Altruism Today

Sen. Grassley Calls Out Red Cross for Stonewalling Haiti Investigation

June 20th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Source; WBUR-FM (Boston Public Radio)

Senator Charles E. Grassley of the Senate Judiciary and Finance Committees issued a letter on Thursday essentially declaring that the American Red Cross (ARC) is stonewalling his investigation on questions of accountability where its activities and spending in Haiti are concerned. The ARC received approximately $487 million dollars to provide food and shelter in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

Eventually, questions began to be raised about the organization’s effectiveness in Haiti, with charges about inefficiencies and waste. Grassley mentioned that reports also surfaced about the ARC viewing the disaster as a public relations and fundraising opportunity.

Most of the work the ARC did in Haiti under the Haiti Assistance Project (HAP) was in fact subcontracted to other organizations. Still, the Red Cross retained around 25 percent of that money, or $124 million, for its own operations and program costs. The rest, around $367 million, went to contracts with partner agencies, but the whole picture is obscured by a “complex yet inaccurate process to track…spending.” Consequently, the organization has been unable to answer questions about, for instance, how much went to oversight and evaluation activities—an important accountability measure, as far as Grassley is concerned. He writes that the ARC blames its lack of precision on its reliance on “nonprofit accounting standards which allow for the use of estimates rather than actual numbers.”

In the same vein, Grassley charges that the ARC attempted to stop and then successfully limited a GAO audit, whereupon it still refused to respond to requests for information. And, finally, it has downsized its own Investigations, Accountability and Ethics (ICE) unit from 65 full-time employees in the immediate aftermath of Katrina to just three today. Further, that unit reports to the organization’s general counsel, who was the contact pushing limits on the purview of the GAO review.

All of this, writes Grassley, creates substantial and fundamental concerns about ARC as an organization. Readers can go here to read the letter and the Red Cross’s response to queries.

The Stable State in Giving USA’s 2015 Numbers: $373 billion raised

June 17th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Giving USA 2016’s eye-catching headline touts 2015 as “America’s most generous year ever.” A record amount of $373.25 billion was raised, reflecting annual growth of around four percent. Additionally, no subsector of nonprofits appears to be falling behind in receipt of these gifts except foundations, a category that is essentially volatile. But here’s the thing about tracking fundraising in an economy where ever-more-marked structural inequality exists: the numbers of that overall philanthropic recovery can be just as skewed as in the whole economy.


As with the overall economy, a recovery is in progress. Gifts to nonprofits working on international affairs have spiked upward, but that may simply be a relatively late recovery to losses felt during the Great Recession. Other subsectors are seeing more modest growth rates, which may reflect a bit more faith in personal budgets. Even giving against GDP has recovered to 2.1 percent—just a tenth of a percentage point below the all-time high of 2.2 percent.

Once again, the cutoff on the category of “mega-gifts” has been increased—this year, to $300 million. Last year, it rose from $80 million to $200 million. This means that nothing under $300 million qualifies as an oddball “mega-gift” in their econometric model, although we are almost certain that it would qualify as such to you.

And, as always, most of the mega-gifts largely went to the usual suspects—universities and foundations—with just a bit of a wrinkle: Because the art market is so hot right now and good valuations were available, we saw a lot of massive art donations to museums and universities. Thus, for instance, Stanford received an art collection worth $622 million from family members of philanthropist Harry W. Anderson. Likewise, Princeton University was gifted with 2,500 rare books and manuscripts valued at $300 million. The Art Institute of Chicago received a collection worth $400 million from Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson, in what the museum says is the largest gift of art in its history.

It doesn’t matter what those donors bought their pieces for; they could get a tax break of up to 30 percent as assessed in this high market. If that amount exceeded what one is allowed to deduct in a single year, they’d spread it over multiple years. Here is how the Wall Street Journal described the art donation calculation:

Peter Jason Riley, a certified public accountant in Newburyport, Mass., ran the numbers for a hypothetical U.S. taxpayer with an adjusted gross income of $500,000 who owns a painting appraised at $100,000 that she had purchased for $20,000.

What happens if she donates the painting? For donations of art, owners generally can claim a federal tax deduction of up to 30 percent of their adjusted gross income each year, making the limit in this case $150,000. So donating the painting to a qualifying museum would permit this owner a deduction in the current tax year of $100,000, assuming she hasn’t made other art donations totaling more than $50,000. (If donations in a given year exceed the limit for deductions, the overage can be deducted in following years, up to five if necessary, with the 30 percent limit applying each year.)

That means the tax benefit this year for the donor in this case would be $41,118, according to Mr. Riley.

If the painting was sold for the appraised value of $100,000, assuming a typical 15 percent sales commission to an auction house or art gallery, the seller would owe $31,372 in capital-gains tax, resulting in a net profit of $53,628, Mr. Riley says.

But, as the article notes, there are no guarantees the piece will sell at the appraised figure. The New Yorker just ran an article likening the art world to the tech market in the creation of weirdly anchored valuations and “unicorns.” So, with all of the celebration of increased giving, we may wish to remember that these kinds of dynamics of a wildly unbalanced financial system are occurring below the surface.

One last thing worth noting is that the artist who actually creates a piece of work and donates it to an auction or a museum gets absolutely no deduction in return. This may remind you of the more general structure of our economy.

Giving USA 2016 details many other interesting aspects of the giving landscape that are, we are sure, far more relevant to your fundraising. What’s happening to corporate gifts? Will prospects for the arts continue to improve? You can purchase a copy of the report at Giving USA’s website.

Senate filibuster ends as Democrat claims gun control victory

June 16th, 2016  |  Source: The Guardian

Chris Murphy, who led Democrats in holding floor for more than 14 hours, says deal was struck with Republicans for vote on background checks and terror watchlist

A marathon Democratic filibuster in the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacrecame to an end in the US Senate on Thursday morning after Republicans apparently agreed to hold votes on tighter gun control measures.

Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, led the filibuster which lasted for more than 14 hours along with several colleagues. In the early hours of Thursday morning in Washington, Murphy said a deal had been struck with Republican leaders to hold votes on key measures.

Murphy yielded the floor at 2.11am, saying he had won commitments from Republican leaders that they would hold votes on amendments to expand background checks and ban gun sales to suspected terrorists.

The Connecticut senator had promised at the outset that he would remain on the Senate floor “until we get some signal, some sign that we can come together” on gun control.

To Know a Town, Know Its Fish Mark

June 15th, 2016  |  Source: PS Magazine

A tour through my favorite fish markets in the world, which have taught me more about the economics and spirit of a city than any guidebook ever could.

Bobby was the first person I met in Korea. He sold flounder and baby octopus at the fish market. In Dubai, my first acquaintance was the immigrant cook who made me a breakfast of South Indian fish curry. If you want to understand daily life in an alien place — to meet the people who give a city its rhythms — go straight to the fish market.

As a food and travel writer, the first thing I do whenever I arrive in a new place is hit the fish market. In a world where entire countries have altered their streets and customs to attract moneyed tourists, fish markets — and the people who work there, hauling carcasses in the wee hours — remain relatively authentic. No other single site offers such a thorough orientation to a people, an economy, and a culture. Except for a few of the biggest (Tokyo’s Tsukiji or Seattle’s Pike Place), these aren’t marketed as tourist attractions. Yet for travelers looking to taste local delicacies — Hawaiian limpets called opihi, Seattle’s famous salmon, or baby octopus in Korea still wriggling around on the plate — seafood markets offer a no-frills place to find not only the food, but the life of a city.

Fish markets rarely compete with palaces or parks in the mind of the average tourist — you’re unlikely to frame a photograph of mollusks the way you’d frame a photo of Westminster Abbey; you’re unlikely to Instagram your fish congee for breakfast at Tekka Market in Singapore the way one might a croissant in a Paris café. Yet these markets are still visual feasts. These are the scenes that remain in my mind after travel: Stall after stall of iridescent stock in Negombo or simply laid on a tarp in Passikudah (both in Sri Lanka); silver fish stacked over sparkling ice in Seoul, South Korea; countless crabs, climbing upward, claws akimbo, in Dubai’s Deira Fish Souk.

Everywhere in the world, fish markets fill up before dawn with working-class people hustling to make a living through a fragile and expensive commodity. Fish markets are both a reflection of the values and economy of a place, and a microcosm of the city itself.

All over the world, the aisles of the fish market are a microcosm for the streets of the town.

Take Noryangjin, Seoul’s largest fish market, where tuna auctions wrap by 6:30 a.m. and workers hustle to pack up the fish that’s been sold. Tables overflow with large carcasses, sorted by type, down the center of the room.

Like the rest of Seoul, Noryangjin teems with people and fast-moving hand-carts that brush by brisk walkers. I met Bobby there along a series of stalls where smaller tanks showcase live fish. Bobby overheard me speaking in English and came over to talk. This was common in Korea, to find offers of help and hospitality proffered from within the chaos of the street. The same people who jumble against you as you’re packed into the a Seoul subway car will stop everything on the street and offer directions if you so much as glance at a map.

After years living abroad — in Texas, of all places — Bobby returned to his home country of Korea, where he now ran this two-square-foot fish stall. “What kind of fish do you want?” he asked, offering to translate for other vendors if he didn’t have it. The kitchens that line Noryangjin’s outer aisles are BYOF: bring your own fish. I bought a flounder and a baby octopus, and he followed me to the restaurant behind his stall to translate my preparation requests to the chef.

Fish markets serve the best breakfasts. While I waited for my platter of sashimi, fish head-and-skeleton soup, and still-twitching raw baby octopus, I surveyed the room. A table of 20-somethings all dove from their seats to catch their friend as she swayed with drunkenness. A young couple, too, seemed to be soaking up booze. A table of men still wearing waterproof overalls from their night shift gathered over what was, for them, dinner. They seemed excited to see a visitor in the market and fed me bites of their food, including abalone — which tastes like an oyster, except more so: chewier, saltier, sweeter, and just a bit buttery. I was, possibly, the only person starting their day, rather than ending it.

Everywhere, the aisles of the fish market reflect the streets of the town: in Negombo, Sri Lanka’s largest, dirt paths jumble back and forth with ill-defined edges. Slow-moving vendors amble under weighty loads.

Green, blue, and red-striped boats cut through the lagoon, making a beeline for the docks, where a man in flip-flops and soccer shorts shuffles around piles of big and small fish, mixed together, laid out on the ground: one, the size of a small child, is sliced in thirds. In the same haphazard manner that rickshaws careen through the streets, carcasses lean against pillars or sit in water washing in from the lagoon. But, like everything in Sri Lanka, the disorder and disarray is offset by a backdrop of beauty: outrigger canoes and multi-hued boats cutting calm paths, the sun reflecting warmth off the water and the vendors’ smiles.

In Dubai, as with Bobby in Korea, conversations flowed freely in a way that tourist economies normally don’t make possible. There is a myth of tourists wanting to live, eat, or travel “like a local.” Yet most tourists skip the fish market, perhaps the most local place of all. More often, tourists opt for a cleaned-up, well-funded, or Disney-fied version of local — hardly the same kind of “local” that means starting work at midnight and finishing — reeking of fish guts — before most travelers have exited their air-conditioned hotel rooms.

Such was true at the Dubai fish souk, where I wandered after a night spent eating and drinking in the shadow of the tallest building in the world. The white tile fixtures of Dubai’s fish souk line up neatly, numbered on the cement floors, all polished, clean, sanitized: the fish market version of the mall-boulevards that host the country’s famous luxury stores. But while the surfaces here are sanitized, the personalities are not.

Those vendors rarely make money from tourists: visitors have no kitchen in which to cook the fish, and very few of them patronize BYOF restaurants. Plus, unlike at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, nobody in Dubai is sending boxes of fish home for relatives. When I visited the fish souk, men outnumbered women by a rough factor of 100 to one (I was the one woman). Yet it didn’t seem as though the locals found me out of place. Or, rather, they didn’t treat me as if I were: They were busy minding their own business, tending their own fish.

Instinctively, I slowed to match the meandering pace of the market, slid into the routines around me. The unhurried tempo here might come from the heat or maybe from the casual attitude: Unlike in Korea, it is not all business. Here, I don’t press against glass tanks to avoid fast-moving piles of fish. Instead, I listen in as vendors gossip jovially and share cups of milky, murky tea at the aptly named Fish Market Cafeteria. There’s no song and dance and salmon-throwing show. Just real people, looking to make the day more fun: handing an octopus to my husband to pose with, pretending to chase us with a shark.

Like most of the working-class people in Dubai, the fish market staff are not from Dubai, but they are the locals. Less than 20 percent of the city is Emirati, the rest made up of migrant and immigrant workers, a population that is heavily South Asian. Thus, at the Grill & Shark Restaurant in a small outbuilding of the market, the cook — like the cuisine — was from southern India. Very little in Dubai is native to the area; the fish market and its denizens are no exception. In fact, the food there was similar to the food served in Sri Lanka, where — a four-hour plane ride from Dubai and a six-hour drive across the island from busy Negombo — I found a different style of market: smaller, less formal, yet just as indicative of the area I was in.

As the sun rose over the broad, white-sand beach of Passikudah, I looked out over the bath-water warm bay. I saw something up the beach — dots of color floating in. Fishing boats arriving. Off I went to sniff out the market.

Despite the luxury hotels lining the bay, the market reflected the town more than the tourists. A tarp lay on the sand while a gray-haired man in a maroon sarong held an old-school scale — two bowls hanging from chains, connected by a wooden stick. The fish went on one side, while his young assistant put weights in the other. A half-dozen brightly colored boats floated onto the beach. Young men shared the load of carrying big baskets up to the tarp marking the market.

There were none of the big tuna that you see at Noryangjin, none of the stacks of blue crabs or giant prawns of Dubai. Few of the fish were longer than my arm. One big fish, one red fish, and a big pile of sardines. These don’t get sold here, a friendly man with a bushy mustache told me, picking up a large fish to show off for a photo — all of them are getting loaded onto a truck which will take them back to Negombo, where I’d toured the day before. Locals don’t buy their fish here.

Later, I learned where they did: As I was sitting in front of the Victoria Guesthouse, trying to convince Mercy, the owner, to cook me dinner later that evening, a man rode up on a bike with a pile of sardines in the basket. He exchanged words with Mercy. She balanced the youngest of her three children in her arms and turned to me: “You want fish for dinner?”

Orlando attack: why was gunman able to buy weapons?

June 13th, 2016  |  Source: The Guardian

With fewer than half the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting identified, questions have mounted over how gunman Omar Mateen was able to buy weapons despite having been investigated twice by the FBI for suspected terrorist sympathies. Mateen, 29, a US citizen of Afghan heritage, launched the three-hour attack, which left 50 people dead and 53 injured, early on Sundayusing a legally-purchased 223-caliber assault rifle and 9mm semi-automatic pistol with multiple rounds of ammunition. Twenty minutes into the assault, he called 911 to declare his sympathies to Islamic State. Mateen worked as a courthouse security guard in Port St Lucie, Florida. Former wife Sitora Yusifiy said Mateen was “mentally unstable and mentally ill [and] obviously disturbed, deeply, and traumatised”.

Pulse nightclub massacre: questions over how suspect on FBI’s radar could buy guns

No single market access for UK after Brexit, Wolfgang Schäuble says

June 11th, 2016  |  Source: The Guardian

In Der Spiegel interview German finance minister rules out Britain’s chances of enjoying bloc benefits from outside EU

Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has slammed the door on Britain retaining access to the single market if it votes to the leave the European Union.

In an interview in a Brexit-themed issue of German weekly Der Spiegel, the influential veteran politician ruled out the possibility of the UK following a Swiss or Norwegian model that would allow it to enjoy the benefits of the single market without being an EU member.

“That won’t work,” Schäuble told Der Spiegel. “It would require the country to abide by the rules of a club from which it currently wants to withdraw. If the majority in Britain opts for Brexit, that would be a decision against the single market. In is in. Out is out. One has to respect the sovereignty of the British people.”

The German conservative’s intervention seems to rule out the “reverse Maastricht” option floated privately by some British MPs and government sources, whereby pro-remain MPs in Westminster could use their parliamentary majority to retain access to the single market after a British exit from the EU.

Their first target is likely to be to try to ensure that despite a Brexit the UK could remain in the single market by joining the European economic area, of which the non-EU countries Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland are currently members.

The single market – to which Switzerland also has access despite not being a member of either the EU or the EEA – guarantees the free movement of people, goods and services inside the bloc.

Supporters of the British leave campaign argue that it is in Germany’s economic interest to maintain barrier-free trade relations with the United Kingdom. Britain is the third-largest export market for German car manufacturers and the destination of around 7% of total German exports.

Charles Koch walks into a Marxist china-shop

June 11th, 2016  |  Source: Philanthropy Daily

Charles Koch has not been enlightened by the decorum of marxist-lead universities where academic freedom succumbs to the stifling marxist framework: good for him.

"Koch’s donations have fueled the expansion of a branch of economic research that aligns closely with his personal beliefs of how markets work best: with strong personal freedom and limited government intervention.

"They have seeded research centers, professors and graduate students devoted to the study of free enterprise, who often provide the intellectual foundation for legislation seeking to reduce regulations and taxes.

"Long dwarfed by his prodigious support for conservative candidates, Koch’s academic giving has now landed him at the center of a white-hot debate over freedom and speech on campus."--Jim Tankersley, The Washington Post

How a Bad Ethical Culture Can Doom a Good Nonprofit

June 10th, 2016  |  Source: NPQ

Nonprofit culture is not a “soft” component of an organization; it is the final word, the informer of action or inaction. When it has been left victim to inattention, it can wreak havoc by creating doubt and suspicion, by enabling laxness, dishonesty and a deadly lack of accountability. You can feel it palpably when disagreements surface. How are they dealt with? Is the organizational dance in the face of challenge a sidestep, or an aggressive implied or real threat? In the worst of situations, these attitudes and habits build on one another until the result is nothing less than bizarre.

A negative culture almost always organizes itself around secrets that must not be revealed. And, when that culture is deeply entrenched, trying to reveal the hidden can be like taking your professional life—or even your physical life—in your hands.

A series of recent stories in the New York Times and other media chronicled the closing of the Healing Arts Initiative (HAI), a New York City nonprofit which began as Hospital Audiences, Inc., and made the arts accessible to millions of isolated and marginalized people. Moreover, HAI spawned a number of organizations with similar missions, including one called Artreach, which I helped to create and served as executive director in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—so this is a tragedy that especially hits home for me.

If you haven’t seen the stories, HAI hired a new executive director, D. Alexandra Dyer, in 2015. She uncovered what prosecutors say was at least a $750,000 embezzlement scheme carried out by one of its employees over nearly three years. After questioning the employee about missing funds, Ms. Dyer was viciously attacked by an associate of the employee who threw liquid drain cleaner in her face.

The employee has since been charged with multiple crimes, including first-degree assault, conspiracy, grand larceny, weapons possession, falsifying business records, and forty-eight counts of identity theft. She’s being held without bail and faces up to twenty-five years in prison. A friend, who prosecutors say received over $100,000 of the stolen funds, has been charged with grand larceny and conspiracy and faces up to fifteen years in prison.

Though Ms. Dyer survived the attack, her face was described in the Times as a “pinkened map of scar tissue.” After resuming her duties as HAI’s executive director, she filed a lawsuit against the board of directors, seeking their removal on behalf of the charity because board members let the thefts happen on their watch.

However, on May 6ththe board fired Ms. Dyer and the financial officer she hired who helped uncover the embezzlement scheme. Then, in what could be the final act of an organization that brought the joy and healing power of the arts to millions of marginalized and isolated people over forty-five years, HAI shut down on May 11th and is expected to declare bankruptcy.

“If the board thinks that by firing Alexandra Dyer, who uncovered the thefts, and by putting HAI into bankruptcy, they will thwart the investigation into their incompetence, they are sadly mistaken,” Ms. Dyer’s attorney said in response.

The sequence of events culminating in shutting down the Healing Arts Initiative suggests a culture where basic concepts of oversight, accountability, and responsibility were not exercised by either the professional or volunteer leadership. Although some elements of culture are in an organization’s DNA, other aspects of culture are developed consciously, and both types have to be reinforced over time.

One of the ways to reinforce a culture of accountability is, of course, to build systems of accountability at board and staff levels. But unless you want a mere compliance culture, which holds its own dangers, those have to be backed up by something larger: a collective longing for integrity that welcomes challenges and is in constant improvement mode. This gets reflected in staff accountability measures and the board’s oversight of finances and leadership, two measures that seemed to have been largely missing from the HAI scenario.

My hope is that the tragedy at HAI will motivate every nonprofit board member and executive to take a good look at their organization’s culture and ask whether the right systems and procedures are in place to reinforce and restate principles of practice with enough frequency and from enough participants (staff, board, constituents) that they become a positive informant of action. This is what ensures integrity and trustworthiness, and we should expect nothing less of ourselves.

Bread delivery charity helps unemployed people start their own business

June 8th, 2016  |  Source:

Breadwinners helps unemployed people with micro-financing, training and support, and empowers them to set up a bread delivery business.

The gig economy can create flexible hours for those who are out of work, but employees are still essentially working for a wage, earning profits for a larger company.

Now, Breadwinners is a charity that aims to help unemployed people work for themselves. The non-profit helps those who are struggling with employment with micro financing, training and support, to empower them to set up a bread delivery business in their local community.

To begin, potential Breadwinners attend a training program, where they learn the skills and information they need to set up their personal delivery business. Then, they are paired with a local artisan baker and given a bike, trailer and equipment. Breadwinners buy the loaves from the bakery at cost price and sell them for profit, keeping the difference to build their business. Customers simply order their bread as a one-off or subscription and have it delivered to their home.What other delivery tasks could be used to create work for unemployed people?


'I maxed out my credit card': Trump University graduates speak out

June 5th, 2016  |  Source: The Guardian

Kathleen Meese is still paying off credit card debt she ran up in 2009, to pay for classes at Trump University. She was told the classes would make her a real estate millionaire.

When Meese balked at the $25,000 and travel time needed to take the university’s Gold Elite Program, worried it would strain her finances and could hinder her care for her son, who has Down’s syndrome, a Trump instructor told her she “had to sign up” to help her family, court documents show.

“They said: ‘You are just nervous. It’s going to be fine,’” Meese told the Guardian this week. “We’re going to work with you, help you.

“I maxed out my credit card,” she said.

Meese is now one of 5,000 consumers on whose behalf the New York attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, is suing the Republican nominee’s past venture. Schneiderman slams the for-profit online educational provider as an illegal scam.

Separately, in California, two class action lawsuits are also under way. If the cases go to trial, none will begin before the presidential election. But as details accumulate, the controversy surrounding the now-defunct Trump University will dog Donald Trump all the way.

“You were supposed to write yourself a check for $1m and tape it to your mirror, and in three years you would be able to cash it,” Meese said. “I didn’t have three cents from them. I didn’t make a penny.”

Meese, 57, lives in the village of Schoharie, near Albany in upstate New York, with her husband, who works for the local highway agency, and their adult son. Now that her dream of buying and selling houses has died, she is a stay-at-home wife.

“I wasn’t aiming to get godly rich like Donald Trump,” she said, “but rich enough to help my family. My aunts and uncles and cousins and my sister, we’re all very close … and I’m the one people normally come to in my family, the rock.”

In 2009, after receiving an invitation in the mail to attend a free Trump University seminar, she went to the Palace Theater in Schenectady. According to the affidavit detailing Meese’s case: “We were told if we signed up for Trump’s three-day seminar we would learn everything we needed to know about … how to buy and sell real estate using other people’s money.”

Meese paid $1,495 for a three-day seminar at a Hyatt hotel in the region. During that event, the affidavit shows, she was told about the $25,000 advanced program.

When she expressed worries about money and her son, according to the affidavit, Trump University instructor Stephen Goff “said he had a son so he knew that family meant everything to me … he promised to personally work with me and guaranteed I would make my $25,000 back within 60 days”.

She discussed potential real estate deals with the purported experts. None of them ever worked out. Read on here:

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