Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Charity Wednesdays - Madonna

I just bought my tickets to see Madonna in October.  I'm crazy excited to see this icon of my generation in concert.

So today's post is all about her.

It's no secret that Madonna is rich.  Crazy rich.  Like most rich people, she gives big chunks of her money away. 

These days, most of Madonna's charitable contributions are done through an organization she established, Raising Malawi.  Two of Madonna's children were adopted from Malawi and Raising Malawi strives to improve the lives of vulnerable children in that small African country.

Since it's founding in 2006, Raising Malawi has faced criticism over its development work.  The organization originally took a 'top-down' approach to aid that assumed a solution before meeting with other stakeholders involved in the problem.  This approach, I think, is typical of organizations and people new to development work.  They see a problem and what seems like an obvious solution. But once on the ground in a foreign culture with different social, political, and economic norms, they find that not everyone sees the problem the same way.  They find that their 'obvious' solution isn't so obvious and that the real answers may take shapes they could never have envisioned on their own.

This seems to be the case, in particular, with a planned girls' school that Raising Malawi tried to build and which proved to be a constructive failure for the organization.

But good organizations learn from their mistakes.  Earlier this year, Raising Malawi announced that it is taking a more 'bottom up' approach by partnering with another nonprofit  that has experience in working with local communities to build schools in Malawi.

Madonna's career has seen quite an evolution.  It's nice that her charity work has, too.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Local BBB Accredited Business is Giving Away a Roof

Congratulations to Gahagan-Eddy Building Company on their tenth anniversary in Kansas City. They're celebrating their tenth anniversary in a big way. They're giving away a free roof to one lucky family. The business is asking area residents to nominate families in dire need of assistance. Their website states, "Please nominate a family who has a difficult medical or financial situation --or an individual who boldly serves our community or country. You can help us make an incredible difference right here in Kansas City"

If you know someone you would like to nominate to receive the roof, follow the instructions after Clicking Here.

Gahagan-Eddy has been a BBB Accredited Business since 2006. You can view their BBB Reliability Report HERE.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Charity Wednesday - Million Mustache March and America's Delightful Charity Diversity

I probably don't need to remind anyone about April's Million Mustache March.  I know, you've had it on your calendar for months.  The men in your life are probably carefully planning their facial hair growth so that their own mustache is just perfect for the event.

If you've been living under a rock and haven't a clue about what I'm talking about, click the link above for the details. Sponsored by the American Mustache Institute (AMI)*,  the Million Mustache March is an event in Washington DC designed to encourage our lawmakers to promote the growth of facial hair through tax breaks for the purchase of mustache-care products. Their reasoning?  According to AMI, men who grow facial hair earn more money than their clean-shaven counterparts - I'm not sure that's true for us ladies - so encouraging facial hair would, by extension, boost the national economy.

I get it. My own husband looks dashing with a nicely groomed beard and I'm sure it adds to his productivity at work.  And whether or not one agrees with AMI's logic, the fact that they are hosting this march in our nation's capital has to be appreciated.  That America, in all its amazing diversity, is a place where people can march for, of all things, facial hair, is amazing and wonderful.

On a slightly more serious note, our country's charitable sector is amazing in it's diversity, too.  Take three BBB Accredited charities:  Mothers Against Drunk Driving, American Bird Conservancy, and  Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. They all meet the BBB's high standards for governance, financial accountability, efficiency, and privacy protection, but each responds to a very different need.  America is a place where people can freely choose to put their money where their passion is and where causes as diverse as drunk driving awareness and the legal rights of service members have advocates that work for change.
As donors, we all have a right to know how a charity spends our money.  And we have a right to be picky about the recipients of our donations.  But being choosy and doing our homework doesn't limit our options.  So fight for incentives to encourage fashionable 'staches among your friends and family, if that's your thing.  Or donate money to preserve bird habitats, if that's your thing, but do so knowing that the BBB is here to help you make informed giving decisions - wherever your passions lie.

*American Mustache Institute is not a BBB Accredited Charity.  Truth is, we don't really know anything about them.  We can't even verify, beyond this Wikipedia entry, if they are, in fact, a charity. If promoting facial hair is a cause you feel strongly about, we encourage you to contact them and do your reasearch before donating.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Scam Alert: Helzberg Diamond Sweepstakes.

Another incarnation of the fake check scam has stolen a Kansas City Business's identity. A company claiming to be Helzberg Diamond is mailing potential victims fake checks for $2,950, along with a letter asking the recipient to deposit the money in his or her bank account.  The recipient is then to call a toll-free number, no doubt leading to a disposable cell phone, and obtain further instructions. At the bottom of the letter, it lists the address of a UK tax officer. The address is actually a London city market. If you receive this letter, don't bother depositing the check because it will bounce ten days later, leaving you to pay the difference of what you spent.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Charity Wednesdays - Joplin Tragedy Helps Focus Priorities

From the Associated Press. In the wake of the E5 tornado that tragically hit Joplin, Missouri 9 months ago, many of Joplin's young professionals have traded steady corporate jobs for public service ventures.  These young people want to do what they can to help their community recover and rebuild.  In the process, they are - whether they like it or not - positioning themselves for continued leadership in their community. 

There is a lot to be said for careers in the nonprofit and government sectors.  To serve one's community, to create, positive, tangible change for your friends and neighbors, is an experience like no other. People often take pay cuts to pursue the right opportunity and are often rewarded with great job satisfaction and careers that make the other pieces of their lives fit more smoothly.

Life is short.  If an opportunity is out there for you to do something more fulfilling with your career, I encourage you to find it.  Two good places to start are Idealist , and - more locally - Nonprofit Connect.  If government service is what you're after, you can find jobs with the State of Kansas here and employment opportunities with the great state of Missouri here. USA Jobs has postings for positions for the federal government.  For local government, you can contact your city and county offices to inquire about employment through them.

For all of us worker bees out there, here's a treat for this Wednesday morning:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day Scams

Scammers will exploit any holiday to scam people. Here are some links to help you prevent being swindled during the lovey-dubby holiday.

Scam Alert: Starnet Payday Loans

This scam obtains personal information from undiscerning payday loan "brokers." People unwittingly contact payday loan brokers when looking for small loans. The brokers send out information to several payday loan companies until one approves the loan. It seems that some of these payday loan companies have no intention of giving loans. Starnet waits until someone else approves the loan, then contacts the borrower and threatens them with legal action, jail, and damaged credit unless money is forked over. The representatives speak with accents are almost certainly outside the United States.  They call from (551) 497-7497.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Charity Wednesdays - The Komen Foundation and How to Blow Your Own Credibility

Unless you lived under a rock this past week, you are aware of the fiasco that ensued last Tuesday when news broke that Susan G. Komen for the Cure (Komen) was no longer going to provide grants to Planned Parenthood  and then retracted that decision a few days later, under fire from those who opposed it.

However you view Komen's decision and subsequent retraction, I don't think anybody is happy with Komen today.

I've read conflicting reports about why the decision was made in the first place.  Some say it was because anti-abortion forces convinced Komen leadership to disassociate itself from the nation's largest abortion provider.  Some say it was a geniune move to streamline its grant-making procedures and give grants only to organizations that directly provide mammograms (Planned Parenthood provides initial breast cancer screening and then refers clients to other facilities for mammograms).  Other reports say that Komen simply wanted to be neutral on a hot-button political issue.

But there's clearly no neutrality, no Switzerland, when it comes to the politics of women's health.

What Komen now has is a pro-choice donor base that had two or three days to find lots of other reasons to not like Komen. In a "well, I didn't like them anyway" fashion,  social media sites last week were abuzz with criticisms of their extensive cause-related marketing campaign (think pink yogurt); questions about Komen grants to other institutions; and concerns about how their walks and runs in support of breast cancer awareness really do just that.  Komen reversed it's decision, but it has a lot cleanup to do to win back the confidence of their pro-choice donors.  

They have also now loudly announced themselves to abortion opponents, many of whom seek to defund Planned Parenthood, as clearly in support of the mission of [their]  Enemy #1.  If there was any anti-abortion donor who didn't know of Komen's association with Planned Parenthood, they do now.  Komen can't get these donors back.  Any move to appease them would be bring a repeat of last week's events.

In what was plausibly an effort to escape the culture wars, Komen landed right in the center.

The job for Komen now is to define it's place and build from there.  I have little doubt that it will do it.  This BBB accredited charity has power in its branding, name recognition, and mission.  It will bounce back. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

George Brett & Co. Sued Over "Ionic" Necklace

One of my childhood heroes is being sued. He should be.

George Brett is the president of Brett Bros. Inc., a business that sells sports-related products including an "ionic titanium necklace." Advertisements for the necklace claim that it can rejuvenate your body from physical stress, restores important ION balance, relieves stiffness, improves concentration, and other equally outlandish and unsupported statements.

Frequent readers of the KCBBB Blog will, no doubt, be familiar with our stance on these bogus products. There is no product that restores some mythical ION balance in your body. It's been debunked and debunked and debunked. Like all such quack products, the manufacturers change one or two descriptions of the product and tell the public it's completely new and not at all like all the others that have been exposed as scams.

Even though George Brett's name is attached to this product, and the necklace is somewhat tweaked from its exposed predecessors, it is still quackery. It appears that Brett Bros wisely stopped promoting the product in 2010, but the company's distributors did not. Brett Bros and distributors should have already removed every claim and reference regarding improved performance when Power Balance wristbands were crushed for violating consumer protection laws. Looks like it's too late now.

Google Privacy Policy Change Raises Privacy Concerns

Google has changed its privacy policy. It's not a good thing. They now hold onto all of your emails and private messages, chat logs and search history for 18 months, whether you like it or not. Using Google's many free services finally has a price tag, and it's your privacy. This wouldn't be as much of an issue if Google kept public information, but they keep everyone's private messages and intimate chats for advertising purposes. NPR gives a full story.

As an analogy, it would be like UPS opening everyone's packages and cataloging the amount of people who receive which products from Amazon or its competitors. Which products go to which people? How old are the receivers? Are they male or female? UPS would just glean information from private letters to figure this out. They could use this information to mail everyone more appealing advertisements that fit their demographic. Does that make it any less weird that someone is reading our mail? What if UPS was did not cost money and this was their price? Would there be a person in the world who would send a private letter to a spouse through UPS?

As a Googlephile, I've had difficulty with this one. For the BBB, I use Gmail, Blogger,, iGoogle, and Chrome. They can get lots of information from everything I've made public. They want to sell ads that target me. I understand that. But do they really need to invade confidential emails for marketing info? So far, Google's justifications have been thin. Right now Ireland, and by extension, the EU is investigating privacy concerns. We are most anxious to hear what they have to say. Let's hope all our concerns are laid to rest.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Charity Wednesdays - Should We Judge Donors for Their Gifts?

When I was at Indiana University, big news was made when Indianapolis resident Ruth Lilly, the heir to the Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical fortune (you can thank that company for Prozac), gave $100 million to an obscure poetry journal in Chicago.  Quite frankly it seemed like a waste.  Why on earth would someone give that much money to poetry when there was so much need elsewhere?  Imagine how many starving children that money could feed and educate, how many trees it could save, or what disease might get closer to being cured - had that fortune not gone to a small magazine promoting an artform nobody really understands.

But were our criticisms fair?  Is it mine, or anybody's, place to judge the inherent value of a charitable gift?  10 years out, it appears, at least on the surface, that something good is being done with Ruth Lilly's gift.  Maybe that is worth $100 million.

The Chornicle of Philanthropy recently published an opinion piece on large charitable donations seemingly wasted on monuments and pandas at a time when the poor in our country face severe hardships and the social service agencies that help them are seeing their funding dry up.

While I see the point - and would surely advocate for all of us doing what we can to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and protect the most vulnerable among us - other causes have value, too.  Research into pandas could not only serve to further protect them, but might shed light on important ecosystems that affect humans.  A visit to a national monument might be the spark in an ordinary person's path to greatness.  Discounting what I spend on my boys' music lessons, I don't really have the money to support the arts.  I'm glad other people do.