Monday, June 29, 2009

This weekend's article

I am saddened and discouraged to learn that David Baines is attacking me yet again, this time using GiveMeaning Foundation's 2008 annual report as the basis for his attack. This blog was once a place I used to share my thoughts about the emerging field of online micro-philanthropy. I shared my thoughts, ideas and enthusiasm with readers but early last year, in fact, on the day of my 29th birthday, a columnist from the Vancouver Sun, David Baines, began writing what became a series of articles questioning my character and the integrity of GiveMeaning Foundation.

Baines and my anonymous internet blogging commenting detractors have spent the last year doing their absolute best to smear me, attack my character and question my integrity.

And no doubt, within some circles, they have succeeded.

As far as I can tell, what provoked this vitriol is at least in part my promoting GiveMeaning in the media by talking about myself as a "former whiz kid" and that I attracted so much positive media coverage including in Baines' own Vancouver Sun that, Baines & Co thought I needed to be taken-down several notches.

If you troll through my past, you will find many stories that one can use of someone who was arrogant, selfish, dishonest and more or less lost. That said, I'm sure if most people's lives are subjected to Baines level of scrutiny, those same things can be found of most people in their late teens and twenties, to lesser or greater extents.

I've always said that the media tells stories in binary forms. Either they build you up, and exaggerate your own story to the positive or they tear you down, again exaggerating the negative. When someone enters the public eye, they make a contract to accept the good with the bad.

When I started GiveMeaning, I started it because I wanted to be known for something other than being hired by Apple when I was 15 years-old. And yes, in GiveMeaning's first few years, when I was articulating a novel concept for the charitable sector, I used the "whiz kid" story to attract national press coverage to grow GiveMeaning's awareness. And I don't in any way regret that.

The last time, Baines wrote about GiveMeaning, he took issue with $645,000 of donations that came in through the foundation and were distributed to charities that did not have projects listed on the website. He asked the readers to subtract that donation, and suggested that the "real" amount GiveMeaning should have reported last year was $746,118.

Baines has always portrayed our numbers in the most skewed and negative light possible. This time around, he adds back in the $645,000 he asked readers to discount in the last article so that he can claim that our donations were down 63% year-over-year. Regardless of how he presents our numbers, the actual amount raised through the website is down slightly year-over-year to $728,165. Some of that is Baines' own self-fulfilling prophesy here. His continued negative coverage exacerbated with anonymous bloggers who seek any site that mentions GiveMeaning to post Baines articles and nasty comments about me has no doubt had a negative effect. But in what has become the toughest economic climate in the last few decades, and with his flurry of negative articles, our web donations were down only slightly.

But let's remember what GiveMeaning is: A site that facilitates micro-philanthropy. Most people donate $10, $20 at a time to the projects on our website. The whole point of the website is to pool small contributions together to achieve small but meaningful projects all around the World. And $728,165 in small contributions for projects all around the World is a huge achievement in micro-philanthropy,

Since last fall, I have stopped taking any form of compensation from GiveMeaning yet still serve as GiveMeaning's CEO as a volunteer. No expenses are reimbursed by the Foundation, nothing. Baines knows that my wife has long stopped being paid for her work at GiveMeaning, but continues to mention it.

At the end of his most recent article, he says that I still tell the "whiz-kid" story and that it's tiring and tired. I haven't done a single media interview since he began writing about me. In fact, I spent most of the last year trying to get over the hurt and pain of it all, and the last thing I've wanted is to attract more media attention, knowing that it's the positive profile that is - at least, in part - what makes Baines want to target me. When asked, I still give talks free to students about the importance of pursuing one's passions, but any reference to my past is rooted in that I started GiveMeaning not in a place of riches and wild success but rather pursuing a path that wasn't working.

But more than that, Baines & Co have achieved something that in some perverse way, I am grateful for. They have helped strip me of a layer or layers of skin that I have had since the whiz-kid story was first written about more than a decade ago. I no longer have interest in being a public person. That part of my life is over and done with. I have been humbled not by the actual vitriol of my attackers but my the process of struggling hard to keep running an organization that I care so much about, and have spent the last four years working hard at.

Baines concludes by indicating that he thinks GiveMeaning is an enterprise on the wane. He's right in some respects. My enthusiasm and energy to continue with GiveMeaning have been significantly deflated but I continue to invest my energy and resources in it, because of the positive impact it continues to have. Whether the sum total of our donation revenues grows or declines is less important to me than knowing that GiveMeaning continues to play a valuable role in achieving small but necessary impacts on communities here at home and around the World.

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