Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Philanthropy in Other Countries

Permit me to put on my nerd hat here.  With a background in international studies and nonprofit management, this is the kind of thing that I love.  Our world is so interesting.

I've blogged before about the wonderful generosity of Kansas Citians. Americans in general are a pretty generous bunch.  Much of the reason we have such a thriving nonprofit sector in this country is because we have a society set up to support it.  The nonprofit sector in this country provides services - health care, assistance with basic needs, animal welfare, support of the arts, etc. - that in other nations are provided for solely by government or for-profit businesses. We Americans feel that the nonprofit sector, in all its transparent diversity, is the best way to deliver many of the things our culture values.  We have a tax system that supports individual donations to charity and we have trust in our nonprofit institutions. 

We are unique.  Not every country has what it takes to support a 'third sector.'  I recently heard about how Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, arguably two of the most famous American philanthropists, are reaching out to China to help them develop their own charitable sector. With China's rapid growth has come new wealth and  an opportunity for individuals to make a positive impact on their country through philanthropy. What I love about Gates and Buffet's approach is that they aren't aiming to spread the American model of philanthropy, but want to help China develop its own, culturally appropriate, philanthropic sector.  It's up to the Chinese to figure out how the nonprofit sector will work in their country.  Gates and Buffet just want to help move the conversation along.

As another example of philanthropy abroad, take a look at the website for Mexico City's Procura (there is a button on the site that will translate it into English).  I worked with this organization for a summer during graduate school.  What they are doing in Mexico, really trying to build a nonprofit sector from scratch, is amazing. 

If you know of other home-grown philanthropic movements abroad, I would love to hear about them in the comments section.  And if you have a question about nonprofit organizations close to home, send them my way. You can always find a current list of our BBB Charity Reports on the Kansas City BBB's Website.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Charity Mailings

This blog post last week from US News and World Report about expensive charity mailings reminded me of the disconnect that the public sometimes feels with charities.  I think most of us have at some point received an unsolicited 'goody' from a charity seeking a donation. And I'm sure it annoys me as much as most people, maybe even more.  To be honest, I don't really mind getting address labels (click here for fun ways to use them.), but one charity often sends me worthless faux-gold coins about the size of quarter. What on earth do you do with one of those?  What is it's point?  For the life of me, I can't figure out what to do with a worthless gold coin.  Why on earth would a charity bother to mail me something like that?

Well, the truth is that it is a calculated risk on the part of the organization.  What that charity wants, more than anything, is for me to get a mailing from them and open it up.  If a letter addressed to me is unusually heavy, or somehow different than the other junk-mail pieces I habitually toss into the recycling bin, they know I will probably open it up.  And if I open it up, I'll read it.  And if I read it, I may just send them some money because how could I not read about the horrible plight of gorillas in Africa, hungry seniors in Kansas City, or contaminated rivers in Colorado and not feel compelled to open my checkbook and send them, say $20?  Well, I can because I'm cold and heartless. Aactually, no, I'm just a smart donor with a plan for my charitable giving.  One that does not include giving to charities who send me worthless gold coins. 

The most expensive donor for a charity to acquire is a first-time donor.  Studies show that people who give to a charity once are much more likely to give again. And if your first gift was $20, your second gift may be $50, and before you know it, you may be writing the charity into your will.  It is a calculated risk on the part of some organizations to spend lots of money to send expensive mailings to thousands for potential donors, but charities wouldn't do it if it didn't pay off in the long run. 

In the meantime, if you would like to get off a charity's mailing list, the best way to do it is to call them and request that they remove your address from their records.  You can also tell charities that you regularly fund to not share your name and contact information with outside organizations.

If you have questions about charity mailings, leave a comment and I'll respond.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Busting Hi Def Myths

I had forgotten about "upselling."  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, upselling is the practice of selling items related to large purchases.  Marketing geniuses long ago figured out that people willing to spend big will likely spend even more to protect their investment. I used to upsell items back in my retail days selling leather jackets.  We were told not to let people leave the store without telling them that they needed to buy leather protection spray.

Upselling has grown prominent at electronics stores.  Large purchases there can run thousands of dollars. By focusing on the customer's desire to protect his investment salespeople try to upsell all sorts of things.  Most of what they try to sell are not bad purchases, such as antivirus and protection plans for laptops, wireless controllers for gaming consoles, and some Blu Ray movies with that new Blu Ray player.  On the other hand, a surefire bad purchase is a high priced HDMI cable.  These are sold at all electronics stores and can run as high as $300.  Salespeople push them with the sale of most Hi Def equipment like Blu Ray players, gaming consoles and especially HDTVs

Customers walking into electronics stores are likely to notice at least one wall full of HDTVs.  These beauties tantalize with their elegant flatness and perfectly clear demo reels. The lure of HDTVs is made all the stronger by the presence of Blu Ray players, Playstation 3s, X-Box 360s and streaming HD rental services like Netflix, Zune, and Apple TV.  If that's not enough, HDTVs usually drop in price before the holidays. I, for one, wasn't able to resist. I went out and bought my first HDTV last month.

Buying an HDMI cable with an HDTV isn't a bad idea.  HDMI cables aren't bad in and of themselves.  They're handy.  They carry both digital sound and digital video to the television. With them, you have no need for left and right audio cables or Red/Green/Blue components.  It's all in one; just plug and play.  Just the expensive cables are bad.  When a salesperson mentions superior quality HDMI cables, know that there is ZERO difference in picture quality from the cheapest to the most expensive.

Popular Mechanics, Endgadget, Consumer Reports, PC World, Gizmodo and Cnet have thoroughly debunked superiority claims by HDMI manufacturers but that hasn't stopped some electronics stores from exploiting our lack of audio/visual savvy in order to make more money.  When salespeople bring up anything akin to "picture degradation," know that they are lying to you or their boss has lied to them.  Whatever the case, you will be on the receiving end of lies.  Digital signals do not degrade.  The signal either gets to your HDTV or it doesn't.  If a digital stream doesn't reach the television, the picture will not be fuzzy, like it is with bad cable reception, it will show up as a bunch of indistinguishable squares or a big blank screen.  You won't be able to watch anything.  There will be no reduction in contrast, black level, hue, or anything else.  Picture degradation through HDMI is impossible.

HDMI manufacturers have also established a new myth in order to sell more expensive products.  They started "rating" cables for 120hz, 240hz or even 480hz. These statements are nonsense.  The signal carried by an HDMI cable is 60hz.  Always. Newer HDTVs have 120hz refresh rates (the picture refreshes 120 times every second a.k.a. 120 frames per second) but it has nothing to do with the signal going to the TV.  The more unscrupulous manufacturers count on the complexity of digital entertainment systems to trick us into buying products that we do not need and are horribly misrepresentative of the technology.

HDTVs with 120hz refresh rates were created because of a frustrating side-effect from watching non-digitally filmed movies.  Movies shot on film (Godfather, The Matrix)  run at 24 frames per second--for the purpose of simplicity, we'll just call it "24hz." Movies filmed in digital format (Star Wars: Episode III, Avatar) run at 30hz. Because older HDTVs interpret the signal at 60hz, it must repeat frames from the video to appear fluid.  It is not a problem for digital films because all 30 frames are repeated once, fitting perfectly into 60hz.  That obviously doesn't work with films shot at 24hz--the television must interpret the signal by repeating some frames once and others twice.  This effect, called 3:2 pulldown, makes the video jump during scenes with excessive movement.  Therefore newer HDTVs were created that could interpret films with 24hz or 30hz without 3:2 pulldown.  The simplest solution was to create a television that processed information at roughly 120hz.  That way it could show 30hz movies by repeating frames 3 times and 24hz movies by repeating frames 4 times, leaving no jumpy effect.  Hurray innovation!  What should you take away from all that technobabel? 120hz "rated" HDMI cables have absolutely no effect on picture quality. *For a more detailed explanation of 3:2 Pulldown, with more accurate terminology, click here.

If the HDMI cable is durable and the plugs on the end are sturdy, it will work the exact same no matter how expensive or inexpensive.  Instead of buying a $200 cable, I would suggest something more useful, like a Blu Ray Player...or 10 movies...or 20 movie tickets....or 400 candy bars (but don't buy the candy bars AT the movies; with $200, you could only afford a few).

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Trader Joe's is Coming to Kansas City

I'm a transplant from Washington, DC.  When people ask me what I miss about my former home, what often comes to mind is not the buzz of our nation's capital or its abundant natural beauty.  No, more often than not the answer is Trader Joe's.  More specifically, I miss being able to eat like a sophisticated foodie on a budget more suited to WalMart.  Missouri has several of these stores . . . they just happen to be in St. Louis. Ask any manager of a St. Louis-area TJ's and I am positive they will recall countless pleadings from Kansas Citians to get a store on our side of the state.

Well, apparently Trader Joes has heard our call and is coming.  Finally. And the Ward Parkway store will be dangerously close to the BBB offices. Score! 

Before this announcement, I had heard that Lincoln/Omaha was getting a pair of Trader Joe's stores.  Seriously?  Nebraska getting a Trader Joe's before us? Thankfully, our TJ stores were announced soon after and order was once again restored to the world.

So we in Kansas City have something really fun and exciting too look forward to in 2011 (besides the Royals' next season.  It will be our year.)  And after watching my 6-month-old devour a plate full of pancakes, I highly recommend their pumpkin pancake mix.  A big thanks to my mom and dad for sending us a box of it from the Albuquerque, New Mexico Trader Joe's.  They live in Denver and I won't use this post to boast about how we got a Trader Joe's before they did.  No, I won't boast one bit.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

You Should Attend the 2010 Philanthropy Midwest Conference

Nonprofit Connect's  2010 Philanthropy Midwest Conference is coming upon us quickly!  It's happening November 8-9 at the Overland Park Convention Center. For nonprofit professionals in Kansas City, this is THE event.  This will be my third year attending the conference and every year I come away with something that directly benefits my work at the BBB.  You should be there, too.

Hurry and register by October 8th to get the early-bird discount.

Don't work in the nonprofit sector? The conference provides a great opportunity for businesses to market themselves to organizations accross the midwest. Check here for more info on that.