Three Strikes I’m Out

Earlier this morning I was having a frank conversation with a friend of mine who works at an international charity that I respect a lot. He was explaining why it’s been nearly impossible for them to team up with me.

Basically, I have three strikes against me:

  1. I’m asking to give restricted donations: that is donations which I can track so that I can show you guys what exactly you funded.
  2. I’m asking for no cut be taken for overhead: that is I’m insisting that the donations I give them not be used for their marketing campaigns, administrative overhead, etc.,.
  3. I’m not fully data sharing: that is I’m keeping your personal data that PayPal provides (like your address) private from them so they can’t use this data to solicit you over phone, email, and/or snail mail for more donations.

So, let me throw this out there to whoever is reading this: am I doing it wrong?

Are these three issues something I should change my stance on in order to make myself more appealing to charities? Or is the fact that I stick to these things the very reason you guys support my approach?

Also, as full disclosure, I do share full donation info with friends who help and support my work (like John Green) – but I’ve never sold this info and/or given it over to charities to use for their marketing and soliciting campaigns. Is this wrong?

69 Responses to “Three Strikes I’m Out”


  1. 1 Dave

    1 and 3 are important to what you’re doing. I’d understand if you compromised on 2, because you might get more value for money that way. Even if a % of UP money goes elsewhere, with the charity’s help you still might be able to to more than if you used 100% of the money on your own.

    And as it is you have a separate operating and equipment fund, which is basically the same thing.

  2. 2 Saundra

    Point number 2 is an issue. Money has to be spent on needs assessments, project evaluations, hiring or training staff, holding community meetings, and a variety of other activities that help ensure the project is well run. Without those your money could all too easily be spent on projects that are of poor quality or not actually needed. Administration costs/overheads are necessary for organizations just as they are necessary for businesses. You would never walk into McDonalds and tell them you are only going to pay for the actual ingredients on the hamburger and not for anything else such as staff salaries, store rental, or superbowl commercials.

  3. 3 Saundra

    Point number 2 is an issue. Money has to be spent on needs assessments, project evaluations, hiring or training staff, holding community meetings, and a variety of other activities that help ensure the project is well run. Without those your money could all too easily be spent on projects that are of poor quality or not actually needed. Administration costs/overheads are necessary for organizations just as they are necessary for businesses. You would never walk into McDonalds and tell them you are only going to pay for the actual ingredients on the hamburger and not for anything else such as staff salaries, store rental, or superbowl commercials.

  4. 4 Shawn

    Hi Saundra – it’s an honor to have you comment on this blog. I love your blog and I turn to it regularly.

    Your McDonald’s analogy is perfect. And, finding the comfort-level of the community supporting this project (and where this overhead cover will come from) is important. I do have two thoughts though.

    First, some charities (like Charity: Water) have it such that their overhead is covered by a special group of donors. So donors like you and me can only “pay for the ingredients”.

    But, as you’ve posted on your blog many times, you can’t judge a charity by it’s overhead costs. I know this quite well. But, at the same time, this is a community-powered project so I also have to factor in community feedback. And it’s possible the community may prefer Charity: Water-modelled charities.

    Second partly comes from my confusion due to the dual-nature of my work. Which has a charity component and a journalism component. Many charities are willing to have me go into the field and even PAY me if I just go to film a story.

    But, these same charities put the brakes on if I want to include a charitable component or charity work component to the same trip. I’m happy to use this project as a platform to raise awareness for them. But I’d rather do it without them paying me in-exchange for being able to spend a donation with them and do some work on the ground.

  5. 5 Shawn

    Hi Saundra – it’s an honor to have you comment on this blog. I love your blog and I turn to it regularly.

    Your McDonald’s analogy is perfect. And, finding the comfort-level of the community supporting this project (and where this overhead cover will come from) is important. I do have two thoughts though.

    First, some charities (like Charity: Water) have it such that their overhead is covered by a special group of donors. So donors like you and me can only “pay for the ingredients”.

    But, as you’ve posted on your blog many times, you can’t judge a charity by it’s overhead costs. I know this quite well. But, at the same time, this is a community-powered project so I also have to factor in community feedback. And it’s possible the community may prefer Charity: Water-modelled charities.

    Second partly comes from my confusion due to the dual-nature of my work. Which has a charity component and a journalism component. Many charities are willing to have me go into the field and even PAY me if I just go to film a story.

    But, these same charities put the brakes on if I want to include a charitable component or charity work component to the same trip. I’m happy to use this project as a platform to raise awareness for them. But I’d rather do it without them paying me in-exchange for being able to spend a donation with them and do some work on the ground.

  6. 6 Nathan

    If you team up with a university research project of some sort there might be people involved with the research on the ground to help you with logistics. If this were the case would there be a need for a charity?

  7. 7 Nathan

    If you team up with a university research project of some sort there might be people involved with the research on the ground to help you with logistics. If this were the case would there be a need for a charity?

  8. 8 Nathan

    After reading your latest entry I now understand the need for the charity.

  9. 9 Nathan

    After reading your latest entry I now understand the need for the charity.

  10. 10 amelia

    hi,

    it seems i think that you are quite lucky to receive reply from other youtubers and companies,

    often if i email other youtubers i get no response at all, about projects or otherwise,

    but you have many youtubers supporting you and the such and are upset that a ceo replied and said no?

    in one of youur videos you talked about community, and i think you mentioned bad comments about looks etc, all being part of community.

    well no is part of community, not just youtube community but world community.

    some nos, some yeses, your lucky to be part of a big community cos alot of people get no responses, or have no back up / support.

  11. 11 amelia

    hi,

    it seems i think that you are quite lucky to receive reply from other youtubers and companies,

    often if i email other youtubers i get no response at all, about projects or otherwise,

    but you have many youtubers supporting you and the such and are upset that a ceo replied and said no?

    in one of youur videos you talked about community, and i think you mentioned bad comments about looks etc, all being part of community.

    well no is part of community, not just youtube community but world community.

    some nos, some yeses, your lucky to be part of a big community cos alot of people get no responses, or have no back up / support.

  12. 12 amelia

    (i apologise, that was meant for dont call us we will call you)

    as for this post, i am confused as to why friends such as john green want the data

  13. 13 amelia

    (i apologise, that was meant for dont call us we will call you)

    as for this post, i am confused as to why friends such as john green want the data

  14. 14 Shawn

    @amelia No worries. And regarding data sharing. John Green just gets copied on the email receipts because he helped me start accepting donations as part of this project. It’s just in the interest in keeping in the loop.

    It’s the charities that want the data for marketing purposes. That’s different.

  15. 15 Shawn

    @amelia No worries. And regarding data sharing. John Green just gets copied on the email receipts because he helped me start accepting donations as part of this project. It’s just in the interest in keeping in the loop.

    It’s the charities that want the data for marketing purposes. That’s different.

  16. 16 KO

    To answer your question, no you’re not wrong. As you stated elsewhere, the issue is one of control. You are currently NOT under their control, which is why you receive job offers – because making you an employee would put you directly under control.

    Also elsewhere, the “professionals” in this field seem to reply to you with a condescending tone. Referring to your “little video project” and explaining with great dignity how it’s good to get “in line” with their existing structures. But you rightly pointed out that you see positive response from people BECAUSE of what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it. Some like to call it “marketing”, but it’s pretty obvious that you’re delivering the very things that many people want to see when they donate. And that seems kind of important, whether you’re just a guy or a fortress.

    No, you’re not wrong. You’re standing by your values and that’s often a hard thing to do. You’re also standing by the values other people have told you they donate because of. And in the face of those who would control you, that’s always a hard thing to do.

    I see no need to nit-pick the points one by one. I’ve thought about them for an evening and you’ve thought about them for a long time. You’ve done good work, and you’ll continue to do more (which is why I’ve donated and will urge others to do so as well). Given time, you might find an organization that will work with you in a positive way. But even if you don’t, and even if you feel that you aren’t doing enough, you’re doing what you’ve promised people you would do and they support your values. Don’t lose hope.

  17. 17 KO

    To answer your question, no you’re not wrong. As you stated elsewhere, the issue is one of control. You are currently NOT under their control, which is why you receive job offers – because making you an employee would put you directly under control.

    Also elsewhere, the “professionals” in this field seem to reply to you with a condescending tone. Referring to your “little video project” and explaining with great dignity how it’s good to get “in line” with their existing structures. But you rightly pointed out that you see positive response from people BECAUSE of what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it. Some like to call it “marketing”, but it’s pretty obvious that you’re delivering the very things that many people want to see when they donate. And that seems kind of important, whether you’re just a guy or a fortress.

    No, you’re not wrong. You’re standing by your values and that’s often a hard thing to do. You’re also standing by the values other people have told you they donate because of. And in the face of those who would control you, that’s always a hard thing to do.

    I see no need to nit-pick the points one by one. I’ve thought about them for an evening and you’ve thought about them for a long time. You’ve done good work, and you’ll continue to do more (which is why I’ve donated and will urge others to do so as well). Given time, you might find an organization that will work with you in a positive way. But even if you don’t, and even if you feel that you aren’t doing enough, you’re doing what you’ve promised people you would do and they support your values. Don’t lose hope.

  18. 18 Nic aka Ollininvincible

    Shawn, you’re doing a great job. Affecting social change is quite a broad challenge. However, adhering to the tenants, that other organizations which seem to be making only marginal change in areas of need uphold, doesn’t blend well with the reason you’ve started UP. (I apologize for being late to the comment pool.) What would you like to do? Find a goal and run towards it. You’ll have people who can and will support you because you’re more than a face of an organization. You’re a positive outlet for lasting change in the world.

  19. 19 Nic aka Ollininvincible

    Shawn, you’re doing a great job. Affecting social change is quite a broad challenge. However, adhering to the tenants, that other organizations which seem to be making only marginal change in areas of need uphold, doesn’t blend well with the reason you’ve started UP. (I apologize for being late to the comment pool.) What would you like to do? Find a goal and run towards it. You’ll have people who can and will support you because you’re more than a face of an organization. You’re a positive outlet for lasting change in the world.

  20. 20 Catherine Ann Fitzpatrick

    Here’s what I think: you have no experience working in a non-profit, you have the arrogance of a youthful graduate student who has likely never worked in any sort of job (correct me if I’m wrong) even packing groceries at the Safeway, and you think you can do it better. So, do it better already and stop being insecure about it. But you’ve got a lot to learn. It’s not as if thoughtful and dedicated charities haven’t grappled with these issues — they have. Some of it is even codified into law and practice of states. New York State’s attorney general has best practices for nonprofits that involve having fundraisers not take percentages of what they raise, but take a flat fee, and nonprofits only spending a certain percentage of their funds on fundraising. There are also best practices about how much should be spent on overhead. I’ve been in very lean, deliberately hard-core charities that spent only 9 percent on overhead (staff, rent, insurance) — and it was hella hard and only made the project collapse. Overhead isn’t some objective evil; it’s just the cost of doing business. The fundamental problem is foundations: they pick a few large NGOs that they give huge core-cost grants to, but for the rest, especially outside the U.S. they prefer to give project grants only — I call them “neutron bombs” because they want no people in them who cost salary money, but merely volunteers or program that magically appears from staff funded some other way — usually one of those hideous benefit dinners or concerts. But it’s got to come in the door somehow, or you cannot get the job down. It would be great to make a magic movement of people who didn’t raise money and only gave small amounts for direct costs. I believe in such magic. But I’m also practical: people should be paid, and in the poor world, nonprofits need to pay workers above all, third sector is how the economies might develop. I think like all opensource fanatics who think everything on social media should be done for free, you should do your thing and report honestly on it. I predict you will fail, unless you can dedicate yourself to a life lived like St. Francis.

    I also think you’d have a much, much greater case here if you’d stop banging on charities and trying to change how they structure their work and thinking up various opensource fanatacisms to inflict on them, and just illustrated the model by really doing it. So often opensource copies and destroys, but it can’t create. See if you can make your one-man charity bomb operation work on its own terms without whining about what the established charities are doing every five minutes.

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