Non-Governmental Imagination

A 401(k) for NGOs?
September 28, 2006, 2:02 am
Filed under: Donations, Imagination

A bill (S.3881) has been introduced in the Senate to allow for the creation of pre-tax “personal philanthropy accounts”. Think of it as a 401(k) for your charitable donations. You get to put in a max of $15k pre-tax and the charities of your choice get the money. This is a better deal for the donor who is currently giving with post-tax dollars and could encourage an increase in giving fron individuals as well as employers through matching programs.

Sounds really cool, but I wonder when the charities actually get the dough. I can’t access my 401(k) account until I retire without paying huge early withdrawal penalties. Do charities have to wait as long as I do? I hope not, I’m only 25, retirement seems an awful way off.

Nonetheless, it sounds like a cool idea. Props to Sens. Isakson (R-GA) and Lautenberg (D-NJ) for sponsoring it. And thanks to PerryWasserman for finding out about it.

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Video Interview With Gregg Swanson of Humaninet
September 21, 2006, 7:47 pm
Filed under: Imagination, International Aid, Resources

Gregg Swanson, from Humaninet, is shown in this video discussing Sim Day, which I just talked about in my last post.

Humaninet / Techreach Sim Day Recap
September 21, 2006, 8:44 am
Filed under: Imagination, International Aid, Resources

Demos, demos and more demos, originally uploaded by HumaniNet.

Two days ago I spoke at Humaninet / TechReach Sim Day at the Intuit campus in Mountain View. It was an interesting collection of people, most of them being white men in business casual clothes involved in supplying NGOs, governments and the like tech tools to aid disaster relief work.

Most of the presenters were groups like Green Wifi, Telenor, The Red Cross, and UUplus. With the exception of the Red Cross, all of these groups are involved in creating/improving wireless communications for the NGOs/gov’ts large enough to afford them. They asked Interplast to present our work, and while I enjoyed being there and talking about Interplast Grand Rounds, we were definitely an outlier as the only (intentionally) nonprofit organization.

Nonetheless, it was interesting to see the solar powered wifi nodes and other assorted gadgetry. The Red Cross’s badass truck was a definite highlight. For the first few hours folks circulated around booths such as those shown here. Then we all went inside for 15 minute presentations.

I was struck by the wide variety of attendees. Only about 50-75 people showed up, but they ranged from official-looking folks from Mozilla and World Vision to a volunteer from Project Vietnam. Most had a very heavy tech/ICT background and seemed pretty devoted to questions of how aid organizations do their job when they arrive on the scene with no power/connectivity.

Ironically enough, the wifi access was spotty and/or terrible. For being blocks away from Google’s HQ, well within the free Mountain View wifi system, and being within 30 feet of several compaines that claim to provide connectivity in the most remote corners of the world, I had a very hard time logging on to the internet.

Oh well. As those of us in development know well, problems arise. The San Jose Mercury News had a reporter who was able to roam around a bit, so his piece is pretty accurate. I was at the Interplast booth repeating myself for hours on end, so unfortunately I didn’t get to learn too much about the other groups.

There will be another Sim Day in Washington, D.C. soon, so if you’re in the area you should get your geek on and stop by.

Update:  A note from Gregg Swanson–

“My only question about your blog post is that you (sic) weren’t the only nonprofit, if I am reading your second paragraph right.  HumaniNet and Inveneo are nonprofits – and the Red Cross of course – and TechReach is being organized as a nonprofit.  Green WiFi is small and has a social conscience.  VVAF couldn’t make it with their OASIS software, but they’re a nonprofit.  Telenor, our sponsor, was the only corporation represented.” 

September 15, 2006, 8:30 am
Filed under: Jerks

Seth Mazow and bike
WordCamp – 16.jpg, originally uploaded by chrisheuer.

Last night my bike got stolen in the ‘Loin. I took it everywhere. Don’t we look happy together? My parrot (mercilessly stolen as well) was more than a hood ornament, it was my guiding light.

For a variety of reasons, I usually do not give money to beggars. Last night, however, I was doling out money left and right like I was Santa Claus. Not that I really expected anything back from my quarters and dollars, but the least the beggars could’ve done is sent some good karma my way to ward off bike thieves.

But no.

So Mr. Bicycle, it’s been nice. I learned everything I know about bikes from fixing you every time you broke. My resolution this year was to build a bike from scratch, and whereas I thought that I wasn’t quite ready yet, maybe this is your/God’s/the thief’s way of telling me that The Time Has Come.

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GoodSearch vs. GoodTree
September 12, 2006, 8:34 am
Filed under: Donations, Imagination

So it seems GoodSearch has a new competitor: GoodTree. I’ve previously discussed GoodSearch’s business model, and my pleasure when they quickly responded to my questions. So when GoodTree popped up I thought I’d revisit the “space”.

Just a refresher, GoodSearch allows you pick a NGO of your choice (as long as it’s a registered 501(c)(3) in the US) and donate $.01 to that group for each search you conduct. Only Yahoo search is available (big downside), but you can install their searchbar in your Firefox or IE toolbars. Goodsearch is a for-profit company, and they donate 50% of their revenue to the nonprofit orgs on their site.

GoodTree is pretty similar. They donate “about a penny” (not to be confused with the actual penny donated by GoodSearch) to the cause of your choice. Notice I didn’t say “charity”. You don’t get to pick any charity, you only get to pick from their list of 50 or so NGO behemoths. They say you can suggest one, but I suggested Interplast and it hasn’t appeared, nor have they acknowledged my request. There is a search bar you can place on your blog/website and your causes get the benefit from whoever uses your searchbar. They say they use a combination of search engines for their results, but that sorta sounds sketchy. I trust the search from folks like Google and Yahoo, I don’t trust the search for the thousands of websites out there that seem to offer the bastard lovechild of spam and search. Since GoodTree doesn’t really specify how they derive their search results, I have to assume the worst. GoodTree does have personalized homepages that allow you to add links to sites like CNN or iTunes, which seems sorta cool. They donate 25% of their revenue to the causes they support.

I like GoodSearch better for two reasons. First, they let you pick any organization. GoodTree claims that they only allow groups that have been vetted by “independent third party watchdog organizations”. Maybe so, but all of the orgs they picked don’t really seem like they’re hurting compared to the millions of grassroots groups struggling to get by who could actually use donations in the range (three digits is my guess) that GoodTree will realistically produce. Sucks that they want to help the world but only with large, bureaucratic organizations.

Another downside, and this one is pretty selfish here, is that they are unresponsive to emails. When I email GoodSearch, I get a response written by a human being within 24 hours. So when I asked each of them what the difference between their products were, GoodSearch gave me their schpiel. GoodTree didn’t. That influenced my opinion. I don’t expect the Googles of the world to respond to my emails, but if you’re small, young and nimble, responsiveness is one of your key advantages.

For all you startups out there, the way to my heart is pretty simple. Create a good product, make it simple, make all or most of it free and act like you care what I think. You don’t even have to really care what I think, just give me that impression. The big boys have an inherent disadvantage with the last one; auto-generated emails just piss me off. So when I write an email, you can ignore me if you want, but for every few Joe Schmos who you ignore, one is going to blog about your product. Like me.

GoodTree seems legitimate, just a little top-heavy. Many people have only heard of orgs that advertise in the media (translation: big groups with big PR departments), and if you want to help out those Big Boys, GoodTree is fine. But in every respect GoodSearch seems to be just a little better. They guarnatee one penny, which is a more than “almost a penny”. They let you pick the org of your choice, not just a big player in a particular area. They donate twice as much of their revenues. They have a cooler logo.

I’d be really excited if either offered Google, Technorati or Wikipedia search (my choice, not a mishmash). Other things that would impress me would be increasing the percentage of revenues donated and offering bonuses for click-throughs as another means of revenue generation for the orgs. Maybe I’m asking too much though…

Update: James Currier, founder of GoodTree, responded.  See the comments below or this post:
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Antidote for burnout: Power to the Peaceful Festival
September 6, 2006, 7:38 am
Filed under: Health, Visionaries

This upcoming Saturday is Michael Franti’s annual Power to the Peaceful Festival in Golden Gate Park. If you live anywhere near the SF bay area, you should definitely check it out. It’s free (suggested donation: $1), and there’s lots of great bands (check out Brett Dennen), orgs, people, artists and food.

One of the issues I’ve been wrestling with recently is burnout. I’m pretty much exhausted all the time, and I’m so busy trying to spend enough time with Erin, my friends, my family, Interplast, my hobbies, my reading, my softball team (The Matzah Ballstars) and my dreams that I end up doing all of them an injustice. I feel like I have a ton of acquaintances that I’ll never really become friends with because I just don’t have time. So I rush around trying to sqeeze everything and everyone in.

It’s not working. And it’s not healthy.

It’s important to take time out to take a breath, go to a park and just chill out. At the recent Craigslist Nonprofit Bootcamp, Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights gave an immensely inspiring talk (anyone wanna come with me to their gala on 9/14 in Oakland? I need a date) in which he mentioned the need to take breathers.

So this weekend I’m gonna take his advice. I’ll be at the park. I’m not gonna sweat getting there on time, I don’t care where I sit, I’m just gonna hear some music, talk to some people, eat some food, and get (re)inspired.

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