Archive for the ‘Charity’ Category

Service of What’s the Difference?

Monday, June 17th, 2024

The often-told story about the little boy and the starfish is attributed to an essay by Loren Eiseley although I suspect, like a game of telephone, the version I heard recently might be quite a leap from the original.

Here’s the story I heard. A little boy was tossing starfish back into the ocean at low tide. A man walking by asks him why he bothers because there are hundreds on the beach, and he can’t save most that will die before the tide returns. “What difference will you make?” asks the adult. The child responds, as he tosses another into the ocean: “It makes a difference to this starfish.”

The wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, world hunger and disease were the beached starfish mentioned in the talk I attended. We were told that we are not expected to fix these things but to think of what we can do, even if it’s the equivalent of saving only one of the thousand starfish.

Almost daily I walk by a homeless person begging outside a church, restaurant or drugstore because I have been warned over and over only to donate to legitimate charities that, in turn, are set up to help. Last Friday I passed parents, who appeared to be foreign, sitting on a sidewalk under scaffolding on Second Avenue. Their two young children crouched between them. A pedestrian, holding a hard hat, handed some bills to the father who made the sign of the cross and thanked the donor. Oh my.

There are politicians whose visions and perspectives I support but I could empty my bank account in a few minutes placing myself in the poorhouse if I donated to each or a significant amount for me, to one.

Do you feel overwhelmed when you consider all the needy, issues and wars that result in life or death? What metaphoric starfish do you save?

Service of Don’t Hold Your Breath

Tuesday, May 28th, 2024

I attended a Master Plan for the Aging town hall meeting, a New York State initiative. The most enlightening information came from the audience. Otherwise after a far too long list of acknowledgements and thanks—almost 20 minutes’ worth–we heard about the priorities and committees and subcommittees addressing the issues before attendees were invited to speak.

By 2030, 1 in 4 New York residents will be 60 or over. Right now, there are 4.6 million in this demographic.

We heard about a 2022 executive order to:

  • Create a blueprint of strategies
  • Address challenges related to communication
  • Coordinate all State policy and programs

It has taken two years to listen to those in the trenches–or their prospective clients–so I don’t have great hope for much implementation anytime soon. I kept thinking of a committee gathered for an hour to plan the menu for a gala dinner leaving the meeting, inflated with pride, with a fancy PowerPoint presentation and this menu, bereft of detail: a starter, main course, salad and dessert.

The citizen gatherings across the state were to shed light on the public’s concerns. The audience seemed to be made up of seniors, volunteers and directors or employees of the not for profits that address the concerns of the aging. Many of the New Yorkers who spoke asked that their needs be met immediately, not tucked into some subcommittee’s agenda never to be heard from again.

The State is looking into transportation and housing; healthcare services as people age; family caregivers and remaining in community to name some of the master plan’s “bold agenda.”

In no special order, here were just some of the public’s concerns expressed last week.

Safety came up due to the unregulated, life-threatening motorized bikes that fly through the city in every which way, even on sidewalks, knocking over people of all ages. Interpreting the safety issue in another way, one woman said she’s afraid to go outside because unsavory neighbors make her community so dangerous.

Loneliness. One man who lives in Stuyvesant Town, the private development on 80 acres with 11,250 apartments, described what a coalition of older residents asked the owner to do. Two benches now have plaques that declare that anyone sitting on them would welcome a chat. Another speaker suggested the plan explore initiatives that put together young and old New Yorkers.

Nursing homes. We learned that residents in such homes are treated worse than prisoners, and, for example, are not allowed to leave for an outing, for insurance reasons. Another person said this wasn’t true where she worked.

Erratic bus schedules. A 73-year-old described that after waiting 25 minutes on Lexington Avenue to get to the 1:00 pm town hall, she walked to the meeting leaving behind a woman with a cane who did not have this option.

Lack of or shrinking funding to support crucial volunteer services that nevertheless need some paid administrators and/or directors. One provides weekly speech therapy, free, to stroke victims whose health insurance runs out far too soon said a speech therapy volunteer.

We were given an email address to send other ideas— mpatownhall@health.ny.gov. I did, asking that the state provide professional grant writers for diminutive organizations like the speech therapists to tap into the money provided by foundations and government initiatives that support the elderly. [I didn’t think of it in time to speak up.]

However, I did ask that the master plan put the squeeze on federally funded Medicare insurance decision makers asking for full or partial coverage of eyeglasses and hearing aids for those 60+. An attendee sidled up to me thanking me and admitting that she’d just paid a fortune for hearing aids.

If you would like to chime in to the Master Plan powers that be in New York, again here is the email address to send concerns for yourself or loved ones: mpatownhall@health.ny.gov. Regardless of where you live, about what else should a state concern itself to make it possible for aging citizens to live a safe and comfortable life hopefully at home.

Service of Honorifics II—Yea or Nay?

Thursday, May 23rd, 2024

A friend, we’ll call her Hortense, [all names in the post are pseudonyms], texted this objection recently. “As I’m shredding unwanted mail, I thought about your blog in which you write about charities sending unwanted solicitations! 

“I hate when they send me return labels, printed with Ms. Hortense Crabtree. If they had any idea who I was they would address me as Hortense or Horty Crabtree—skip the honorific!

“Now that younger people choose their pronouns…he, she, they, them…how do we still address mail to Ms., Mr., and Mrs. or Mx.? …Is it offensive to assume gender? Is the Ms. Mr. Mrs. or Mx. outdated?” [I covered a different aspect of honorifics in February.]

She continued, “My married name was Fredrick and I identified as Horty Fredrick,” she wrote. “I hated it when someone would call me Mrs. Fredrick (that wasn’t even my mother-in-law’s name, it was the father- in-law’s second wife’s name!) Now that I’m Hortense Crabtree again, I hate even more when I’m referred to as Mrs. Crabtree…that’s my mother!”

I admire Hortense’s sensitivity; however, I don’t care.

Maybe it’s because I’m in PR. I’m happy when someone communicates with me—I don’t even care if they get my name wrong if the email address is right and I get a reporter or producer’s request for images or information because they are planning to write an article or produce a program that includes my client. Or maybe because I’ve lived through a formal period where most everyone was Mr. and Mrs. and then, suddenly, everyone was called by their first names, I’m inured to the options.

I wonder if in French speaking countries they just say “Bonjour” these days where the custom was to greet customers in the morning, for example, with “Bonjour Monsieur,” “Bonjour Madame” or “Bonjour Mademoiselle.”

I looked through a fat stack of return address labels from charities and sure enough: Most of my labels use Ms. and very few—the New York Public Library for example–launch directly into Jeanne [photo above]. In some I’m Jeanne Byington, in others Jeanne-Marie Byington. What’s important to me is that the apartment and building numbers are accurate—the zip code too.

Where do you stand? Are you bothered if you are called by either Ms., Mr. and Mrs. or Mx.?

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

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