Thursday, June 26, 2008

What is it with me and Texan Congressmen?

A couple of months ago, I saw a movie that became an instant favorite of mine: Charlie Wilson's War. Charles Wilson was Congressman for the 2nd Congressional District of Texas. If you haven't seen the movie, check it out.

Today, I checked out, a Hollywood gossip website that is one of my guilty pleasures. Under the title Who Knew Congressman Were Cool? there was a small post about US Congressman John Culberson, who represents the 7th Congressional district who TMZ mentioned Twitters from the House floor.

So I followed him on Twitter and got a follow back immediately. I went to his website and noticed that he was about to hold a live town-hall webcast.

Congressman Culberson was the first to tweet from the House floor (even though Blackberry's are frowned upon on the floor) and tonight made history with the first ever live town hall web cast by a US Congressman.

I was interacting with him through Twitter and his UStream chat just before they started recording on UStream and it was great to see him using Summize, USTream, Twitter, and some kind of group phone-bank conference app. Talk about convergence.

Here is the embedded link to the town hall which at the time of this post is still going on:

Congressman Culberson was in his office alone and what was remarkable was that not only was he using these tools but he was totally open (i.e. not screening comments and phoners) and connected to his Constituents.

Congressman Culberson reminds me of Charlie in that he is very confident in his positions, a great orator, and quick on his feet.

It's now 930pm and the Congressman is still holding court with his constituents and has a following on his UStream of slightly more than 100 people. He is a pioneer in "Government 2.0" and a great example of what constituent communications using Web 2.0 looks like.

My prediction is that Congressman Culberson will develop a cult following (I predict an appearance on Colbert or Stewart within weeks). He is authentic, connected and accountable to his constituents and the feedback from his constituents on the town hall was overwhelmingly positive.

Elected officials everywhere, take note.

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Letter To The Editor

I submitted this Letter to the Editor last week in response to an article written by David Baines in the Vancouver Sun. I wanted to give the Sun sufficient time to run the letter prior to publishing this response on my blog.

I am writing in response to David Baines' column published Saturday, June 14th.

In it, Mr. Baines makes statements that are irresponsible, misleading and frankly, mistruths. First, I am asking for a retraction for the completely false and defamatory statement that "a lot of the money raised by GiveMeaning ends in [my] pocket." This statement is completely without merit. Second, there is ample media coverage of my reasons for starting GiveMeaning, and I in fact have said many times
that I was in search of something meaningful to do with my life and career. To suggest that "I have stumbled from one business and personal failure to another" is false and derogatory.

As GiveMeaning Foundation's CEO, it is my responsibility to point out that after Mr. Baines finishes with his attempts at character assassination, he then turns his attention to GiveMeaning Foundation's most recently filed financial statements with the Canada Revenue Agency. He starts by acknowledging that revenue nearly doubled from
our 2006 financial year, and that 73% of all revenue collected by the GiveMeaning Foundation in this most recent fiscal year was distributed to other charities. It should also be noted that this percentage is of all the revenue collected by the Foundation, including donations made to our Foundation for distribution to other charities, and gifts made to our Foundation specifically to cover our own costs of
providing the free service of a charity conduit. Mr. Baines also notes that as a percentage of overall donations, our administrative costs, which are covered by separate donations, have decreased from 2006.

Mr. Baines himself acknowledges that this recent annual report as filed with CRA is a significant improvement over our first full year of operations. However based on the slant of his editorials on me and GiveMeaning, it would be impossible for his editorial to end there, so he ridiculously asks your readers to subtract $645,000 of donations that GiveMeaning Foundation gave to registered charities, from our
annual report. He asks this in order to justify finishing with the statement, "This is a pretty ugly picture." The only ugly picture is the one drawn specifically from Mr. Baines' attempts at re-writing our annual report.

To be clear, in addition to processing gifts made directly via the website to specific projects, GiveMeaning also accepts donations made into donor advised funds. The purpose of a donor advised fund is to provide an individual donor benefits similar to those experienced by people with personal foundations. Having a donor advised fund at
GiveMeaning eliminates set-up costs and administrative obligations incurred by those with private foundations. Donor advised funds are not a new concept. This service is offered by leading financial institutions such as TD Bank and Scotiabank. Tides and Vancouver Foundation also offer donors the same service.

It should now be clear to readers that Mr. Baines has not made any attempt to analyze GiveMeaning from any fair or balanced perspective and that he is using his column to attempt to attack our credibility.

We are incredibly proud of how much progress has been made in creating and launching from scratch, a new, more efficient model for charitable giving. It's unfortunate that Mr. Baines continues to attempt to discredit GiveMeaning, a service which has helped hundreds of charities across Canada achieve their goals without charging any costs to them or their donors.


Tom Williams,
CEO, GiveMeaning Foundation

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