d have the guts to ignore her request. But enduring a middle seat on a very long flight…..I think I’d find the strength.

What are more examples that suggest that people should zip shut wallets and keep mobile phone numbers to themselves or refuse to do what might seem to be the right thing? Is this line of thought counterintuitive if you are trying to address some of the world’s inequities?

Image by Niek Verlaan from Pixabay

Service of Passing the Buck at a Charity

Monday, March 27th, 2023


Image by Joseph V M from Pixabay

We submitted a large online donation to a major charity that involved sending an email thank you note to the person who made the contribution possible. There was a clearly marked slot for that. I wrote a note and provided the person’s email address.

He never received it.

When I followed up in an email the charity’s rep responded that the note goes out automatically and immediately—which I knew that it did in theory—and that it’s not the charity that does it–their vendor does. Sorry, she wrote, but they couldn’t retrieve the note.

I replied that all they had to do was to ask the vendor for it, which I expected her to do. I would have asked for that outcome had the donation been $5 or $10.

On the other hand, the responsiveness by a teensy charity about on online glitch–a onetime donation was stuck in the monthly category–was quick and helpful.

I’ve traditionally sent a check with a cover note listing the ways to contact the person to whom I want the charity to send an acknowledgement. I want them to know I’ve honored their beloved departed. But even doing it the old fashioned way I never know if the charity sends anything. Given that most people don’t thank, and if the donation comes at a time of grief and upset, the recipient might mean to but doesn’t.

I am beginning to lose my enthusiasm for this way of remembering or honoring a loved one.

The person in my first example is close enough to me that I asked him if he’d heard from the charity. Most times I would be uncomfortable doing that. And you? Do you trust that a charity will follow your instructions? Do only the $1million + donors get appropriate attention without being pushed?


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Service of Charity Missteps

Thursday, February 23rd, 2023

One day’s worth of requests for money in my mailbox

I wrote two years ago “Service of How to Discourage Me from Opening My Checkbook for Your Charity.”

My advice for charities in 2021: Delete names from your mailing list when you’re told about a death certainly after the second request; improve your Charity Navigator rating by reducing your CEO’s (outrageous) high six figure salary and your marketing expenditure–25 percent of the budget is too much; allow donors on a website form to dedicate a contribution in celebration or in memory of a friend or relative and confirm to the donor that you notified the family or person of the gift if requested.

I have some new ones:

  • If you haven’t received a donation from someone for four years**, don’t start your fundraising letter “Thank you for your unwavering support and friendship.” The recipient of a letter last week was my husband who has been gone that long. What are computers for? **And maybe the time should be two years.
  • If a person you are asking to contribute a princely sum is active in your organization and you have a modest number of members, and one responds to your email outreach, acknowledge the correspondence. And, for goodness sakes, under no circumstances, don’t send him/her two more requests identical to the first.
  • I have enough return address labels to last through Christmas but keep them coming. Just don’t expect me to pay for them.
  • And if I sent you money to honor someone who died and you are the family’s designated charity and you haven’t received a penny from me ever since, stop mailing me letters and/or selling my name to other charities.

Do you have pet peeves regarding fundraising practices?


Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay 

Service of Disasters

Monday, February 13th, 2023


Image by Angelo Giordano from Pixabay

I’m still in awe at the havoc Hurricane Sandy foisted on Manhattan 11 years ago. I wonder what the city has done to protect essential properties such as the NYU Langone Hospital complex that’s next to the East River. It took years to set the building right from damage by intruding aggressive water.

The death toll and damage from the earthquake in Turkey and Syria has shocked the world.

The loss of almost 30,000 people in Turkey alone takes an insurmountable toll on a community. I lived for two years in Adana, a city from which now many journalists file their news reports. Its hospitals are bursting with injured victims. I often visited Gaziantep, closer to the eye of the natural upheaval. I spent a few hours in Syria because my mother wanted to see the Cedars of Lebanon when she visited me in the Middle East.

Turkish novelist Elif Shafak, speaking to Scott Simon on NPR Weekend Edition on Saturday said something I’d feared: that while such a catastrophe would have caused huge damage anywhere, it didn’t have to be as bad. She said that nothing changed from the last momentous earthquake in 1999 when 19,000 died. Building regulations are still not up to standards, she said, and as a result of widespread corruption the existing building codes weren’t followed. The upshot: more people than necessary died.

When the earthquake hit 24 years ago, politicians said they’d bring in stricter laws, rules and regulations which if they did, were not enforced said the author. Rescue efforts were too slow, she added, despite money collected from an earthquake tax. Since I heard the interview newscasts report that others share the same view.

Nevertheless, regardless of reason or fault, there are thousands dead, more to be found and millions suffering in the cold having lost everything. I looked into a few charities that are helping in the region. World Central Kitchen has been providing hot meals to victims for days. A well-regarded charity appraiser, Charity Navigator, rates it at 100. Also at the top of their ratings, in a list of charities helping victims of this disaster, are Doctors Without Borders USA, rated 91; American Red Cross, 96; Direct Relief, 100 and Operation Blessing International, 95.

I was upset when as a result of nasty storms we lost glorious old trees, electricity and phone service for weeks and burst pipes that caused extensive damage. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose everything in addition, perhaps, to loved ones. I think this after every disaster. We can’t control nature when it turns fierce. We can only try to mitigate potential damage with what we have learned about protecting coastlines and bolstering buildings with appropriate stringent codes and oversight. Apart from war, can you think of other examples of lives lost unnecessarily because precautions have not been taken?


Image by Angelo Giordano from Pixabay

Service of Taking Candy From a Baby

Monday, July 18th, 2022

There have always been those who look for the main chance. They’ll defraud if they must.

When I read “The Ethicist” column “What Can You Do When Cheaters Take Advantage of Charity?” in The New York Times, I immediately thought of my mother’s experience as a volunteer tax preparer for the AARP. The organization offered free tax prep and trained her to complete simple tax forms. She was assigned to a church on the upper east side of Manhattan. On occasion she had to direct wealthy co-op owners with complex investments to professionals telling them she wasn’t trained to help them. That was a polite way to say “toodaloo.” The word “free” attracted them.

The Avon, Conn. reader/volunteer at a food redistribution charity described his dilemma to Times columnist Kwame Anthony Appiah. A few times a week he picks up bakery goods and delivers them to local food banks, soup kitchens and the like. According to news sources such as CNN, “Long lines are back at food banks around the U.S. as working Americans overwhelmed by inflation turn to handouts to help feed their families.”

The reader wrote: “Some charitable organizations require no screening of clients. Anyone is free to pick up food at these locations. I have observed that some individuals visit several locations on the same day, collecting a greater quantity of food than any family could reasonably use in a week. In addition, judging by some of the client vehicles, it is likely that there are not an insignificant number of individuals who are taking food who do not truly need it. Not all of those people can be collecting food on someone else’s behalf.”

He continued: “Free food for the well-off does not meet the I.R.S. definition of a charity. What is the ethical responsibility of the charitable organizations who are distributing these donations to ensure that those who truly need the food are the ones that receive it?”

Appiah responded: “It’s unfortunate when cheaters take advantage of charity. But it’s unfortunate, too, when efforts to deter them create barriers to those in need. The rigorous way to avoid abuse would be to require people to go through the humiliating (and time-consuming) process of proving their need. That could involve a photo ID, a Social Security number and documented evidence of eligibility for federal or state food-assistance programs. (It wouldn’t involve an assessment of their vehicles; the Kelley Blue Book can’t tell you whether that woman with the nice Camry has hit a rough patch.)”

I agree with Appiah. Let the crooks abuse the system so as to leave the hungry with their dignity. Before the pandemic companies introducing a new juice, tea, snack or yogurt would hand out free samples on the street. I often took one to taste test. But the charity scammers getting free food are a different story. Who can exploit the largess of others depriving disadvantaged citizens of necessities when they can well pay for their own?

Are there dignified ways to vet food bank customers to weed out cheaters or should there be a policy of no questions asked? Do you know people who take advantage of programs meant for others?

People who can well afford to pay for their food in a supermarket like this take from food banks. Shameful.

Service of Slipping Through Cracks the Size of the Grand Canyon: I.R.S. Asleep at the Switch

Tuesday, July 5th, 2022


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I overdo it by flagging receipts that indicate charitable donations or medical bills throughout the year to help with tax prep and in the event I get a dreaded I.R.S. notification that I’m being audited. It has happened to several friends of modest means and standard sources of income. The I.R.S., which claims it doesn’t have the staff to catch scofflaws, seems to waste time on microscopic fries while letting master cheaters they have been alerted to fly free.

David A. Fahrenthold, Troy Closson and Julie Tate reported on a flagrant example in their article “76 Fake Charities Shared a Mailbox. The I.R.S. Approved Them All.

The American Cancer Society alerted the IRS to one fake–American Cancer Society of Michigan headquartered in a Staten Island PO Box–run by Ian Hosang, previously convicted for stock market fraud and barred from the industry in 1997. Hosang next launched another scam–the United Way of Ohio at the same “headquarters.” The reporters wrote that the “long-running charity fraud that has astounded nonprofit regulators and watchdogs — [and] raised concerns about the I.R.S.’s ability to serve as gatekeeper for the American charity system.” Hosang had also warmed his heels in jail for two years for fraud and money laundering.

According to the reporters, the I.R.S. approved all but one in 2,400 applications from potential charities. “The agency declined to answer questions about Mr. Hosang’s case, citing taxpayer privacy laws. It also declined to make officials available for in-person interviews, but it released a written statement saying that the fast-track approval system ‘continues to reduce taxpayer burden and increase cost effectiveness of I.R.S. operations.'”


Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Hosang, who said he was filled with remorse, asked the reporters “’If you file something with an agency and they approve it, do you think it’s illegal?”

In addition to the faux American Cancer Society of Michigan, he created them for Detroit, Green Bay, Cleveland and for Children to name a few–17 in this disease group alone. The real American Cancer Society launched local and national initiatives with a lawyer to alert the I.R.S. “American Cancer Society officials said they never heard back from the I.R.S.”

“The first problem,” wrote the reporters, “according to former I.R.S. officials: Tax law does not prohibit nonprofits from impersonating better-known nonprofits by using sound-alike names. The second: There are no systematic checks for a history of fraud.” They quote a former employee who admitted you could apply for tax-free status from jail.

They reported: “One 2019 study by the agency’s taxpayer advocate found that 46 percent of the applicants it approved were not actually qualified, usually because their charters did not conform to charity law. It also noted that the ‘mission statements’ were often so vague as to be useless. In 2021, federal records show, the I.R.S. approved groups whose mission statements were, in their entirety, ‘CHARITABLE ACTIVITY,’ ‘NON-PROFIT’ and ‘Need to fill in’ (possibly a forgotten note to self).”

There’s more but you get the gist.

Shouldn’t a simple search of prison records be part of a fast-track I.R.S. charity approval system? Given the lax approach to this aspect of the I.R.S.’s responsibility, do you think Joe and Jane Citizen are also pretty safe from scrutiny?

Service of Some Still Don’t Believe Americans Go Hungry

Monday, May 9th, 2022

Miche at Bien Cuit bakery, $15.00

I was at a gathering, tables groaning with delicious goodies, at which I heard: “I don’t believe there is hunger in this country.” The speaker refused to be convinced otherwise.

The comment nagged at me so I looked online for recent articles about hunger in America, [not that this person would have read any of them], and found none on Google since 2020. At that time there were plenty of reports of how the pandemic had made a terrible situation–that had been getting better–worse for many, especially children.

The nokidhungry.org website reports today that “according to the latest estimates, as many as 13 million children in the United States live in ‘food insecure’ homes. That phrase may sound mild, but it means that those households don’t have enough food for every family member to lead a healthy life.

$2.99 at Trader Joe’s

“The number of children living with hunger had fallen steadily over the past decade, but the coronavirus pandemic dealt a terrible blow to our progress as a nation – one that No Kid Hungry and other organizations will work to reverse during the long recovery ahead.”

So I changed my question to Google and wrote: “How has inflation impacted food banks?” I found a January 31, 2022 story on cbnews.com by Kate Gibson: “Inflation has more Americans counting on food banks to eat.”  It described the financial pressure that food banks are experiencing which, of course, impact those who depend on them.

I can’t believe I paid $1.99 for a grapefruit or $1.19 for a navel orange at Trader Joe’s. There are plenty of staples I buy there that haven’t increased in price such as a pound of penne rigate from Italy $.99; a pound of sweet Campari tomatoes, $2.99, [as much as $6 at other stores], or 16 ounces of plain Greek yogurt for $3.29. The last time I bought a butter substitute, Brummel & Brown, at a standard Manhattan grocery store, it cost $4-something. Last week I handed the cashier $5.00 and quickly realized that wasn’t enough: I paid $6+.  For the average family of four, that doesn’t have money left for food after paying rent and electricity, many of these items I buy regularly are luxuries.

Speaking of luxuries, I saw a stunning looking country bread at Bien Cuit in Grand Central Station for $15. I bet it’s tasty.

Do you know anyone who believes that there are no hungry people living in America? Are there many who think this? Can you share links to recent articles on hunger in America that I’ve missed? Are your grocery bills inching upwards or have you negotiated around the increases?

Trader Joe’s price: $.99.
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