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 Jessica

    Those three reason are in a nutshell *exactly* why I support UP far more than other charities. Please don’t change your policies to fit in with major charities. Work to show those organizations *why* these things are attractive to potential donors and supporters.

  2. 2 Jessica

    Those three reason are in a nutshell *exactly* why I support UP far more than other charities. Please don’t change your policies to fit in with major charities. Work to show those organizations *why* these things are attractive to potential donors and supporters.

  3. 3 David l

    Do not change your stance. If they don’t want to help you because they are not allowed to do what you ask of them. Then it is there lost. They need to realize that spamming people for money is not the way to go. Neither is using money given for personal gain. That is why a lot of these charities are suffering, they need to follow your example of work.

  4. 4 David l

    Do not change your stance. If they don’t want to help you because they are not allowed to do what you ask of them. Then it is there lost. They need to realize that spamming people for money is not the way to go. Neither is using money given for personal gain. That is why a lot of these charities are suffering, they need to follow your example of work.

  5. 5 Nicholas

    I can only speak for myself, but I like that I know exactly my donations go when I try to help out. Also, I feel better when I know that no cut goes to marketing and fancy office buildings used to impress possible investors. The privacy issue… I feel better knowing that my data are safe, but this point wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me. Other charities have my info and usually they don’t pester me too much.

    If it would make your work easier, I could live with the privacy issue, but the other two are exactly the reason why I feel better giving my donations to you.

  6. 6 Nicholas

    I can only speak for myself, but I like that I know exactly my donations go when I try to help out. Also, I feel better when I know that no cut goes to marketing and fancy office buildings used to impress possible investors. The privacy issue… I feel better knowing that my data are safe, but this point wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me. Other charities have my info and usually they don’t pester me too much.

    If it would make your work easier, I could live with the privacy issue, but the other two are exactly the reason why I feel better giving my donations to you.

  7. 7 Rita

    Why do you even let this bother you? When I first read about UP, I thought, “How cool that he’s doing this on his own, creating a new kind of philanthropy!” But it seems all you’re trying to do with these big-charity (“fortress,” as you call it) partners is create another big charity.

    Stay focused on your mission, and keep doing what you do. And find more people like you; forget about the people/orgs who are not like you. The scope of UP is broadened and its impact is multiplied exponentially when more individuals start doing what you’re doing, NOT when your kingdom is built bigger by finding a monolithic charity partner.

  8. 8 Rita

    Why do you even let this bother you? When I first read about UP, I thought, “How cool that he’s doing this on his own, creating a new kind of philanthropy!” But it seems all you’re trying to do with these big-charity (“fortress,” as you call it) partners is create another big charity.

    Stay focused on your mission, and keep doing what you do. And find more people like you; forget about the people/orgs who are not like you. The scope of UP is broadened and its impact is multiplied exponentially when more individuals start doing what you’re doing, NOT when your kingdom is built bigger by finding a monolithic charity partner.

  9. 9 Shawn

    @Rita – great comment. Here’s my thoughts.

    If I’m giving a bottle of water to a flood victim – that’s something I can do by myself. That’s how this project started.

    But, if I’m providing clean water to an entire village, I can’t do that alone. That requires know-how and capacity of a real charity.

    I’ve always strived to do the most within my means. When I started this project in 2007, all I could do was buy a few cases of water for flood victims.

    Now there is money to do things like provide clean water for an entire village, rebuild a school, and much more.

    I think I have a responsibility to strive to do these ambitious things because they have the best chance of having a lasting impact.

  10. 10 Shawn

    @Rita – great comment. Here’s my thoughts.

    If I’m giving a bottle of water to a flood victim – that’s something I can do by myself. That’s how this project started.

    But, if I’m providing clean water to an entire village, I can’t do that alone. That requires know-how and capacity of a real charity.

    I’ve always strived to do the most within my means. When I started this project in 2007, all I could do was buy a few cases of water for flood victims.

    Now there is money to do things like provide clean water for an entire village, rebuild a school, and much more.

    I think I have a responsibility to strive to do these ambitious things because they have the best chance of having a lasting impact.

  11. 11 Laura

    I love how you operate, and have actually come to… I don’t know if resent is the right word, but I resent the fact that charities take an overhead, it seems, in a way, dishonest to what they’re doing. I understand in large companies some overhead is required, because obviously there are going to be expenses involved, but it comes to seem that they are just taking too much.

    Anyone can give money to a charity and see a spreadsheet or a pie chart of where the money is supposedly going to go, and see sad pictures of the people/ animals that the money may or may not actually go to. But the fact that the Nerdfighters give you a donation and you basically follow that donation with a video camera really makes it seem more real and worthwhile.

    I think the charities are the ones doing it wrong, but they’re juggernauts who’ve become set in their ways because it worked best before the internet and social media existed, so they assume it will continue working best.

    You might not be doing things the way they prefer, but you’re doing things the way that the people giving prefer. And if you stop doing what the people giving like, interest might wane.

    I would think the biggest issue would be the overhead, maybe negotiating a lower overhead. Or not. seeing 100% of the money going to where it is most needed is really awesome to watch.

  12. 12 Laura

    I love how you operate, and have actually come to… I don’t know if resent is the right word, but I resent the fact that charities take an overhead, it seems, in a way, dishonest to what they’re doing. I understand in large companies some overhead is required, because obviously there are going to be expenses involved, but it comes to seem that they are just taking too much.

    Anyone can give money to a charity and see a spreadsheet or a pie chart of where the money is supposedly going to go, and see sad pictures of the people/ animals that the money may or may not actually go to. But the fact that the Nerdfighters give you a donation and you basically follow that donation with a video camera really makes it seem more real and worthwhile.

    I think the charities are the ones doing it wrong, but they’re juggernauts who’ve become set in their ways because it worked best before the internet and social media existed, so they assume it will continue working best.

    You might not be doing things the way they prefer, but you’re doing things the way that the people giving prefer. And if you stop doing what the people giving like, interest might wane.

    I would think the biggest issue would be the overhead, maybe negotiating a lower overhead. Or not. seeing 100% of the money going to where it is most needed is really awesome to watch.

  13. 13 Kelly

    I really appreciate UP because I can see you moving with our money to do good where it counts. Because any overhead you use has been donated to you for that purpose. I would be uncomfortable with my information being shared with larger organizations.
    And further, I very strongly concur with Rita. I don’t think all your efforts should be based on joining forces with a larger organization. I understand how these organizations can leverage your work, and when joining up works I think it is a good thing- but instead of focusing your efforts on infiltrating your fortresses, you should be planning a project within the scope of the work you can do YOURSELF.

    I strongly suspect that you alone can do much more than you think. You have thousands of people behind you willing to do everything they can to support you, and if you told me right now that you needed more funds to do something big – I’d easily toss you another donation to support it.

    Instead of teaming up, I beleive you should create Team UP and do it yourself. There are obstacles in this line of work with a fortress organization as well as solo. Find the way! You have more power than you believe.

    Kelly

  14. 14 Kelly

    I really appreciate UP because I can see you moving with our money to do good where it counts. Because any overhead you use has been donated to you for that purpose. I would be uncomfortable with my information being shared with larger organizations.
    And further, I very strongly concur with Rita. I don’t think all your efforts should be based on joining forces with a larger organization. I understand how these organizations can leverage your work, and when joining up works I think it is a good thing- but instead of focusing your efforts on infiltrating your fortresses, you should be planning a project within the scope of the work you can do YOURSELF.

    I strongly suspect that you alone can do much more than you think. You have thousands of people behind you willing to do everything they can to support you, and if you told me right now that you needed more funds to do something big – I’d easily toss you another donation to support it.

    Instead of teaming up, I beleive you should create Team UP and do it yourself. There are obstacles in this line of work with a fortress organization as well as solo. Find the way! You have more power than you believe.

    Kelly

  15. 15 Mitchell

    You should be willing to consider reason 2, if it would allow UP to break into the mainstream charities, and as long as they’re willing to be fairly transparent about it. The real problems are numbers 1 and 3. Condition 3 sounds like a deal-breaker, unless if the charity was really clear about what it wanted that information for, and you were also really clear in turn. It’s not ideal, but again, might be something to consider if it could really help UP.

    The real sticking point is condition 1, though. I just don’t see how that’s consistent with UP — both philosophically, and pragmatically.

  16. 16 Mitchell

    You should be willing to consider reason 2, if it would allow UP to break into the mainstream charities, and as long as they’re willing to be fairly transparent about it. The real problems are numbers 1 and 3. Condition 3 sounds like a deal-breaker, unless if the charity was really clear about what it wanted that information for, and you were also really clear in turn. It’s not ideal, but again, might be something to consider if it could really help UP.

    The real sticking point is condition 1, though. I just don’t see how that’s consistent with UP — both philosophically, and pragmatically.

  17. 17 Rita

    I would just warn against making it an “us vs. THEM” thing.

    Everybody loves being the righteous underdog, but the fact is that global NGOs, national charities, denominational missions, etc., will always have overhead. I worry that your followers are railing against some vague notion of bloated charities run by undeserving fatcats, which is not the case at all. The philanthropic free market isn’t that stupid and has historically self-corrected on both the enterprise (charity) side and the consumer (donor) side.

    I fervently hope that you WILL continue “to strive to do these ambitious things” precisely “because they have the best chance of having a lasting impact.” If by “do these ambitious things” you mean “bring clean water to an entire village,” and not “use a large charity for the funds it raised,” which, right or wrong, is one way of reading many of your posts over the past few months.

    I would challenge you to focus back on your heart for doing this, not on how your head is telling you it has to be done: “But, if I’m providing clean water to an entire village, I can’t do that alone. That requires know-how and capacity of a real charity.”

    The fact is, you are a phenomenon and you’ve already done so much. What would possibly lead you to believe that you alone couldn’t bring clean water to an entire village? The evidence does not support that self-defeating belief.

    You, and the network/tribe/followers/community/whatever that you have invited to be involved in this important work, are doing unprecedented things; why excuse yourself from that by buying into the darkness?

    I guess my response to this post is two-fold:

    1) Charities aren’t the bad guys; they’re just doing it in a way differently from how you would like them to — and in a way differently from what your donors choose to support — and that’s OK. It has to be OK, because it’s not going to change in our lifetime.

    2) Quit sulking about how the large charities don’t want to partner with you, and keep finding individuals (and maybe smaller charities) who are in line with what you do, and move on with the work of making a positive difference in the world.

  18. 18 Rita

    I would just warn against making it an “us vs. THEM” thing.

    Everybody loves being the righteous underdog, but the fact is that global NGOs, national charities, denominational missions, etc., will always have overhead. I worry that your followers are railing against some vague notion of bloated charities run by undeserving fatcats, which is not the case at all. The philanthropic free market isn’t that stupid and has historically self-corrected on both the enterprise (charity) side and the consumer (donor) side.

    I fervently hope that you WILL continue “to strive to do these ambitious things” precisely “because they have the best chance of having a lasting impact.” If by “do these ambitious things” you mean “bring clean water to an entire village,” and not “use a large charity for the funds it raised,” which, right or wrong, is one way of reading many of your posts over the past few months.

    I would challenge you to focus back on your heart for doing this, not on how your head is telling you it has to be done: “But, if I’m providing clean water to an entire village, I can’t do that alone. That requires know-how and capacity of a real charity.”

    The fact is, you are a phenomenon and you’ve already done so much. What would possibly lead you to believe that you alone couldn’t bring clean water to an entire village? The evidence does not support that self-defeating belief.

    You, and the network/tribe/followers/community/whatever that you have invited to be involved in this important work, are doing unprecedented things; why excuse yourself from that by buying into the darkness?

    I guess my response to this post is two-fold:

    1) Charities aren’t the bad guys; they’re just doing it in a way differently from how you would like them to — and in a way differently from what your donors choose to support — and that’s OK. It has to be OK, because it’s not going to change in our lifetime.

    2) Quit sulking about how the large charities don’t want to partner with you, and keep finding individuals (and maybe smaller charities) who are in line with what you do, and move on with the work of making a positive difference in the world.

  19. 19 Laura

    “Instead of teaming up, I believe you should create Team UP and do it yourself.”-above comment from Kelly

    If there’s a vote, I’m voting for this. It will probably take either less or, at worst, just as much time and energy that your spending now trying to team up with ‘fortresses’ that it would to team up with and set in motion willing donors and volunteers, that you already have legions of.

    Given the Internet, there need not be a sole office, or even sole country for volunteers to help organize and plan larger projects.

    In addition, some people morally support but can’t afford money to donate, so an opportunity to make a donation of time and knowledge instead would be an awesome opportunity and option.

  20. 20 Laura

    “Instead of teaming up, I believe you should create Team UP and do it yourself.”-above comment from Kelly

    If there’s a vote, I’m voting for this. It will probably take either less or, at worst, just as much time and energy that your spending now trying to team up with ‘fortresses’ that it would to team up with and set in motion willing donors and volunteers, that you already have legions of.

    Given the Internet, there need not be a sole office, or even sole country for volunteers to help organize and plan larger projects.

    In addition, some people morally support but can’t afford money to donate, so an opportunity to make a donation of time and knowledge instead would be an awesome opportunity and option.

  21. 21 Shawn

    Hi Rita – I’m really enjoying your tell-it-like-it-is attitude. Found myself nodding a lot reading your latest comment.

    Charities aren’t the enemies and being a righteous underdog is overrated. If charities were the enemy, I wouldn’t be trying to so hard to team up with them.

    And, nothing would make me happier than your faith in me as a “phenomenon” to be true. But, sadly, I can’t part the seas – and believing otherwise is not “buying into darkness”.

    I’d also love to think purely with my heart but, sadly, good intentions is not enough (side note: there’s also a very good blog about aid and development by that very name).

    Because good intentions and going with your heart is not enough, I need to plan things out or I’ll be doing substandard projects that may even jeopardize the well-being of those I help.

    Even simple things like bringing water to a community has risks. If you don’t do it right, you risk poisoning a community with arsenic, iron, or salt. Yes, this requires expertise & know-how that formal charities have that I don’t.

    And, no, I’m not looking to “use a charity for the funds it raised”. Rather, when I approach them, I try and make it a win/win value proposition for them. Fact is, this can be more cost effective than their current PR and social media strategies.

    I’d also like to note that while you do talk about a “self correcting philanthropic free market” you also point out that “it’s not going to change in our lifetime”. That’s a ridiculously slow self-correction.

    Finally, I think charities like Charity: Water and Generosity: Water are good examples of charities which need overhead but don’t take overhead from donors like you and me. And, yes, I’m reaching out to these guys too.

  22. 22 Shawn

    Hi Rita – I’m really enjoying your tell-it-like-it-is attitude. Found myself nodding a lot reading your latest comment.

    Charities aren’t the enemies and being a righteous underdog is overrated. If charities were the enemy, I wouldn’t be trying to so hard to team up with them.

    And, nothing would make me happier than your faith in me as a “phenomenon” to be true. But, sadly, I can’t part the seas – and believing otherwise is not “buying into darkness”.

    I’d also love to think purely with my heart but, sadly, good intentions is not enough (side note: there’s also a very good blog about aid and development by that very name).

    Because good intentions and going with your heart is not enough, I need to plan things out or I’ll be doing substandard projects that may even jeopardize the well-being of those I help.

    Even simple things like bringing water to a community has risks. If you don’t do it right, you risk poisoning a community with arsenic, iron, or salt. Yes, this requires expertise & know-how that formal charities have that I don’t.

    And, no, I’m not looking to “use a charity for the funds it raised”. Rather, when I approach them, I try and make it a win/win value proposition for them. Fact is, this can be more cost effective than their current PR and social media strategies.

    I’d also like to note that while you do talk about a “self correcting philanthropic free market” you also point out that “it’s not going to change in our lifetime”. That’s a ridiculously slow self-correction.

    Finally, I think charities like Charity: Water and Generosity: Water are good examples of charities which need overhead but don’t take overhead from donors like you and me. And, yes, I’m reaching out to these guys too.

  23. 23 Rita

    It’s hard to be a leader, especially when you’re doing a new thing. And it’s difficult to stay positive in the face of rejection — I’d be frustrated if a friend shared concrete objections on the path to my end goal which were fundamentally out of alignment with my way of doing things.

    Many have already shared their financial gifts, lent their voice, informed their audience, and supported the UP in various other ways. And on this page alone, a few members of your community of supporters have already expressed their support of a new way — an independent way that doesn’t make you choose between your principles and significant financial/knowledge support from big charities.

    How might you give your community the opportunity to come together and create that new way with you (maybe even WHILE you pursue the larger charity partners you seek)?

  24. 24 Rita

    It’s hard to be a leader, especially when you’re doing a new thing. And it’s difficult to stay positive in the face of rejection — I’d be frustrated if a friend shared concrete objections on the path to my end goal which were fundamentally out of alignment with my way of doing things.

    Many have already shared their financial gifts, lent their voice, informed their audience, and supported the UP in various other ways. And on this page alone, a few members of your community of supporters have already expressed their support of a new way — an independent way that doesn’t make you choose between your principles and significant financial/knowledge support from big charities.

    How might you give your community the opportunity to come together and create that new way with you (maybe even WHILE you pursue the larger charity partners you seek)?

  25. 25 Ute

    I think it is time for a different angle; a different approach, if you will. Would it make sense for you to affiliate yourself with a University? Many Universities have research programs running in poverty stricken areas. Maybe your work could be included in one of those projects and be a position in a grant?
    I am wildly speculating here. Maybe this will not work at all.
    However it seems that you have run into the walls of charities often enough to know, that a collaboration with them is not going to happen unless you drastically change who you are and what you stand for.

  26. 26 Ute

    I think it is time for a different angle; a different approach, if you will. Would it make sense for you to affiliate yourself with a University? Many Universities have research programs running in poverty stricken areas. Maybe your work could be included in one of those projects and be a position in a grant?
    I am wildly speculating here. Maybe this will not work at all.
    However it seems that you have run into the walls of charities often enough to know, that a collaboration with them is not going to happen unless you drastically change who you are and what you stand for.

  27. 27 Shawn

    Hi again Rita,

    The simple fact is I cannot simply do whatever the online community wishes me to do. My actions also have to factor in the on-the-ground reality. You can calling it thinking with my head & not my heart – I call it being responsible.

    You’re also welcome to call it “self-defeating” or “buying into the darkness”. But, if you’ve spent any time doing this kind of work in a developing country, I’m sure you’ll agree those are overly simplistic & inaccurate descriptions.

    Also inaccurate is the idea that my work would require a “significant” contribution from a charity at all. Most agree that teaming up with me can be cost saving for charities seeking to raise online awareness.

    By the way, is the email address you are using to post each comment accurate? If time allows, it would be nice to carry this discussion in a format more conducive than blog comments.

  28. 28 Shawn

    Hi again Rita,

    The simple fact is I cannot simply do whatever the online community wishes me to do. My actions also have to factor in the on-the-ground reality. You can calling it thinking with my head & not my heart – I call it being responsible.

    You’re also welcome to call it “self-defeating” or “buying into the darkness”. But, if you’ve spent any time doing this kind of work in a developing country, I’m sure you’ll agree those are overly simplistic & inaccurate descriptions.

    Also inaccurate is the idea that my work would require a “significant” contribution from a charity at all. Most agree that teaming up with me can be cost saving for charities seeking to raise online awareness.

    By the way, is the email address you are using to post each comment accurate? If time allows, it would be nice to carry this discussion in a format more conducive than blog comments.

  29. 29 Ky

    I agree with Jessica. Those three things are incredibly appealing about UP. The other charities I have sponsored in the past seem, in comparison with UP, pushy and invasive in their requests for funding. I’m much more likely to put my money in with you because of that.

  30. 30 Ky

    I agree with Jessica. Those three things are incredibly appealing about UP. The other charities I have sponsored in the past seem, in comparison with UP, pushy and invasive in their requests for funding. I’m much more likely to put my money in with you because of that.

  31. 31 IamBlair

    I think of the three, I like all of them, and of course I would rather you not budge on any of them.

    1. For me, this is the most important. If you don’t retain this, those of us supporting UP might as well just donate to that charity you’re teaming up with and leave you out of it. The most crucial part of the project is that you follow the donations with full disclosure.

    2. This one is a bit less of a stickler for me. My request would be that when charities want a cut for overhead, for example math, let’s say 10%, you do this: $90 would come from the donations fund, and $10 would come from the Operations fund. That way, you’re still staying true to what people wanted to come from their donations. I think most people would be ok with this (though we may need more donations in the Operations fund).

    3. This one, again, I could see you working with. The thing is that you would have to let people make the choice when they donate to you. Have them say “Okay to share” or “Not okay to share” when they donate. Or another idea, when you are trying to fund a specific project where this is a requirement, let us know ahead of time and only people who want to share their info will donate to that one project (although I fear this would prove too limiting). I’m okay with people contacting me – in the end, if I don’t want to donate to them, I can say no. It’s like spam email or flyers in the mail. I would probably not want to give them my phone number, however.

    Hope that gives you some ideas!
    Keep up the good work, Shawn! I feel like you have a strong sense of responsibility, and more than anything, I think that’s what I like about your project!

  32. 32 IamBlair

    I think of the three, I like all of them, and of course I would rather you not budge on any of them.

    1. For me, this is the most important. If you don’t retain this, those of us supporting UP might as well just donate to that charity you’re teaming up with and leave you out of it. The most crucial part of the project is that you follow the donations with full disclosure.

    2. This one is a bit less of a stickler for me. My request would be that when charities want a cut for overhead, for example math, let’s say 10%, you do this: $90 would come from the donations fund, and $10 would come from the Operations fund. That way, you’re still staying true to what people wanted to come from their donations. I think most people would be ok with this (though we may need more donations in the Operations fund).

    3. This one, again, I could see you working with. The thing is that you would have to let people make the choice when they donate to you. Have them say “Okay to share” or “Not okay to share” when they donate. Or another idea, when you are trying to fund a specific project where this is a requirement, let us know ahead of time and only people who want to share their info will donate to that one project (although I fear this would prove too limiting). I’m okay with people contacting me – in the end, if I don’t want to donate to them, I can say no. It’s like spam email or flyers in the mail. I would probably not want to give them my phone number, however.

    Hope that gives you some ideas!
    Keep up the good work, Shawn! I feel like you have a strong sense of responsibility, and more than anything, I think that’s what I like about your project!

  33. 33 Nathan

    IamBlair basically sums up my view. 1 and 3 are certainly the most important. Without them I’d have a difficult time supporting UP. As far as overhead is concerned I think its inevitable. The charities need money to operate and pay their non volunteer members of the staff. Like it or not these people need to make a living too, and overhead makes this possible (though this is less than ideal). I like the idea of being able to opt into a mailing list. This seems like a reasonable compromise.

    Lastly, I really like the idea of teaming up with a university like Ute suggested. What are your thoughts about it Shawn?

  34. 34 Nathan

    IamBlair basically sums up my view. 1 and 3 are certainly the most important. Without them I’d have a difficult time supporting UP. As far as overhead is concerned I think its inevitable. The charities need money to operate and pay their non volunteer members of the staff. Like it or not these people need to make a living too, and overhead makes this possible (though this is less than ideal). I like the idea of being able to opt into a mailing list. This seems like a reasonable compromise.

    Lastly, I really like the idea of teaming up with a university like Ute suggested. What are your thoughts about it Shawn?

  35. 35 Kyle M.

    I think the concerns you have, Shawn, are important. I can only speak for myself, but the main reason I have supported UP in the past is because I know exactly where my money is going, and I would hate to lose this aspect of the project. Having said that, you can still be transparent and team with larger charities and retain what you set out to do. I would hate to see a large portion going to extraneous costs because I would feel that would be going against the spirit of what you set out to do, but something like a 90/10 split like somebody else mentioned is something I could get behind.

    Don’t lose your focus. It is definitely hard being a trendsetter, because there is nothing you can follow or learn from at the outset, but the end result will be much greater for both yourself and the world.

  36. 36 Kyle M.

    I think the concerns you have, Shawn, are important. I can only speak for myself, but the main reason I have supported UP in the past is because I know exactly where my money is going, and I would hate to lose this aspect of the project. Having said that, you can still be transparent and team with larger charities and retain what you set out to do. I would hate to see a large portion going to extraneous costs because I would feel that would be going against the spirit of what you set out to do, but something like a 90/10 split like somebody else mentioned is something I could get behind.

    Don’t lose your focus. It is definitely hard being a trendsetter, because there is nothing you can follow or learn from at the outset, but the end result will be much greater for both yourself and the world.

  37. 37 Rita

    Hi, Shawn — The e-mail address is accurate, though I rather doubt either of us would find further conversation satisfying.

    I seem to have misunderstood the scope and focus of your efforts, and I apologize for putting you on the defensive.

    Best wishes for your continued success.

  38. 38 Rita

    Hi, Shawn — The e-mail address is accurate, though I rather doubt either of us would find further conversation satisfying.

    I seem to have misunderstood the scope and focus of your efforts, and I apologize for putting you on the defensive.

    Best wishes for your continued success.

  39. 39 Thomas

    Dear Shawn,

    I think what you are doing, have done and will continue to do is amazing and inspirational. I think that the way you operate is what makes you different; as you yourself have said before, it’s a project, not a charity. There are obviously going to be pros and cons that go along with this, one being that conventional methods of revenue are not always open to you. There will always be trade-offs; doing what you is unlikely to achieve millions in sponsorship as some of the larger charities do, but what you do makes a real difference, on the ground and enables those who are unable to do this themselves to make a visible difference through you.
    It is only my opinion, but I think you are doing the right thing in terms of the project; it embodies your guiding principle and although you might get more money from working with charities, you would lose something of what UP is and means.
    I hope you’re well and would love to hear of what you’re up to next in Bangladesh (maybe just a few lines in a short email if possible.)

    All the best

    Thomas

    P.S. I was wondering whether you had heard of Mohammad Younis, the Grameen Bank and the work they do in Bangladesh? If so, what do you think of it?

  40. 40 Thomas

    Dear Shawn,

    I think what you are doing, have done and will continue to do is amazing and inspirational. I think that the way you operate is what makes you different; as you yourself have said before, it’s a project, not a charity. There are obviously going to be pros and cons that go along with this, one being that conventional methods of revenue are not always open to you. There will always be trade-offs; doing what you is unlikely to achieve millions in sponsorship as some of the larger charities do, but what you do makes a real difference, on the ground and enables those who are unable to do this themselves to make a visible difference through you.
    It is only my opinion, but I think you are doing the right thing in terms of the project; it embodies your guiding principle and although you might get more money from working with charities, you would lose something of what UP is and means.
    I hope you’re well and would love to hear of what you’re up to next in Bangladesh (maybe just a few lines in a short email if possible.)

    All the best

    Thomas

    P.S. I was wondering whether you had heard of Mohammad Younis, the Grameen Bank and the work they do in Bangladesh? If so, what do you think of it?

  41. 41 julievlogs

    #1) How detailed are you trying to get with the tracking?

    Are you just trying to keep UP money restricted from the other funds of the partner charity? Or are you trying to get more detailed by tracking specific UP donations (Like, John gave $25 to the Peru blankets fund, and Jane gave $50 to the water pump fund)

    The more specific you get, the more I expect the charity would resist because of the administrative complexity of tracking. (Administrative work = overhead cost).

    I think it’s reasonable for you to see a total of money that has been given through UP, but if you’re trying to track it on a more granular level, that might not be worth the additional tracking/administration/overhead involved.

    As a donor I like financial transparency. But I would be satisfied with an overview (UP donors gave $X this year and I spent $X on these 3 projects), rather than something specific (Julie’s $25 went bought 50 bottles of water). The overview is vastly easier to track and still keeps you accountable.

    #2) I’d like to hear more about how you imagine the 0 overhead thing to work.

    When I hear charities say there is 0 overhead, my BS detector goes off a little bit. I know that what they really mean is that there IS overhead but it is being funded by some other means besides my donation (as in your case where you have a separate operations fund). Most reputable charities I know are good at this: They don’t have luxurious offices, but they must have some office space. They pay their employees a fair wage, but they keep their operations lean and keep overhead as low as possible, but never 0.

    So if you’re asking them to partner with you, but you’re not pitching in towards the overhead costs that your involvement adds to them (admin time for tracking donations, perhaps travel costs?, etc), I can understand their reluctance.

    If you don’t want them taking a % of program donations, are you willing to give them a portion of the “operations fund” donations to cover overhead?

    #3) Data Sharing: My opinion on this boils down to transparency. If “partnership” means that the charity’s website would become the path for donations, then as a donor, I would expect that the charity would have my contact information. If I’m donating through your website, I would not expect my information to be shared, unless you made it explicitly clear. If you made it clear up front, I’d be fine with it. Always offer an opt-out option.

  42. 42 julievlogs

    #1) How detailed are you trying to get with the tracking?

    Are you just trying to keep UP money restricted from the other funds of the partner charity? Or are you trying to get more detailed by tracking specific UP donations (Like, John gave $25 to the Peru blankets fund, and Jane gave $50 to the water pump fund)

    The more specific you get, the more I expect the charity would resist because of the administrative complexity of tracking. (Administrative work = overhead cost).

    I think it’s reasonable for you to see a total of money that has been given through UP, but if you’re trying to track it on a more granular level, that might not be worth the additional tracking/administration/overhead involved.

    As a donor I like financial transparency. But I would be satisfied with an overview (UP donors gave $X this year and I spent $X on these 3 projects), rather than something specific (Julie’s $25 went bought 50 bottles of water). The overview is vastly easier to track and still keeps you accountable.

    #2) I’d like to hear more about how you imagine the 0 overhead thing to work.

    When I hear charities say there is 0 overhead, my BS detector goes off a little bit. I know that what they really mean is that there IS overhead but it is being funded by some other means besides my donation (as in your case where you have a separate operations fund). Most reputable charities I know are good at this: They don’t have luxurious offices, but they must have some office space. They pay their employees a fair wage, but they keep their operations lean and keep overhead as low as possible, but never 0.

    So if you’re asking them to partner with you, but you’re not pitching in towards the overhead costs that your involvement adds to them (admin time for tracking donations, perhaps travel costs?, etc), I can understand their reluctance.

    If you don’t want them taking a % of program donations, are you willing to give them a portion of the “operations fund” donations to cover overhead?

    #3) Data Sharing: My opinion on this boils down to transparency. If “partnership” means that the charity’s website would become the path for donations, then as a donor, I would expect that the charity would have my contact information. If I’m donating through your website, I would not expect my information to be shared, unless you made it explicitly clear. If you made it clear up front, I’d be fine with it. Always offer an opt-out option.

  43. 43 Shawn

    @Rita – Thanks for your comments. I would actually like to pickup our conversation over something better than blog comments. I learn a lot from those who have different views than me – and would enjoy the opportunity. I am emailing you now.

  44. 44 Shawn

    @Rita – Thanks for your comments. I would actually like to pickup our conversation over something better than blog comments. I learn a lot from those who have different views than me – and would enjoy the opportunity. I am emailing you now.

  45. 45 Shawn

    @Ute & @Nathan – The university idea makes a lot of sense in terms of finding to sustain my work. A grant would help a lot. But I’d still need cooperation of charities on-the-ground.

  46. 46 Shawn

    @Ute & @Nathan – The university idea makes a lot of sense in terms of finding to sustain my work. A grant would help a lot. But I’d still need cooperation of charities on-the-ground.

  47. 47 Shawn

    Hi Julie,

    Thanks for leaving these questions and comments. Let me address them point-for-point.

    1) How detailed am I trying to get with the tracking?

    For charities, a “restricted” donation is anything where a donation specifies anything. Even something specific as “I only want to donate to help Bangladesh” is a restriction – even if it’s a broad one.

    What is much more preferred by charities is unrestricted donations. That is donations where the money can be used to either build a well or pay for printer toner in their offices.

    Thus, especially in the context of the conversation I blogged about, it isn’t the level of restriction that is the issue of “too much tracking”. It’s a fundamental issue of unrestricted vs. any restriction of any kind.

    Even if I can’t show who donated exactly what, I need to restrict the donations enough such that what I am filming is something you guys actually funded. Even that is a hurdle.

    2) You’d like to hear more about how I imagine the 0 overhead thing to work.

    Consider the following: virtually every charity I have approached has offered me a job. The job, in many cases, would be a very generous five figure salary and may include doing some elements of this project with them.

    My counter offer has always been the following: let me team up in an unpaid capacity and let’s find a way to work together in a way that still achieves your goals of raising awareness and funds for your charity.

    This is important because, quite often, the money is there to fund a trip or a project – but the idea of supporting an unpaid outsider is distasteful to charities. Whereas, paying a generous salary to an employee is not.

    Of course, you are 100% right in thinking the 0% overhead is BS. There is no such thing as 0% overhead. However, it is possible to do projects in such a way that it’s cost effective and a value proposition.

    Consider the following: This past year I’ve also had multiple offers from charities to fly me out (and pay me and pay for every expense) if I just go and film a standard online documentary piece or news item for them.

    Yet, at the same time, these very charities won’t let me go into the field to actually raise funds, do a project, and document & be involved in the process. The way I see it, this could serve their documentary purposes AND help them in even bigger ways.

    I wouldn’t object to sharing operating & equipment fund donations with a charity. But, presently, it’s tough for me to wrap my head around a charity that’s willing to pay me handsomely to film something… but has a different policy if I request that I film something AND include a charitable component to the trip.

    What I’m trying to pitch is that charities, who already have grants and funds for PR and social media ventures, spend their money in the way that creates the biggest impact both online and on-the-ground.

    And, of course, there are also charities like Charity: Water that have a private corps of donors covering overhead. There are also charities that get grants from corporate benefactors which help lower overhead costs of the average donor.

    3) Data Sharing

    I agree with what you said here. My question is really for donors to date. If I switch how I accept donations that changes everything of course. Also, I think an “opt-out” system is too complicated to implement. So that’s why I am looking for an all or none approach.

    And also keep in mind that, since I am just a guy, I will never have a privacy enforcement team that a charity has. It takes overhead & staff for that. I’m just a guy and I share my data with key friends within the Nerdfighter community in the interest of some oversight by my friends.

    It’s not perfect but than again nothing about this project is.

  48. 48 Shawn

    Hi Julie,

    Thanks for leaving these questions and comments. Let me address them point-for-point.

    1) How detailed am I trying to get with the tracking?

    For charities, a “restricted” donation is anything where a donation specifies anything. Even something specific as “I only want to donate to help Bangladesh” is a restriction – even if it’s a broad one.

    What is much more preferred by charities is unrestricted donations. That is donations where the money can be used to either build a well or pay for printer toner in their offices.

    Thus, especially in the context of the conversation I blogged about, it isn’t the level of restriction that is the issue of “too much tracking”. It’s a fundamental issue of unrestricted vs. any restriction of any kind.

    Even if I can’t show who donated exactly what, I need to restrict the donations enough such that what I am filming is something you guys actually funded. Even that is a hurdle.

    2) You’d like to hear more about how I imagine the 0 overhead thing to work.

    Consider the following: virtually every charity I have approached has offered me a job. The job, in many cases, would be a very generous five figure salary and may include doing some elements of this project with them.

    My counter offer has always been the following: let me team up in an unpaid capacity and let’s find a way to work together in a way that still achieves your goals of raising awareness and funds for your charity.

    This is important because, quite often, the money is there to fund a trip or a project – but the idea of supporting an unpaid outsider is distasteful to charities. Whereas, paying a generous salary to an employee is not.

    Of course, you are 100% right in thinking the 0% overhead is BS. There is no such thing as 0% overhead. However, it is possible to do projects in such a way that it’s cost effective and a value proposition.

    Consider the following: This past year I’ve also had multiple offers from charities to fly me out (and pay me and pay for every expense) if I just go and film a standard online documentary piece or news item for them.

    Yet, at the same time, these very charities won’t let me go into the field to actually raise funds, do a project, and document & be involved in the process. The way I see it, this could serve their documentary purposes AND help them in even bigger ways.

    I wouldn’t object to sharing operating & equipment fund donations with a charity. But, presently, it’s tough for me to wrap my head around a charity that’s willing to pay me handsomely to film something… but has a different policy if I request that I film something AND include a charitable component to the trip.

    What I’m trying to pitch is that charities, who already have grants and funds for PR and social media ventures, spend their money in the way that creates the biggest impact both online and on-the-ground.

    And, of course, there are also charities like Charity: Water that have a private corps of donors covering overhead. There are also charities that get grants from corporate benefactors which help lower overhead costs of the average donor.

    3) Data Sharing

    I agree with what you said here. My question is really for donors to date. If I switch how I accept donations that changes everything of course. Also, I think an “opt-out” system is too complicated to implement. So that’s why I am looking for an all or none approach.

    And also keep in mind that, since I am just a guy, I will never have a privacy enforcement team that a charity has. It takes overhead & staff for that. I’m just a guy and I share my data with key friends within the Nerdfighter community in the interest of some oversight by my friends.

    It’s not perfect but than again nothing about this project is.

  49. 49 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.

  1. 1 This Takes Time | UP | uncultured project

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