Monday, January 21, 2008

My response to David Baines' article this past Saturday

A writer named David Baines called me on Friday morning to let me know he was writing a piece on me and GiveMeaning in the next morning's paper. Armed with our 2005 and 2006 annual reports we file with Canadian Revenue Agency, he recites publicly available numbers namely that we received $234,632 in tax-receipted donations (which are largely donations we received through our website for the projects on and another $730,350 from charitable foundations to pay GiveMeaning's administrative costs in operating the website in Canada.

He specifically states that I "refused to identify any of these donors" when in fact, I offered for him to speak with some of GiveMeaning Foundation's donors and yet he didn't take me up on this. I find it odd that Baines appeared to rush to publish this article, calling me for the first time the day before the article was supposed
to run.

Nevertheless, his main contention is that GiveMeaning Foundation has spent more money building the GiveMeaning brand and service than it has raised money for its projects. This is not only not in dispute but not surprising to anyone that knows anything about a start-up business. GiveMeaning launched its re-vamped website in late September of 05. Prior to that, our web presence was in Beta and very little transactions flowed through. The numbers that Baines is reporting on is our first full year of collecting tax-receipted donations in Canada for the GiveMeaning website. Given that our
average donation through the website is about $40, our first-year tally of money raised for projects is not surprising. It's also not surprising to anyone that understands the nature of a start-up that in the first few years of operation that start-up costs will exceed revenues. It took eBay eight years to make a profit.

Baines can't understand "why certain undisclosed charities would give money to pay overhead for what is essentially a charitable conduit." Foundations are investing in GiveMeaning because they recognize that the GiveMeaning service is helping charities of all sizes make fundraising easier and less costly. By supporting our work at
GiveMeaning, they are providing an infrastructure for all charities to use. He seems unaware that foundations regularly make grants to other foundations for capacity and infrastructure costs.

Of course I draw a salary and yes, my wife works as a contractor for GiveMeaning. Baines seems to think that GiveMeaning should run without staff and expense and that it's wrong for charitable foundations to provide GiveMeaning with the financial resources to build its service, a service used by charities of all sizes.

Baines seems unable to draw distinction between money raised through the website for projects and money raised separately from donors who support our admin costs. When he says "Williams insists that, whenever a person gives money for a particular charity, 100 per of that money gets to the named beneficiary. That may be true, but it does not mitigate the fact that the vast majority of the
overall money collected during 2006 went to administration." By lumping together these two costs as one, he is ignoring the simple fact that the donors giving to our operating costs are doing so specifically FOR our operating costs and that donors giving through the website for projects have 100% of their funds passed on
the Implementing Organization responsible for carrying-out that

It can't be laid out more clearly than what we have in our About Us section which reads "We charge nothing for donations collected online and even cover the credit card costs associated with each donation. We rely on the support of generous donors and advertisers to provide this service."

Baines leaves readers with his own judgement on what is or isn't philanthropy, passing judgement on a fantastic grassroots economic development initiative out of Uganda which trains Ugandan people to build guitars and then sells those guitars in North America to create self-sustaining, economic development and on Wild ARC, which is the
division of the BC SPCA that provides rehabilitation and care to injured animals. Baines doesn't think Sea Otters and poor Ugandan people fall into the class of "quality charities." He's entitled to his opinion but the whole point of GiveMeaning is to give grassroots initiatives an opportunity to find their audiences as we believe that any charitable initiative deserves to have the opportunity to better find and connect with supporters who care about those causes.

Baines' final point sums it up nicely. He says that "we have a responsibility to scrutinize all charitable endeavours to ensure that we are getting decent value for our dollar." He clearly doesn't think that GiveMeaning's service is needed, valuable or useful to the charities and donors we serve. And that spending money on a new way
of fixing a big problem is not warranted. He's entitled to his opinion.


This "journalist" also left his article on MY blog, without so much as leaving a NOTE to me personally. Seeing as I live about a transcanada highway away from you guys, I, of course, checked to see that you had a rebuttal.

:-) Always working!

I hope you don't mind, but I cross-posted your response under his "comment" (more like rant). It seemed only fair that those who read that unresearched tripe should have the other side (which, by the way, DOES make sense.

That's why running businesses like yours is so hard, you have the "business" that needs to run and the "charities" that use the services your business runs and thus, to some, confusion.

And he thought it was going to be a special on Marketplace. LOL ... Hey, Tom, you should call those ladies up - they can investigate and prove him wrong (then the article is SLANDER). AND the site would get national exposure on prime time TV.

(Am I the only young person who's noticed CBC is actually getting GOOD?) ;-)

Take care and best of luck with this "gentleman" - I use the term loosely. :-)

Be Well!

Megan in T.O.

I really admire the way you're responding to this article. Writing to add my voice to those who understand, respect, support, and encourage the GiveMeaning model. How irresponsible of this "journalist" to completely disregard GiveMeaning's unique -- and transformative -- ability to separate project donations from its operational overhead. You've created a space in which people who want to be the change they wish to see in the world CAN be, without needing to create and support the infrastructure you provide, and I can't thank you enough for doing that.
Thanks for the follow up Tom.

You have probably noticed that David Baines posted another article today this time quoting your father and past business associates. Can you please comment on some of the new allegations raised?

You mention that it takes time for a business to get going and start making a profit. Is Givemeaning a business or a charity or a hybrid? Are you intending to have Givemeaning generate a profit or will all of the money go to charity?
Tom, I just saw this post today, I had no idea that GiveMeaning was under attack by super sleuth reporter, David Baines.

As the chairman of the Little Geeks Foundation, GiveMeaning provided a platform to our organization that enabled us to raise more than $12,000 during our important holiday season, 2007. It wasn't easy drumming up the excitement and support from our sponsors, but it certainly would have been impossible without the technology built by GiveMeaning.

These funds were used to continue our operations and enabled us to deliver refurbished, Internet-equipped computers to the homes of underprivileged children located throughout the greater Toronto area.

Our foundation received 100% of the pledged funds from GiveMeaning, and at the time of donation, donors were given an option to donate separately to assist GiveMeaning's operations as well, if they so desired.

I'm not sure where the "meat" of Mr. Baines story is... but if he'd like to speak with me directly about the fantastic work of GiveMeaning and the superb support of its staff, I will be more than happy to share our Foundation's experience with him.

Thank you for your great work and for helping our Foundation meet its goals during a critical period.


Ben Lucier
Board Chair
Little Geeks Foundation
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