The Real Divide
Bill Gates sent shock waves through a conference in Seattle last month on the “digital divide” separating rich and poor countries. Injecting a note of sober realism into the otherwise optimistic happy talk about the power of computers and the Internet to help the world’s poorest people, Gates asked: “[D]o people have a clear view of what it means to live on $1 a day? There’s no electricity in that house. None.” When another panel participant suggested they use solar power, Gates shot back “No! You can’t afford a solar power system for less than $1 a day . . . You’re just buying food, you’re trying to stay alive.” Gates stood by his views in a subsequent interview with the New York Times. Talking about a hypothetical donation of a computer to an impoverished African village, Gates became animated: “The mothers are going to walk right up to that computer and say, ‘My children are dying, what can you do?’ They’re not going to sit there and like, browse eBay or something. What they want is for their children to live. They don’t want their children’s growth to be stunted. Do you really have to put in computers to figure that out?”
Welfare Reform to the Maxx
Reasonable people disagreed about welfare reform. But one thing that pretty much everyone agreed on was that if it was going to work, businesses would have to hire people coming off welfare. So far the results have been irrefutably impressive. Fortune magazine reports on the experience of one company that has been particularly encouraging. Three years ago, TJX corporation (which owns clothing retailers T. J. Maxx and Marshalls), was facing severe labor shortages due to low unemployment rates and high employee turnover. The company’s CEO, Ben Cammarata, saw an opportunity to act “charitably” and address his labor problems at the same time. Vowing to hire 5,000 people coming off welfare, the company set up an intensive recruiting and training program targeting that population. Three years later, the results have exceeded his most optimistic hopes. Instead of 5,000 former welfare recipients, the firm has hired 16,000. What’s more, the new employees are actually staying on longer. “The welfare-to-work associates we’re hiring are looking for a little bit more stability and a little bit more of a long-term relationship,” says Cammarata. “It’s worked out great for us.”
Everybody Should Have One
Say you’re a busy Hollywood celebrity who wants to make the world a better place. Having your own charitable foundation is nice, of course, but for the truly hip there’s an even hotter accessory—your very own political consultant. Stars like Richard Dreyfuss, Rob Reiner, Barbra Streisand, and Robert Redford have hired political experts to advise them and help plug them into the political process. Richard Dreyfuss, for instance, is interested in the Middle East peace process. The Los Angeles Times reports that his “personal political consultant” Donna Bojarsky has helped him arranged for a personal two hour tête-à-tête with President Clinton and key Middle East peace negotiators. He’s also traveled to Israel to meet with then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Sounds like a lot more fun than working on the sequel to Mr. Holland’s Opus. According to the Times, Bojarsky has “sent Dreyfuss ping-ponging” from one important swing state to another this election season, campaigning for Al Gore and congressional candidates. It’s important to have a consultant coordinating these activities, says a veteran Los Angeles political operative. “You’ve got a lot of responsibilities if you’re a Richard Dreyfuss.”
The Dark Side of Prosperity?
Economic growth is supposed to be a good thing for nonprofits. If the last few years have taught us anything, it might be that a rising economic tide really does lift all charitable boats. Why is it then that so many San Francisco area nonprofits feel that their boats are taking on water, with arts groups, social service providers, and activist organizations mounting a series of protests and demonstrations to get Bay Area politicians to provide them relief from a problem that they claim is driving them out of existence-soaring rents. The dot-com boom has sent rents in the area soaring—rising in many cases as much as 500 percent in just two years—and many groups are being literally priced out of their offices. “Our downtown is being eaten up by start-ups,” one city planner lamented to the San Francisco Chronicle. Eviction rates in the city have doubled over the past three years as landowners try to take advantage of market demand. And while San Francisco politicians have begun talking about rent caps, subsidies to nonprofits, and city-funded arts spaces, civic leaders in other areas would love to have such problems. “It’s absolutely mind-blowing to us that some cities don’t want dot-coms and other computer companies,” says the city manager of an industrial town from a less fashionable section of the Bay Area. “Our door is wide open. Come on over.”
Not a Naming Opportunity
He’s a pretty generous guy, that “Anonymous.” The Baltimore Sun recalls that “in a fundraising world in which development officers have become ever more savvy about luring money with recognition schemes—from thank-you dinners to naming opportunities for buildings, benches and trees” it’s refreshing to note that there are still some donors who prefer that no one know their name. In the state of Maryland alone, there have been plenty of high-end anonymous gifts made recently, including $1 million to the United Way, the largest gift ever to Coppin State University, and a “seven figure” anonymous gift to Johns Hopkins University. Nice, but none of those approach the $31 million generously donated to the Stanford University Medical Center earlier this month by, you guessed it, Anonymous.
We Hardly Knew Ye
A certain reticence about receiving public accolades is one thing, but a very few donors are so stuck on anonymity that the institution they’re supporting doesn’t even know who they are. According to London’s Daily Telegraph, an elderly man wearing a Panama hat walked into London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery last month and handed over a small brown paper parcel that he said he had found on a bus. The parcel contained three 17th century paintings. The attached note read: “I am dying and have asked a dear friend to deliver the enclosed three miniature portraits to the trustees of Dulwich Art Gallery as my anonymous gift because I have lived in obscurity into old age and wish to remain so in death. If they are unsuitable for display at Dulwich, it is my wish that they be given to a gallery where they blend in. May God be with you. Anon.” Nothing more is known of the donor. Museum experts have pronounced the valuable paintings “wonderful” and promise to display them. The gallery’s director was appreciative, if “sad” that he would be unable to thank the reticent patron: “I suppose some people find the business of being thanked very wearing, especially if you have lived reclusively. We felt that it wasn’t in the spirit of the gift to try to trace him.”
By Any Means Necessary?
Cory A. Booker is a 31-year-old African American who was elected to the Newark, New Jersey city council as a Democrat. He invokes Malcolm X when talking about the need to reform inner-city educational structures. He’s also an outspoken advocate for…school vouchers. “It’s one of the last remaining major barriers to equality of opportunity in America, the fact that we have inequality of education. I don’t necessarily want to depend on the government to educate my children—they haven’t done a good job in doing that. Only if we return power to the parents can we find a way to fix the system.” Booker is, according to the New York Times, one of a rising generation of young black leaders and activists who have turned to vouchers as a civil rights issue. Polls consistently show strong support for vouchers among African Americans, but they are opposed by older, established black organizations, many with connections to teachers’ unions. Author Mike Holt insists to the Times that vouchers are “the unfinished business” of the civil rights movement. “The old civil rights movement got us to the lunch counter. The new civil rights agenda is, can we afford to buy the lunch. And more importantly, can our kids read the menu?”
Thanks, but No Thanks
There’s been a lot of speculation about how much the Boy Scouts of America’s refusal to change their policy on admitting gay Scout leaders is costing them in terms of donations. But who knew that it would wind up affecting donations made by the Boy Scouts? One Florida nonprofit that provides food to people suffering from HIV/AIDS has announced that it will no longer accept donations from the Boy Scouts’ annual food drive. According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the group, known as CHAPS, has accepted food from the Boy Scouts for the past six years, but will refuse future donations. A CHAPS staff member complains that the Boy Scouts’ policy is “doubly bad, because, under the guise of morality, the Scouts are teaching our young, at a very early age, the most immoral of human emotions-hate.” Meanwhile a Boy Scouts director lamented that they were “disappointed that (CHAPS) would turn away any assistance we would offer.”
Damned if You Do…
The British government has embarked on a high-profile advertising campaign urging people not to give money to homeless people and beggars in London this holiday season. The government is instead suggesting that people who want to do something to help these people instead give money to charities that help the homeless. The idea, of course, is that people begging on the street are more likely to use the money for alcohol or drugs, while charities will help people get off the streets, using the money for food, shelter, and treatment. A group of British academics is apoplectic over the ad campaign, charging that the tough-love approach is “coercive and vindictive.” According to the Financial Times, the academics argue that the government’s effort will lead to an increase in crime among frustrated drug addicts.
…and Damned if You Don’t
One of the occupational hazards of being a high-profile donor is that people expect you to keep doing it. Thus the Omaha World-Herald faults Ted Turner for being “stingy” with donations to a local volunteer fire department after it had worked hard to combat wildfires that ravaged 26,000 acres of Nebraska grassland-much of it Turner’s. The problem, it appears, is not that Turner didn’t give them money-it’s that he didn’t give them “enough” money. The newspaper reports that while he sent them a check for $500, it cost the department over $40,000 to put out the fires. While a spokesman for the fire department insisted that donations are not “judged” by size, a member of the rescue squad labeled the $500 “a joke” and a “slap in the face” considering the size and difficulty of the fire.