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February 14, 2009

Generous to a fault
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:57 AM * 61 comments

SitePoint, an Australian publisher of computing books and websites, decided to raise some funds in aid of the victims of the recent Australian bushfires. They advertised, and started, a three-day sale of five PDF books for US$29.95, with all proceeds to be donated to the Red Cross Victorian Bushfires Appeal. They hoped to raise US$100,000.

After overwhelming response, they shut the promotion down early, when it reached US$50,000.

Customers who had delayed ordering their books were irate, and were just getting up a good head of complaining steam on the thread that announced the closure, when one of the SitePoint crew posted an explanation.

Apparently, Consumer Affairs Victoria contacted SitePoint to explain that you can’t raise more than a certain amount without being a registered fundraiser. The process of registration takes 28 days (allowing time for things like criminal background checks). Penalties for non-compliance are stiff:

The penalty is $25,783 in the case of a corporation and $12,892 for an individual – and/or 12 months imprisonment.

You can see why SitePoint backed off.

There’s certainly a nice juicy “government interference” story in here which, if this were not such a techie niche matter, would make good copy in libertarian circles. It’s certainly tempting to get annoyed at the lost opportunity to help; I was, at first.

But, upon consideration, I can’t stay vexed. The law is clearly in place for good reason; unregulated charity collection is a magnet for fraud. How much less would people give if they didn’t know that the companies they were donating to were registered and checked?

This anecdote of the pain incurred while finding a balance between practicality and idealism is proffered in lieu of detailed commentary on the early days of the Obama administration.

Comments on Generous to a fault:
#1 ::: Zarquon ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 06:12 AM:

When people do this CAV are doing the right thing.

#2 ::: Arwel ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 06:55 AM:

You can see why Consumer Affairs take the view they do, unfortunately there are too many scumbags in the world ready to rip off needy people. Personally, I just phoned the High Commission in London on Monday to see how I could help, and following their advice made a donation directly to the Australian Red Cross' appeal (www.redcross.org.au).

#3 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 09:28 AM:

I don't know who to contact about this, but shouldn't there be a way for the Red Cross to set up a link to buy the books on their own website, collecting the money directly and then letting people download the books? Perhaps with the bookseller donating bandwidth?

That is, the bookseller donates books and bandwidth to the Red Cross, the Red Cross sells books and gets the needed money.

This ought to be the sort of regulation that a reputable charity and a well-minded donor could work with. The charity being already an approved money-collector, and the donor arranging for the money to go directly to the charity's bank accounts, rather than through the donor's.

Particularly with online sales, it should be easier to set up this flexibility, nearly invisible to the buyer/donor.

#4 ::: Dom ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 10:35 AM:

Not to be a spoilsport, but I thought that promotion was a slimy publicity grab by the publisher from the very first time I read about it. Even without stealing the donations (as in Zarquon's link) this kind of promotion is sleazy.

There is really no reason not to donate money directly to the Red Cross (or any legitimate charity or relief agency) regularly or after a specific disaster.

Any for-profit company that uses a disaster as free publicity, in this kind of "BUY OUR STUFF! Proceeds to the Red Cross" way is, in my opinion, trying to profit (in the form of publicity) from someone else's misfortune. Frankly, I hope they are fined enough to exceed the value of the free advertising they got out of the fire victims.

#5 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 10:57 AM:

Pretty harsh, Dom.

So how do you feel about businesses (or individuals who also sell things) who donate goods to charity auctions?

The way I see it, there are two classes of charitable donors at times like these. There are those who give because there is a need, and for them the Red Cross link works just fine. And then there are those who, for whatever reason*, want something back for their money. SitePoint was targeting the latter group, getting money that wasn't otherwise going to be donated. That's still money, and still can be spent helping the fire victims.

Besides, what if this business comes out looking like a place that cares about its community? I'm struggling to see that as a downside, actually; if it gives them a competitive advantage over a business that didn't try to raise a those extra dollars, maybe next disaster everyone will be doing it.

-----
* not just simple meanness; some people don't have the resources for charitable donations, for instance.

#6 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 11:02 AM:

Dom... So what if they got free publicity while doing a good deed? Come to think of it, for all I know, they made little or no money out of it, which would make it not-very-free publicity.

#7 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 11:12 AM:

@Dom:

I suppose the fact that this actually ends up in more money going to the afflicted is completely irrelevant to your argument.

Yes, in an ideal world everyone who had the financial wherewithal would donate money out of the goodness of their hearts and we would all have ponies.

The fact is, that not everyone who has the wherewithal does donate, and convincing people to donate is not an easy thing. (If you doubt me, try spending a couple months working for a non-profit knocking on doors and asking for donations.) Offering people something in return is a time-honored tactic. No matter how over-priced, somehow it changes people's thinking if they think they are getting something tangible from it, even if it is just sticker to put on their car to say "See? I'm a good person, I donated to XYZ charity."

As for the company, two points. First, it's a relatively cheap way for them to contribute. Not every company can afford to just write a big check, and this is a way for the company to multiply their impact by getting their customers involved. Secondly, it is certainly not cost-free for the company. They are certainly cannibalizing at least some profitable sales by doing this, not to mention staff time and effort.

So what if they get some (not-so) free publicity in the bargain? I wish them all the free publicity in the world, since that would make even the purely self-interested companies take notice, and that all means more money for good causes. I've always been bothered by the idea that doing well and doing good were always mutually exclusive.

#8 ::: Matthew Daly ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 11:30 AM:

I disagree with Dom to an extent. Seeing a disaster and thinking "What can I do to help, given that I am a book publisher and not a firefighter?" is noble; we should all wish to use our talents and not just our money to decrease worldsuck. And if your example inspires your neighbors and customers to find their own way of helping, then the entire community is embiggened.

I think that the Australian government should find a middle road. Naturally, an entity that comes into existence purely as a fundraising organization should be closely regulated. But a long-established business in an professional field should be held to a lighter standard. One can not be so cynical as to suspect that one of the worlds largest e-businesses is out to raise $100K US and then disappear without delivering it. In a Utopian-leaning bureaucracy, it would make some sense to demand that SitePoint do what it is evidently doing now: having a reputable accounting firm track their sales during the promotion and ensure that the correct amount of money is sent to the Red Cross, and that doesn't require a 28 day waiting period. I'm just not sure why a government would trust SitePoint to make unregulated claims that it will mail you books in exchange for money but not that it will make a donation to charity based on sales.

#9 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 11:48 AM:

One side-effect of our thoroughly-connected world is that all of us who are at all willing to give of our own resources to help those in need are vastly overloaded with potential targets of donation. Even in a single disaster there are usually 4 or 5 trusted organizations, each with a slightly different mission, to whom you can give. And it's so easy to fall into a mode of only noticing the immediate catastrophes, forgetting the slow-motion disasters like Sudan, the Central African wars, even the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami.

Most of us, myself included, have very limited amounts we can donate for these causes, and have to be deliberate about our donations. Which disasters matter most to us? Which organizations will be most efficient in turning our money into aid? Which donations can be made quickly and will be applied to the problems quickest? And, not ignobly because we have to live too, which donations will affect our own finances least while helping the problems most?

One of the jobs of an aid organization, whether a long-established NGO or an ad hoc, pro tem, group, is to make the donors aware of the channel they offer to the relief work, and make them willing to give to it. I personally do not want to be given trinkets or to buy merchandise as part of my donation; I give directly to specific aid organizations when it's practical. But that's my own decision, and not a moral or ethical one, at that. If those things factor into other people's decisions about donation, that's their own business, and not something I'd hold against the aid organization.

#10 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 11:58 AM:

Matthew Daly @ 8

That's a good point. The second-order effect of non-relief organizations making special efforts to enlist their customers/subscribers/whatever in donating is to make donation that much more visible as an option and a positive good to the rest of society. Good behavior should be rewarded, and should be extolled, so as to make it more desirable.

One of the flaws in the "compassionate conservative" notion that aid should come from the private sector only, is that this is perceived by many citizens as a tacit rejection or at least demotion of aid as a social good, and a temptation to say, "leave philanthropy to the rich".

#11 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 12:26 PM:

Ursula L #3 makes the best point. There ought to be a technical fix to comply with regulations. But of course it can't be too invisible to the donor, because it needs to be seen that the Red Cross is getting the money.

For, of course, Abi is right. It would be perfectly possible for an unscrupulous seller to say they were donating this money, and then not do it. Such things actually happen, as I recall. And no way for the casual buyer to tell the difference between that and an actual honorable plan.

Moral lesson: Sometimes apparently inscrutable regulations actually are there for a reason. Again I think of Tom DeLay and his denunciation of onerous government regulations. But DeLay was in the pest control business. His employees were hauling dangerous chemicals around Houston. I'd bloody well hope he'd find government regulations to be onerous.

#12 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 02:28 PM:

Re DBratman @ #11:

By "invisible to the donor" I don't mean invisible that the Red Cross gets the money - that would be silly. I mean invisible in terms of the technical process - they go to the website, give their money, and get their e-books, and it should be as smooth and automatic as any other online purchase or donation they make, without having to be concerned that there is a technical fix to comply with a necessary law going on. It might even be reassuring to see that the credit card charge goes straight to the Red Cross, rather than to the bookseller.

#13 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 02:50 PM:

Maybe a discount for orders with attached receipt from three or four well-known charities would work.

#14 ::: mdh ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 03:04 PM:

So how do you feel about businesses (or individuals who also sell things) who donate goods to charity auctions?

So long as they give anonymously and legally, I think they're saints. If a charity wishes to publish a list of donor's, that's fine too. When too much of the money is used to publicize donors and raise more money, it's a farce.

This is why I gave up on the Sierra Club and went for the Sea Shepherds.

#15 ::: Dom ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 03:04 PM:

Abi @5: Charity auctions organized by the recipient charity work just the way they should. But I still object to publicity grabs that aren't cleared with the victims or charities.

If you are the victim of a well-publicized disaster, I feel that you have a moral right to the value of all the publicity the disaster generates, in addition to any unencumbered donations you receive.

Let's say that you get burned in a major fire, and as a result (a) the local news station's ratings increase, making them A=$10,000 in extra ad revenue; (b) the Lifetime channel pays you B=$10,000 for the movie rights; (c) someone writes a book about the fire, including your story, paying C=$5,000 for the book rights; (d) donors give you D=$25,000; (e) the local news station spends a certain amount of time directing people to Acme Car Dealership to donate money, where the equivalent amount of advertising time would cost E=$7,000, and people go to Acme Car Dealership, donate F=$1,500 (which Acme matches with G=$1,500 of their own) and eventually generate H=$10,000 in extra car sales profits for Acme.

In my opinion, you should be entitled to A+B+C+D+E+F=$58,500.

Victims are legally entitled to D+F after some overhead; stealing that would be fraud. This seems uncontroversial. It is in sponsors' interest to run donation-based promotions as long as H>E+G. But I think sponsors (and news media) cheat if they withhold amounts E and A from victims.

You could argue that the media and sponsors should keep A and E respectively because the victims are getting D and F.

Serge @6: They got to keep amount E, which I personally think is wrong and sleazy. I won't try to change your mind if you feel that E belongs to the sponsors; I just feel that it belongs to the victims. I may be wrong, and some argument that (F+G)/E ≥ D/A might convince me.

Matthew Daly @8: They could just donate money on their own, ask their existing customers to donate, even mention their favorite charity in their paid advertising. Or donate items to a charity auction or something.

Diatryma @13: That's a great idea.

(Sorry about the algebra.)

#16 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 03:10 PM:

Speaking of scams: Landlord puts rental unit on legitimate website; scammer copies data, puts it on Craigslist, collects deposit (mailed to Nigeria!); landlord goes to unit, finds unsuspecting family moved in. Shock and dismay follow.

#17 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 03:37 PM:

Dom,

In an ideal world, the victims would get enough money, from whatever source. This is not that ideal world.

We're not choosing between people getting A+B+...Z and some subset thereof. We're choosing between a local business donating their time and products to persuade people who might not have given money to do so and...not. There's a chunk of money* going to the victims that wasn't going to if SitePoint hadn't run their promotion. That's a good thing. Isn't it?

The way to get businesses and individuals to donate their money is to reward that behavior, not to kick them in the teeth and tell them that they owe even more for increases in their business from being good neighbors†.

But I still object to publicity grabs that aren't cleared with the victims or charities.

I don't buy that it was a publicity grab. When the need is in front of you, you do what you can do. I bind books, because that is what I'm good at; then I make it pay. These guys sell techie books, so that's what they did, and ended up with a heck of a lot more money than they'd have got by just digging into their pockets.

Leaving that aside, do note that the Red Cross appeal has a downloadable community fundraising pack, as well as links to major fundraising activities such as a sale day at Coles supermarket. Clearly they're letting companies raise money for this appeal. Now, I have no information either way, but I strongly suspect that a company that persuaded PWC to audit the contributions also cleared it with the Red Cross. Absent actual facts the other way, it's a reasonable assumption.

As for the victims, what are you going to do? Take a poll? Nice timing for it.

-----
* Probably less than US$50,000, because some people might have donated without the incentive. Call it $35,000. That's still a lot of aid.
† I would be interested in how exactly you'd calculate that, anyway. I've done sales analysis; I know how woolly it can get.

#18 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 04:09 PM:

And we have this lovely example from my own neck of the woods. (Local feed-the-hungry family-run charity turns out to be paying family members half-million dollar salaries.)

This group was manifestly getting cheap good food into the hands of needy people. They were also enriching themselves a great deal, and I suspect most if not all that money came from sources who thought their money was going to needy people.

So...yeah, regulation. Good idea.

#19 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 04:40 PM:

Dom @ 15... Oh, I don't mind algebra. In fact,I wish I had been better at it when I was going to school. I seem to remember an article in Scientific American that demonstrated that the north-american method of tying shoelaces is more efficient than Europe's because it achieves the same results with less shoelace. But I digress. As Abi pointed out, people who needed the money got more than if the publisher had not stepped in. We're not talking of real sleazeballs like the GOP enriching itself by using the 9/11 tragedy after all. Also, the publisher may have done what donation drives do when Big Rich Outfit says that, for every $100 in small donations, the BRO will donate a matching amount, the logic being that it's a good gauge of how important the Cause is to the rwst of the community.

#20 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 04:41 PM:

Oops. Thats "the rest of the community", not "the rwst of the community", whatever that is.

#21 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 06:11 PM:

Serge,

I have to ask: what's the difference between the North American and European way of tying shoelaces???

#22 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 06:12 PM:

Dom:

These people didn't come in to work on Monday morning and say "hey, how can we exploit this disaster for our own ends". They came in to work on Monday morning having lost friends to the worst bushfire in recorded history, being as overwhelmed as the rest of us, and went "we have to do something; what the hell can we do to help - oh, wait, we're all set up to sell books. Let's do that."

Yes, of course they hoped news of what they were doing would go viral because that would raise more money for the bushfire appeal. Raising awareness of a charity event is a natural and sensible thing to do; it's part of the fundraising process - if you throw a charity event and noone comes, your coffers and your cause both suffer for it.

Certainly, there are sleazy self-serving bastards out there, and yes, the book should be thrown at them. But don't be so jaundiced as to throw a genuine and successful private effort at fundraising into the same boat as, say, the bottom-feeders who rattle tins and then make off with them.

The sitepoint team were very clear about what they were doing and why, and they stopped only because their efforts were too successful for the local laws to handle. I hope and trust they will get the advice they need to have these laws waived.

#23 ::: geek anachronism ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 06:42 PM:

Our local 2 big grocers (Coles + Safeway) are donating profits from a specified day of sales to the bushfires. Yeah, I made a point to go to Coles on Friday to grab a few things. I'll do the same this friday. It's stuff I'm going to buy anyway, so the profit may as well go to the bushfires. Because then I've also got regular donation money available.

In other words I have grocery money (A) and book money (B) and donation money (C). Rather than just C going to the bushfires, a certain amount of A and B will be going as well. Along with my plates, clothes, towels and some of my stuffed toy collection. Donation isn't just about money from nowhere - Sitepoint are accessing part of people's funds that wouldn't otherwise go to donations.

But hey, I spent last day coughing from the smoke that's finally made it's way into the city, and wondering if they'd caught the fake collecters for Red Cross yet. The last thing I'm worrying about is people annoyed they didn't get their cheap deal that also soothes their conscience. I am wondering if Danny Nalliah's lot shouldn't get more regulated though, given he followed a wonderful tradition of blaming ungodly behaviour for national disasters.

Tip: Red Cross aren't soliciting donations in person at the moment.

#24 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 07:22 PM:

#18 ::: Lila:

From what I've read on LiveJournal, Angelfood Ministries was not just a charity supplying food to poor people, it was the best. For something like $25/month, people got a lot of decent food, with no preaching.

#25 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 07:34 PM:

Geek anachronism @23.

Yes, Danny Nalliah is all class, as usual - I put him in the same boat as 1)Jihadists who are allegedly celebrating at the fires, and, ironically enough, 2)right-wing bigots who have speculated that the fires were probably lit by Jihadists in the first place, or at the least have given them ideas.

They are all ignorant, mean-spirited fundamentalists of one sort or another, who collectively prove that nothing is so terrible someone can't be an utter dick about it.

#26 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 08:08 PM:

Matthew Daly @ #8: "I'm just not sure why a government would trust SitePoint to make unregulated claims that it will mail you books in exchange for money but not that it will make a donation to charity based on sales."

Because each customer will notice and complain if they never get their own books. But they have no practical way to verify on their own that the charity got all of the promised money.

#27 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 08:12 PM:

vian #22: yes, yes.

I work for a small indie record label in NYC. In 2005 we were putting together a compilation CD of emerging artists that we intended to use as a promo item at music industry events and to send to certain types of radio stations. A month before the CD was due to be manufactured, Hurricane Katrina happened.

We sat down and said "we should do something. We can't just sit here and *not* do something. Hey, we have this compilation coming out next month, what if we went back to all the artists on it and asked their permission to sell the CD at retail and have all of the proceeds go go Habitat for Humanity in Louisiana?" And that's exactly what we did. Only one artist refused to participate, so we dropped their track and moved on. (To their credit, they have since admitted what a stupid thing that was.)

Never once in any of the conversations we had about making this a fundraiser did we say anything even approaching "ooooh, look, we can cash in on this tragedy!" We never intended to sell this item, so when we did decide to send it to retail it was so that 100% of the proceeds could go to the charity.

We have since turned this into an annual series, and have raised funds and awareness for World Hunger Year and National Eating Disorders Association (which looks kinda funny when listed serially like that, I know :}). We are in the process of picking our charity for volume 4 now. But I can state with 100% honesty and conviction that this isn't a sleazy publicity grab for our label. It's absolutely and totally a way to give back in some small way. We wouldn't sell the CDs if it weren't for that.

#28 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 09:16 PM:

Dom @15

Let's say that you get burned in a major fire,

okay.

and as a result (a) the local news station's ratings increase,

But.. the one doesn't follow from the other. The purpose of local news stations is to report on the news. Fires are news, and reporting is work. This is their job they're doing, not something opportunistic directly related to my personal misery. Secondly, if their ratings go up to the point of allowing them to raise their ad rates, it's because they consistently have been doing their jobs so well for months if not years, the station is now the premier go-to for when people want to know what's going on in their community. IOW, they're earning their keep.

(e) the local news station spends a certain amount of time directing people to Acme Car Dealership to donate money, where the equivalent amount of advertising time would cost E=$7,000, and people go to Acme Car Dealership, donate F=$1,500 (which Acme matches with G=$1,500 of their own) and eventually generate H=$10,000 in extra car sales profits for

I swear, this view of local targeted fundraising is sounding like one of those business plans with the step: !!! just prior to step: PROFIT!

Since it's my worldly goods what got crispy-crittered in this hypothetical, I have to say I'm totally for Acme donating the time and effort of their staff, and space on their premises, to raise money for my rehabilitation, and I reallyreallyreally hope, nay expect, the local newsies to mention it so's people know where to drop off their quarters, and if those people also impulse-buy a spare station wagon while they happen to be out, I just can't see where I have any claim on that, moral or otherwise. It wasn't my wagon, I didn't give it house-room, I'm not warranting it against defects or any of the other things a business does when engaged in doing business. My part of this is to say thankyou when someone from Acme shows up with the box of quarters.

In the example you give, anyone who takes any kind of notice of my house and stuff burning up somehow owes me money. And ghod help them if they try to actively do something to alleviate my situation, cos they're gonna owe me a real whack of change. The only way Acme could try to help me without encurring even greater obligation would be if they took down all their signage and replaced it with banners reading "Pericat Relief Works", disguised the cars as shrubbery, and got their staff to change their uniforms for brown hooded robes and hairshirts.

#29 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2009, 10:56 PM:

Wasn't correct shoe-lacing part of OSS training for behind the lines, so as not to get rumbled by the Gestapo?

#30 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 01:04 AM:

Dom: I'm confused about "A" in your equation. Are you seriously arguing that all revenue from new reportage ought to go to the subjects of the reportage (because that's certainly what it seems from your argument: Absent the reportage there would be no revenue, ergo all revenue is in excess of baseline. Or have you some arcane method of determining what the background level of news is, and what the revenue stream ought to be?)?

Quite apart from the, incidental, increase in ratings/readership (and as someone who usd to do news, good luck with the increase in revenues from a single story. Even one with a long set of follow-up. The Papers are all out of the honor-boxes the day after the election, but it's day-to-day readership/viewers which set the rates for the adline), the things papers/news shows do is news.

The folks who decide to help the victims of disasters, great and small, would be at home, content with their lot and not aware of those in need. So in that regard the news shows are doing an altruistic service (completely, because they get nothing out of it, save some satisfaction for the second order effects).

Does a company which does what it can (I mean, Site-pay could have just skimmed $50,000AUS from the till and given it to the Red Cross), and so diverts money which otherwise would have stayed there (if we assume people were going to buy those books anyway; not give the money to the cause) by saying "the proceeds of this book", instead of a random amount.

Because part of what that does is give hope. 1: to the victims, who can say to themselves "hey, lots of people chipped in," rather than, "company 'X' chose to use us as a tax write-off," and 2: to the people who don't have specific money, or know how/where to donate, or thought that, being some distance from the disaster, they had no way to give aid and comfort.

So they aren't just getting publicity (because really, in a year who is 1: going to remember and 2: going to buy a book, because they remember?), they are doing a real good, one which is larger than the sum of its dollars.

#31 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 01:12 AM:

Sorry, I'm getting lost in my thoughts:

Does a company which does what it can (I mean, Site-pay could have just skimmed $50,000AUS from the till and given it to the Red Cross), and so diverts money which otherwise would have stayed there (if we assume people were going to buy those books anyway; not give the money to the cause) by saying "the proceeds of this book", instead of a random amount somehow lose all claim to virtue?

I don't think so.

Because... etc.

#32 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 01:13 AM:

dcb @ 21... I don't remember what the difference was because I read that article more than 20 years ago. If we have an ML party, maybe we could have a comparative demonstration between the two continents. (Meanwhile, I was shocked when I realized that not everybody does division on paper the same way even within North-America.)

Takuan @ 29... The Gestapo?

#33 ::: takuan ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 01:35 AM:

When agents were dropped in occupied Europe during the Second World War, their training in every regard, including trivial matters of dress like shoelaces, was essential and through since capture meant certain torture and execution at the hands of the Gestapo.

#34 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 01:38 AM:

takuan @ 33... The Devil literally was in the details, eh?

#35 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 01:45 AM:

re laces: I know about six ways to lace shoes. I know a lot more than that for lacing corsets (though some of those are simple variations, as in whether the laces enter the grommets from the front, or the back).

Some of them are very visually distinct. Some have different properties of holding, some have benefits when the wearer might need to have them removed with a knife/scissors.

But the day to day styles, are just quirks of culture.

#36 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 02:27 AM:

There are more ways to tie a shoelace, Terry, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Fortunately, someone has made it their life's work to catalogue them.

Re: the other matter. One of the Sitepoint editors who was involved in this is a very dear friend of mine who is neither slimy nor profit-driven. I probably shouldn't comment any further lest the desire to punch Dom's nose causes me to be impolite.

#37 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 03:18 AM:

I've mentioned that I'm on the board of a small charity. We're so small that everybody involved is a volunteer and nobody gets money (we frequently spend out of our pockets). But we do give all but $500 a year (the $500 kept to cover the expenses ramping up to the next March & April auctions) to NCCRA because we made this charity in honor of our friend who died of colorectal cancer.

One of the very first things we did was to become a 501(c)3 non-profit, which means we get audited every year, and will show books to whoever wants to see them. We're trying as hard as we can to look as innocent as we are. It takes a fair amount of time.

At the same time, personally, I collected money for Soren because of his stroke, and I'm definitely not a charity. However, the money is accounted for and I expect we'll see an announcement here in a couple of months about it.

These are two different levels of things: one is public (we even get a blurb in a major beadwork magazine); and the other has been mostly here and in other places where Soren's friends hang out. I would never have been able to collect money if I'd had to become a non-profit.

#38 ::: Raena Jackson Armitage ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 03:53 AM:

Thanks for writing about this, Abi.

I'm really proud of all of us at SitePoint and 99 Designs no matter how this pans out—there were a lot of late nights and early mornings involved in this. However, the thanks should really go to the people who bought books or donated.

I'm by no means empowered to speak all official-like; I'm just one of the editing staff. What I can tell you is this:

Getting to work on Monday was really, truly awful. We were all miserable. Some of us had already lost homes, property, or people we cared about (thankfully, not me). Others had their ears to the radio waiting for an alert to go up. This affects us personally.

I cannot imagine a single person in the office who would have been thinking about anything other than what we could do to help.


(O hai Paul)

#39 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 04:54 AM:

(Meanwhile, I was shocked when I realized that not everybody does division on paper the same way even within North-America.)

I've been tutoring kids in a school 10 miles up the road (and, admittedly, 20 years later) from where I was taught and I've quickly learnt to ask to look at the textbook/examples for everything. There are all kind so methods for doing all kinds of things, and many of them are different from how I do it. I've learnt one or two simple and elegant tricks for some of the more advanced stuff, and many foolproof step-by-step approaches that will let even the most struggling kid do things like multiply and divide three figure numbers.

#40 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 05:47 AM:

While I'm not asserting that anyone should take this as definitive, it is interesting to look at the biblical source of the proverb on 'don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing'.

Read on Ash Wednesday (topically and seasonally appropriate), Matthew 6:3 criticizes people who give charity in order to be praised by others. That in itself is not very notable. The interesting part is that it doesn't say anything worse about them than 'they have had their reward'.

I don't know what SitePoint's motives were (and nor do most of you), but if they were planning to deliver real help even if it was just in order to get good publicity, I think the good publicity is a fair trade.

#41 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 08:30 AM:

Paul Duncanson @ 36... I especially like the one about tying them into a pentacle. Protection against Yog Shoettoth?

#42 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 08:32 AM:

Raena @ 38... I'm really proud of all of us at SitePoint and 99 Designs

And well you should be!

#43 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 08:35 AM:

Neil Willcox @ 39... Maybe I'll do a blog entry in the near future that'd consist of the steps I go thru when I do divisions.

#44 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 01:37 PM:

Serge @ #43 "the steps I go thru when I do divisions."

Er, keep your mitosis to yourself?

#45 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 02:41 PM:

Linkmeister # 44... Are you making fungus of my reproductive preferences?

#46 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 04:46 PM:

I was once told that the British Army tied their bootlaces in a certain way so that when Gurkhas are on patrol at night they can sneak up on a random sentry and check whether they are friendly or not.

Anyone who has been out in the countryside at night, away from the worst of the urban skyglow, will likely think about this, and not entirely disbelieve the tale.

#47 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 04:56 PM:

Personal thoughts on "you're just being philanthropic to get something back":

I used to make large money donations openly because I was naive. After all, no one else was hiding their name. On average, they would (because they were students) be able to donate maybe $10 or so.

But I was able to give more, even though I was working on a very small paycheck and had no other means of support other than myself. I just budget well. And I wanted to, and so I did, because if you want to, well, why NOT?

So I donated $1000 to the organization under question, because I liked them and they really did need servers.

And then several people confronted me afterwards. They told me I was only giving so much money---when "obviously" I couldn't---as a way to bribe myself into said organization. That I was also buying everyone else's good wishes. Because there is absolutely no reason someone who lives on a less than $1000 paycheck per month should donate that much to a cause they believe in.

One person also had the idea that if I could donate $1000, I was obviously secretly rich and could have donated more, therefore I was really holding out and really a gold-digging bitch.

I got some nasty phone calls too. It was college, I guess they didn't have anything better to do.

Anyways, that all left me WTF?

Ever since then I make my donations (which are still large) in private. Because that is the last fucking time I deal with that shit, even if it was only for a few people. It was scary to me. Probably would be less scary to me these days, since I can hire lawyers.

After that experience, I have a great affinity for anybody who manages to raise money to donate en masse to somewhere, whether it's through selling products and donating a percentage or not, and publicly using their name to do so. Because there will always be cynics who you think you're really just playing games with people.

(Gods, that's all still a WTF? to me even now.)

#48 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 05:12 PM:

(Actually, right now I probably sound stupid to a few people who read the previous comment, because I haven't given out full-tilt like I did then.

These days I have far less free cash than I was as a student, and my donations are nowhere near they used to be. I made a huge down payment on a house that sapped all my savings and these days I have a very hard time keeping the wolf from my door. The mortgage, you know. I liked the part about... but y'all already know about that market.

Some of my friends still think I'm donating stupid amounts of money, but on the other hand, now they will know it's not as much as it used to be. Nowhere near as much.

I feel so ashamed and stupid now in so many ways.

Anyways. I think everyone should donate or convince others to donate in whatever ways they can, and not get shot down for it, but it is not an ideal world.)

#49 ::: Holly P ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 08:14 PM:

Arachne @48 --

I know shame isn't something you can wish away, but if it helps, I don't think you are being stupid or have any reason to be ashamed. Good people do what they can for others in need with the resources they have available, and that sounds like what you're doing. Right now, you don't have as many resources free as you once did. There are many stories in many cultures about people who couldn't give much, but who gave what they had with grace. Your concern over how little you can give leads me to believe that your gifts are indeed graceful.

#50 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 08:50 PM:

In reply to Matthew Daly at #8:

I think that the Australian government should find a middle road.

It's not their job.

No, really. The Australian government (ie the Commonwealth, or Federal government) has certain duties which are laid out in the Australian constitution. Everything else is the job of the various State Governments. In this case, the Victorian state government has certain rules about who can and can't collect money (and how much they can collect before they're going to have to register) and Consumer Affairs Victoria is one of the agencies responsible for dealing with that process.

So the system is working just fine, even if it is awkward at the moment in the State of Victoria. I've no doubt the SitePoint people are probably mentioning the matter to their various members of parliament, or working up a press release about it, and this bug in the legal system will be added to the list of things to be legislated upon (or altered) in future years. Hopefully before the next tragedy on such a scale in Victoria...

It's probably worth noting that most businesses in Australia have some form of charity collection system happening somewhere, and often they'll be offering something in exchange - usually lollies or a badge, or something similar. Occasionally it's as straightforward as a collecting can for the Salvation Army on the counter near the till, but usually it's something like the Camp Quality stuff (put in 25c, choose three lollies from the tray). Giving by buying is something we're culturally used to.

#51 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 11:24 PM:

Meg (#50) yes, "most businesses in Australia have some form of charity collection system happening somewhere" Not just the pens, badges, chocolates, bandanas, etc ,in a box on the reception desk for sale, but our company, like many places around the world has a payday automatic transfer from your pay to one of several selected charities.

Why don't y'all check if you can set that up?

Terry(#30): "really, in a year who is 1: going to remember and 2: going to buy a book, because they remember?". Me, for one. If it's a cause I care for.

Example: I used to preferably buy one brand because they had a note on their label that they supported a certain wildlife charity. After Juan Antonio announced Sydney would get the 2000 Summer Olympics, they changed to "supporting the Australian Olympic Team". I started preferencing against them, and still do. That was around 1993. (I'm also boycotting several brands because I saw them on those mobile billboards which drive around solely as and for advertising.)

#52 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2009, 11:28 PM:

Mez: Yes, and there are those who keep track of such things (I do, for some things), but in a general way it's not all that likely to be a large swing in buyers.

#53 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2009, 12:56 AM:

Dom, #4 & #15: These comments say much more about you than they do about SitePoint, and what they say isn't pretty.

Terry, #52: True, it's likely not to be a large portion of market share. OTOH, depending on how many of those people are like me, it may have long-lasting (if minor) effects. There are products that I no longer buy even though I don't remember the original reason I stopped buying them. Sometimes I remember only that there was a reason; other times, it's just that I got out of the habit and never went back.

#54 ::: Matthew Daly ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2009, 10:52 AM:

Meg Thornton @50: Ah, I wasn't thinking about the state of Victoria. I just assumed that it was some sort of post-colonial artifact, like you're still carrying out consumer affairs in the spirit that Queen Victoria endowed the department with. Now that I've gotten so savvy about Canadian government, maybe I should start learning about the political structure of Australia. Think you can arrange a constitutional crisis to jazz it up like the Canadians did? Ahem, but I digress....

The other legal news from Down Under of the past few weeks is that selling World of Warcraft to an Australian will bring up a $27,000 (AUD) fine because you can't sell games without violence ratings (because of the chiiiiildren) and MMORPGs can't get rated because the content changes over time and is affected by the actions of fellow players. So, inasmuch as two points really are data, I'm forming a hypothesis that Australia will identify a legitimate problem and then implement the solution as a Sword of Damocles over the head of small businesses without any analysis of how much they're contributing to the original problem.

In a nutshell, this is what confuses me about the whole thing. You're culturally acclimated to putting a dollar into a cardboard box and taking out a badge for charity, even though there is no mechanism for knowing that the charity person who is refilling the badges at the end of the week isn't pocketing half of the till. But when a respected company with a transparent accounting system is shut down from a fund-raising effort that probably cost the wildfire relief funds almost all of $50,000, that seems to be an accepted cost for charity fraud protection. I'm a fan of the general notion that government has a role to play in verifying fund-raising efforts, but I'd argue that you do that by overseeing the entities that have clear paper trails and saving your cease-and-desists for the entities that don't.

#55 ::: Rhoadan ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2009, 06:46 PM:

I tend to agree with Matthew Daly at #54.

I used to own a small retail store and people claiming to collect for a charity once came by and asked to put a little candy dispenser in our shop. Someone was supposed to come by on a regular basis to collect the funds or refill the thing. Well, AFAICT, nobody ever did. Granted, I wasn't in the store all the time, but none of the salestaff ever saw anyone come in to maintain the dispenser either. Eventually, we pulled the contact information off the thing and tried reach the charity to get them to take it away. We never did manage to contact them and eventually just threw the collected funds into petty cash and ate the remaining candy (which of course was the stuff that nobody wanted) ourselves. Mind you, the dispenser was left before I knew what documentation to ask for. Having a photocopy of the paperwork might have saved us some trouble.

#56 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2009, 07:51 PM:

Matthew @ #54: You could read up on their 1975 constitutional crisis.

#57 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2009, 10:23 PM:

Lee: I think, given the nature of people, the negative effects of something will carry over far more than the positive. I still (some 20 years on) won't go into the brew-pub in SLO, because they were rude to my companion the one time I went in.

I know the service staff has changed, but they blew the first impression and that was all it took. That same trip (I was shooting the illustrations for the SoCal AAA winery tours guidebook), there were lots of places which treated us well, and only two stood out (one because the label on the bottle they gave us was funny, and because the way they treated us was in such stark contrast to the cellar just before them' which winery I've also refused to buy from).

I've not bought anything from the winery (Sinsky), but I still think fondly of them. I've had the chance to give custom to the brew pub, and refused; which also meant my companions forewent it as well.

#58 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2009, 05:42 PM:

You know, provided it doesn't cost too much, one can always go through the process; many of those customers really irate over the inability to assist will come back and assist after it's legal. Many won't - the world's attention span being what it is - but trust me (or FEMA, if you can't trust me) money will still be needed for assistance 28 days from now.

Perhaps, even more so than now - again, the world's attention span being what it is, all the assistance comes in immediately, leaving the potentially more crushing second-system effects without resources to fix. I was reminded of that last year when my Grandmother died - a friend came by with three meals' worth of soup, three weeks after the funeral. She said "everyone was so ready to assist the week my Mother died, but then it all went away, but the need for assistance didn't. So I'm doing the 'here, you could probably use a little break' thing *now*, for you."

#59 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2009, 11:59 PM:

Mycroft, I sent elise a bracelet remembrance of her & Mike Ford about a month or so after his death. I remembered the same thing about when my mother died.

And recently, I've mentioned it a few times to Soren & Velma's friends. Lots of people want to help in the beginning, but they need help later, too. I hear some folks are still bringing Velma dinner. :)

#60 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2009, 07:45 AM:

An epilogue of sorts. The auditing and the donating are done and today SitePoint announced the total amount raised by their fire sale along with some commentary. I won't steal their thunder - check it out here. A round of applause is in order, even though they didn't do it for ego or publicity.

#61 ::: praisegod barebones sees tasty SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2012, 02:29 AM:

Both 61 and 63, I think.

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