Truth. Transparency. Trust.

Trust.

Perhaps more important than any attribute, a nonprofit must be trusted.  Your work is only as good as you can be trusted.  Too often, a charity or nonprofit is tainted because of a lapse of trust.  Trust is not only something to be earned but an attribute you must exhibit every day.

We believe that Trust, along with Truth and Transparency, are fundamental values that a nonprofit must exhibit.  Without the “Three T’s” — Truth, Transparency, and Trust — your credibility with donors and supporters is severely compromised. Building and keeping a reputation of Truth, Transparency, and Trust require an on going relationship with your constituents.   You must exhibit these qualities every day, with everyone you meet.  

At Charity Blossom, we’re here to help.  First, we’ve created a platform for you communicate truthfully and transparently with donors and supporters.  Charity Blossom enables honest and open dialogues between nonprofits and donors.  

Accredited Nonprofits and the Badge of Trust

And today, we are announcing the Charity Blossom Accredited Nonprofit(tm) program and the Charity Blossom Badge of Trust(tm).  Your nonprofit can become accredited and then display the Badge of Trust.  The Charity Blossom Badge is the symbol of Truth, Transparency, and Trust.  Once earned, the Badge will be displayed on the Charity Blossom website and you can display the Badge on your website.  Convey to your donors and supporters your credibility as a nonprofit by displaying the Charity Blossom Badge of Trust.

Claim your listing.  Get accredited.  Display the Badge.  Start building a stronger trusted relationship with your donors and supporters today!

Charity Blossom: Truth, Transparency, and Trust.

MerchantCircle: Insights into Charity Blossom and Charitable Giving

In 2004, Jason and I, the founders of Charity Blossom, started another company — MerchantCircle.  Today, we’re happy to announce that Reply! has purchased MerchantCircle for $60 million.  As I noted over on my personal blog,  this is a great outcome for all — the companies, employees, the investors, and, most of, the small businesses (all 15 million of them) that we help and serve. Congratulations to all — especially the MerchantCircle team and Reply!, for having the insight and vision to pull together two teams that will help small businesses thrive.

TechCrunch also reports on this deal here.

What does this have to do with Charity Blossom, you ask?

We learned a lot at MerchantCircle.  While a small business is very different than a (small) charity or nonprofit, we believe there are similarities.  Both work with limited budgets, personnel resources, and information technology.  Both are “customer” (in the case of nonprofit, donor) focussed.  Both need to communicate with their constituents in a truthful and transparent manner to succeed.  Trust, is paramount to both.  Both can unleash the power of the Internet, if only there were a platform to do so.

What MerchantCircle is to small businesses, Charity Blossom is to nonprofits. We’re here to help your nonprofit thrive.  We are a platform to help the millions of nonprofits at scale.   As with small businesses, we help you communicate with your constituents, so that you can build strong relationships with new and existing donors. While nonprofits and small businesses are different, we leverage our experience helping small businesses in building a successful platform for nonprofits.

So, while today we’ll celebrate this milestone for MerchantCircle, we look to the future — making Charity Blossom a successful operation for charities to thrive. We’re here to help your charity blossom!

Truth, Transparency, Trust: Shining More Light on Nonprofits

When deciding to support a charity or nonprofit, donors, and potential donors, ask some basic questions:

  • What is the purpose and mission of a charity?
  • How trustworthy is the organization?
  • How financial efficient is it?
  • Will my money go to a good cause?
  • Where can I find more information?
  • Why should I give or help?

Most of this information is public in nature, as tax exempt organizations (classified as a 501(c) 3), in general, must file such information with the federal government (in Form 990).  Also, it is in the best interest of legitimate and successful nonprofits to get this information out in the open.  The web is an excellent vehicle for distributing such information.

Further, beyond, the factual information about a nonprofit, compassionate stories about what the organization does, the people involved, and the impact give compelling reasons why you should support the organization.

Surprisingly, much of this information is not easily available.

As Charity Blossom, we’ve decided to make such details more accessible.  For nonprofits, we help them get their message out.  For donors, we provide them with the information they seek.  We want to provide compelling stories about why a nonprofit is important and impactful.  Factual information combined with compelling stories shine light on a nonprofits and provide more trust between supporters and nonprofits.

However, we’ve found that information dispersion is not be best served as a monologue from the charity.  Rather, a dialogue between the nonprofit and its constituencies is much more effective.  To this end, we’ve enabled supporters and outsiders to also participate in the communication process.  We’ve taken a wikipedia-style approach to “crowd source” information about your favorite nonprofits.  Anyone can add information about charities and nonprofits.  Charity Blossom is a community supported platform to make more data, insight, and wisdom available for all.

So, in addition to the publicly available information that we are able to find/publish and the information that a nonprofit wants to communicate, you can make a difference by adding your take as well.  Find the Charity Blossom listing page for your favorite nonprofit and update or add information.  Tell your story.  Help your nonprofit by helping others find more and better information.

Come join us in building Charity Blossom — information by the people, for the people.

Buy Shoes and Help the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

menu_logo.pngimgres.jpeg



216018_10150173672314415_654449414_6709244_5425875_n.jpeg

I know next to nothing about women’s shoes.  I am, however, fascinated by the obsession some of my friends have with them.  (As far as I know, it’s only my female friends but I’m sure there are few men out there too!)  Nonetheless, I respectfully acknowledge the relative importance shoes play in the lives of many, even though I don’t quite get it.

However, today, my cousin Kelly  just informed me (via facebook of course) that:

"Super excited to announce Le Bunny Bleu's Bunny Giver Campaign! 15% DISCOUNT and an ADDITIONAL 15% of your purchase will be donated to The Leukemia Lymphoma Society! It doesn't get much better than this! :) Shop guilt-free for fun, affordable & comfy shoes while helping me raise money to save lives!!!! Thank you for your support. Please feel free to share with your friends! Discount Code: BunnyGiver” 

teamintraining.jpg

Why do I care? Well, Kelly is raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through Team in Training. She’s doing the Vineman 70.3  — a half marathon triathlon. I’ve been following her training on facebook and I’m exhausted just reading about it. I’m also personally moved because she is dedicating her efforts in memory of my father and grandmother, who both passed away this past year.

 You can donate directly to her cause here.

Better yet, buy some shoes and get a discount.  Le Bunny Bleu will make a donation! (Use the Discount Code:  BunnyGiver)

Everyone wins!

Screen shot 2011-05-17 at 1.30.28 AM.png




Eolian — College Students with a Dream

  

As mentioned in my last post, I traveled with Geeks on a Plane to South America last week.  We visited many companies and talked with many entrepreneurs.  We saw many “cool” ideas but, for me, it was very difficult to understand whether or not these ideas could have any hope of being companies.  Or even formulate some criteria to decide whether or not to invest without more experience and understanding.  I was pleasantly surprised that there were successful companies that bootstrapped themselves to profitable businesses even though it was often unclear how the numbers worked.

One thing that was easy to identify was the dreamers with passion for doing something cool.  When I was in Santiago, I met with a few students from the Universidad de Chile.  The are unabashed in their enthusiasm to build a solar car called Eolian and compete in competitions in Chile and Australia.  I have no idea if they have a prayer’s chance to be competitive or even get the car funded or built. However, I do know that they could barely control their excitement for their project. They dream big without a clue about what they can’t do.

I like that.

They audaciously showed up to a meeting with the Chilean President Sebastian Piñera and pitched their project.  It probably wasn’t the most appropriate context but it caught my attention — I appreciate their effort and fearlessness.

They are going to race later on this year.  However, they have yet to build the car (they have a full sized mock up) and are just now starting to fund raise.  I have no idea whether or not they can raise the money or actually build the car.  But, I give them credit for trying.  If you want to help them in a little way, I think you can make a donation. I’m told for $40, you “buy/adopt” one solar cell for the car.  (I think it’s all safe and legitimate!)  They also have a larger fund raising effort in the works outside of the “buy a panel” program. I gave — because their attitude, enthusiasm and dreams are refreshing!

Geeks on a Plane: Re-visiting Outsourcing

    

Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Buenos Aires

Every few years, I re-visit a key engineering question,  ”Should I outsource engineering/product development?”  Not surprising, this question is contemplated during the “start up” phase of the the various companies I’ve been involved with. Ultimately, the answer has been “no” for for varying reasons.  However, I recognize that 2011 is very different that 2002 and 2006.   This decision has a dramatic strategic impact on the process, culture, product, and, ultimately, the success of the company. So, I tread carefully.  

That said, as Jason and I start up Charity Blossom, we again have revisited outsourcing possibilities.  As we discussed our company with various people, this question came up several times.  In particular, perhaps South America or Eastern Europe, not China or India might be a good places to build an outsourced development team.  We had heard of a few relative successes.

So, this past week, I headed to South America with Geeks on a Plane.  We met with many companies and many were doing outstanding work in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina.  I also spent a few nights with the Peixe Urbano team and got the update on their remarkable story.  (Congrats to them on their recent fund raise!)  Many of these companies have been around for a while, profitable, and boot strapped without external funding.  Many were looking for venture capital.  Props to all of them that were making a successful go at building companies.

In the back of mind, I was continually sniffing around to see if there was an opportunity to hire great talent.  Building a team in South America had many attractions and possibilities.  First, there is indeed talent.  Second, being only approximately one time zone away from New York, South America’s geographic proximity is a plus.  And, culturally (or rather linguistically), Portuguese and Spanish seem less of a stretch than say Chinese.  And, after speaking with Evan Henshaw-Plath, I was encouraged after digging in with him on Cubox.  Further, Jared Goralnick told me he is successfully executing with a team in Argentina at AwayFind.

However, even though there were many success stories of companies doing well in their local markets (with dreams of expanding outside of their given countries and South America), my conclusion to not outsource to a development team in South America has been re-inforced.  First, Brazil (with perhaps the strongest developers — at least the ones I met) is an extremely competitive and expensive market for engineering talent.  Currently, there are no cost savings by outsourcing to Brazil. Argentina is less expensive but it’s not going to be a 5X savings.   Chile is yet more economically affordable but my gut impression is that it is a more nascent ecosystem. Ultimately, at least for a company the size of Charity Blossom, the operational complexity does not give strategic advantage for us to outsource unless we had a super strong partner to work with.  (If we were doing Ruby on Rails development, Cubox is interesting.  Evan is top shelf — though I have no idea what Montevideo is like).

So, ultimately, we’ve decided that outsourcing to South America is not the right option for us at this time.  I’m sure we’ll revisit it again in a few years.

Footnote:

The labor market for developers and designers is so tight in the San Francisco Bay Area.  As an alternative to outsourcing, we’ve seriously considered “insourcing” developers who work in the United States.   In fact, we’ve found highly qualified developers in small towns throughout the country.  However, scared by the (perceived) high cost of living issues in the Bay Area, they are not motivated to move.  So, we’re building a culture and infrastructure to support this kind of remote development.  If you are interested, check us out here.

3 Cups of Confusion

I’m sure it’s been an exciting week, to say the least for Greg Mortenson.  Greg is an American humanitarian, professional speaker, writer and former mountaineer. Mortenson is the co-founder (with Jean Hoerni) and director of the non-profit Central Asia Institute as well as the founder of the educational charityPennies for Peace. He is the co-author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mortenson has told an inspiring story about his work in Pakistan and Afghanistan, educating girls, building schools, and encounters with terrorists.  He’s raised millions of dollars for the CAI and has benefited well from the books he has written about his work.

However, all of this has come under question.

Earlier last week, 60 Minutes and Jon Krakauer both gave alternative viewpoints about Greg and his work in Central Asia, accusing him of basically lying, misappropriating funds from the CAI, and inappropriately benefiting financially from his work with the CAI.   Others from all over the web have piled on additional accounts and accusations.

I respect 60 Minutes (I’ve watched it for years) and Krakauer (Into Thin Air was a favorite book of mine years ago).  It’s hard not to take their allegations seriously. However, to be completely dismissive of Mortenson’s work would be without merit also. Even Krakauer admits that Mortenson has done much good. There are two sides to every story.  For Krakauer, he seems to feel personally duped for donating money to the CAI and has produced a compelling expose’.

This is a complicated story and I will not pass judgment.  The allegations are serious, deep, and damaging.  As I learned from Maynard Olsen, the truth is all most always in the middle.

However, regardless who is right, there are important lessons and questions here for nonprofits.  

Tell the Truth.  This sounds obvious.  Lying can’t be good whether Mortenson or Krakauer.  Both have a point of view to express.  Mortenson tells a “Creation Myth,” and its factualness is a key accusation against him.  If the allegations against Mortenson are true, it seems his lies hurt the very people he says he wants to help.  When viewed against the creation story of Ebay, do we hold Mortenson to a higher standard?  Should we?

Be Transparent.   This too sounds obvious.  Basic questions about delivery of program services, operations, and finances are raised by Krakauer and others. Should CAI and Mortenson be more forth coming? Nonprofits more so than most (private) for-profit operations, are held to a higher level of transparency standards by some measures, both legally and otherwise. Of course, if you aren’t telling the truth, transparency might not help much.

Money Earned at/around a Nonprofit Is Complicated.    Was Mortenson’s compensation and benefits from the CAI excessive?  Is it wrong for him to personally benefit from his book sales and appearances — benefits that were built on top of his work with the CAI? Should the CAI re-imburse Mortenson for any expenses related to his promotion of his book?  Were funds just simply misappropriated by Mortenson in general?  Krakauer alleges Mortenson “regards CAI as his personal ATM.”

These are complicated questions.  Clearly defined policies, board oversight, and transparency help clarify these issues.  Whether we agree or not, at least we’d understand how donor money might be spent.

Truth.  Transparency.  Trust.  At Charity Blossom, we believe these should be cornerstones of all nonprofits.  If Krakauer’s point of view is correct, indeed, Mortenson is a man who took a wrong turn down the mountains and never quite managed to find his way home.  Regardless of who is right, there are important lessons here for leaders of both nonprofits and for-profits alike.

For Profits Doing Good @Stanford Women in Business

Last Saturday, I spoke at the Stanford Women in Business conference.  I was on a panel called, “Solutions to Social Problems” and I  sat in on a session called “Intersections of Business and Social Entrepreneurship.  Going in, I had prepared a seemingly controversial position — A for-profit entity is the most effective vehicle for  for social good.  While acknowledging the value of nonprofit organizations, it seems many have lost their way, were blinded by idealism, and mired by financial issues.

Much to my pleasant surprise, these women were well versed in issues of fiscal viability, legal restrictions, and culture that hinder nonprofit organizations from being successful.  It was refreshing to speak to such a well informed audience.  They fully grokked our understated motto at Charity Blossom — “Work Hard.  Have Fun.  Do Good.  Get Paid.”   In contrast, when speaking to more “established” audiences, I’m often met with blank stares of disbelieve that a for-profit entity can actually do good and be more effective than a nonprofit entity.

Aaron Ross, who sat on my panel, gives his take on this matter on his blog.  His perspective is a compelling one — not only can a for profit be more effective, but doing good as a for-profit might be more satisfying, enriching, and gratifying for the individual as well. 

I’m encouraged.  The altruism and passion expressed by these women are balanced with practicality, realism, and financial realities.

Palindrome Advisors: Changing How Leaders Give Back

It’s been over year since I first shared my vision for making an philanthropic impact through Charity Blossom with Zaw Thet.  I’ve known Zaw for many years — I met  Zaw when I served on the Advisory Board of Spoke, and he was a rising star in Business Development at Spoke.  (Zaw, as you might know, has gone on to be superstar CEO at 4INFO.) Last April, as I unveiled my idea, it was great to know that we were thinking along the same lines  — a Vulcan mind meld you might say.  While our execution was going to be very different, our desires to help philanthropically were clearly similar. This past week, Palindrome Advisors was announced.  I’ve taken the “Palindrome Pledge,”  and I am honored to be a Founding Advisor for Palindrome. Collectively, this organization will make a strategic positive impact on philanthropy and charitable giving.  Individually, I am excited to help make a specific impact on individual organizations.   Palindrome Advisors’ mission “dovetails” with what we are doing at Charity Blossom.  I’m proud to be part of it. Great job Zaw, Anna, and, and Charlaine!  I look forward to working with you and doing great stuff! Wayne
The Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy

Last Sunday, I attended the annual meeting of the Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy of San Francisco. The premise of the group is pretty simple — somebody from the “society” gives you $100 to give away, you give it away in a creative way, and then you tell your story at the “top secret” annual meeting.  (Then, you too get to be in the society.)  The New York Times pretty much covers it, so I won’t go into the details.

Further, as the organization’s website states, you too can become a creative philanthropist — give someone $100 to give away creatively.  (Though I don’t think you the giver or the givee get to be members of the society.)  There. You’re done.

I was immediately a fan.  My first thoughts were, “this is great.” As a social media wonk, my second thoughts were tweaks on how to make this go viral, how to improve the viral co-efficient, how to seed greater growth, etc.  However, I digress.

The beauty is in it’s simplicity.  I love it because it does a little good and has the potential to do a lot of good.

Nice job Courtney.