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Doing Charity Sites

In a recent thread I related to this comment:

> I developed a *big* website for my church, have invested about 200 hours in research, implementation work, photography, scanning and workup of content, etc and the impression I've gotten is that the administration in the church views it as some grunt trivial twiddly hobby crap that I did in a few spare hours. (I am considering taking it down for that reason.) Visitors to the site regularly email me lauding the appearance and content, but my "customer" is absolutely clueless and appears to place no value on the product.

Ok, I have done exactly this same thing and experienced the exact same result. I created a large, complex web site for a well known charity, including ecommerce, content management they can handle, forums, flash presentations, and many other things. Over the last two years, I have volunteered 450 hours of time and fronted $6500 of my own money for stuff because this used to be a charity I believed in. I do sites like this for clients and typically charge approximatey $50,000 for a job of this complexity

They really do think that this was something I threw together in a couple hours one afternoon and totally don't appreciate it and talk down to me like I am an idiot when I come into the church office. I guess part of it is they don't see how many hours went into it and don't realize that it's a comparable donation to some contractor coming in and putting in a new church building for them for free -- which would certainly be something that got noticed! I can assure you in such a case there would be newspaper articles about the contractor and many comments praising the quality of his work.

The lack of praise is one thing, but the being looked down on pisses me off. They had a big tuxedo dinner for their biggest donors (people contributing more than $500). They had special brass plaques for folks who had donated $5000 or more. I didn't want to go but I resented the fact that not only was I not invited but when I asked why not I was told "This is for folks who have contributed $500 or more to the organization."

So, I'm pissed yes and there's another story of a site I did for a struggling artist I knew. Value of his ecommerce site: $9000. He kept submitting feature requests and I finally told him he dah to pay for them and I had spent over 100 hours on it and he said he could get a romanian developer he knows to do the changes for 1/10 the rate I was asking. (The site was very successful for him -- he used it to promote and sell his work and went from being a nobody with no sales to being a guy with work reviewed in the New York Times.)

So I just want some confirmation because I am planning on deleting the entire charity site and telling them to go screw themselves. The charity is on the level of the Red Cross (it's not them, but you've heard of them.)

The artist guy has just become an pompous ass. I do retain copyright on the site so I will likely take it down as well and let him work with his friend overseas.

Charitable Soul
Monday, December 08, 2003

Time to become a Republican.

lucky
Monday, December 08, 2003

hm. don't work for free? I did a site for a large, charitable organization, and charged $85/hr to implement it.

_
Monday, December 08, 2003

as to what to do, don't let them think you are a dick. just say you can't afford to keep working on the site, and shut it off. if they want you to turn it back on, sock it to them.

_
Monday, December 08, 2003

Oooh, thanks, that is important. You've 'underlined' what I have to do. I'll say I can't -afford- to keep maintaining it and will have to shut it down. If they want to pay, it's at my standard rate billed by the hour and they'll soon learn exactly how many hours go into this stuff. Maybe I should even give them an invoice for the $50,000 and ask them to sign off on it as a donation because I need to deduct it for tax purposes. Shoot yes that1s what to do! Thanks.

And in the future I've learned that they need to pay me.

Charitable Soul
Monday, December 08, 2003

Send them properly accounted invoices and then have a credit amount recorded as DISCOUNT AS DONATION BY ABC to XYZ.

Total owing $0

x
Monday, December 08, 2003

I posted the entree' you quoted.

I *think* the main reason I've had this problem is that I proposed and did this site on my own initiative without getting informed buy-in from the pastor and other possible interested parties. They wanted it but they had no idea of anything. Also, they never seemed to comprehend along the way that if they wanted new stuff on the site they needed to contribute it.

In short, I think I committed two cardinal errors: I made it too easy for them, and I didn't charge anything for my time.  Both things conspired to make it seem easy and seamless. A third "image" problem is that something that works well attracts no attention. Yet another issue is that most web sites aren't associated with an income stream, so their contribution to the public image of an organization is not well understood.

I don't really mind this. I am a consultant and I learned a valuable lesson from this about value attributed to work.  I will certainly avoid the same mistakes on future work, whether pro bono or billable.

I have had something of a falling out with the church lately. I may either yank the site or start charging the church per month to host and maintain it.

Bored Bystander
Monday, December 08, 2003

If contributing to the ultimate goals of the charity is not sufficient reward, you are donating for the wrong reason. Just charge them and let them decide if they want to pay.

If you want/need something in return it's a business transaction. Treat it as such.

sgf
Monday, December 08, 2003

I totally understand how you feel about this. It sucks to not be recognized for putting in a lot of hard work and/or hard-earned dollars. It also seems that submitting an invoice with the "discounted for donation" thing would be the best way to let them know what it really cost you (because you are not being confrontational about it -- just showing them a business form for tax purposes).
However, if I could play the devil's advocate, I want to ask you *WHY* did you put forth the effort in the first place (and I do not mean that rhetorically)? Was it because you wanted someone to recognize that you are a wonderful web developer? Was it because you wanted to show how much you believe in a cause that you would sacrifice the time involved (I supposed we sacrafice time instead of livestock these days because that is the most valuable thing we have -- but I digress)? Or was it because you honestly wanted to help out, regardless of the recognition involved?
If you wanted to support your church and/or your faith, does it really matter that you get external recognition for it? Isn't just doing the job the reward enough in and of itself?

Jordan Lev
Monday, December 08, 2003

"I developed a *big* website for my church"

Just shoot yourself, NOW!

sinner
Monday, December 08, 2003

Doing something for the sole reason of acquiring gratitude is one thing, but donating something and receiving no gratitude is another.

Donations, just like any other transaction, are two sided. You donate to charity and in return you can expect to feel good about your donation and to receive the mutual respect required between any two people participating in a transaction. The fact that you are giving your work away for free does not entitle those taking it to treat you as though you had done nothing for them. If this were the case, marathon bike rides for AIDs would have no volunteers to take care of the bikers. Little appreciation equals little attendance. Requiring complete selflessness is not only immoral but impossible. Giving itself requires a impetus (positive or negative), whether it be internal or external.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, December 08, 2003

Jordan: I did the site out of gratitude for help that the church extended me at a certain point in my life and because I did believe in their mission strongly at that time.

However, certain politics have clouded my positive feelings about the church's mission, and for three years I have gotten almost zip/nada in terms of new content from them. Partially the web site has become an embarrasment; I don't like the fact that nothing has been added for a year but I went "on strike" because of the church's apathy.  No matter how much work I've put into it, it's always too difficult for them to add to what I've done, even when I make it ridiculously easy for them. Maybe I have the wrong attitude. Maybe I don't really care anymore.

It's just a relationship that has seen better days. As far as business related presence, my main line of work isn't really web sites, but it is software, so I see a web site like this as a way of demonstrating commitment to the community. But I also don't consider it a particularly important piece of marketing.

Bored Bystander
Monday, December 08, 2003

Dustin, you expressed my thoughts exactly. Thank you.

Bored Bystander
Monday, December 08, 2003

I am not a tax lawyer, but it looks like donated services (regrettably) are not tax deductible.  However, it loks like you can, and should, deduct the amount of donated business expenses for building/maintaining the web site. 

http://www.irs.gov/publications/p526/ar02.html#d0e834
http://www.foresthill.org/TaxMatters.htm

I'd second the idea for submitting a detailed invoice for labor and business expenses, and then mark it off as "donated." 

However, think twice before just yanking the site down.  You donated so much time to get the site up, and it would be a wasted effort if the site comes down.  If you're no longer willing to maintain it, that's fair -- but you should at least make an effort to help transfer the work to someone else.  (Maybe there's a budding web designer in the organization who would love some experience.) 

At a minumum, you could offer to transfer the site "as is" (with no future modifications/updates) to another host.  Or just continue to host it, without any modifications, if the hosting fees aren't too big.  After the content starts to get more stale, the organization will probably become more willing to have it updated professionally -- whether through you or someone else.

Robert Jacobson
Monday, December 08, 2003

One other thing... does the site provide you with an opportunity for some publicity/marketing?  I tend to think that "this site was developed by XZY Web Design Co." links are usually rather cheesy, but would definitely be appropriate for a donated site.

Robert Jacobson
Monday, December 08, 2003

The thing about charity sites, is that if you do it pro-bono, you should only do it for a charity that CAN'T AFFORD the site. Many charities, especially large ones, have more money than they know what to do with. 

One cool thing you can do is search for the charity on www.guidestar.org. Non profit financial statements are public domain, and this site will show you the revenue, expenses, assets, and liabilites of the charity you did work for. You can price your services accordingly.

_
Monday, December 08, 2003

This resolves down to my raison d'etre.

We are not here to be nice to people.

And by nice I mean, make assumptions about what people would like and then give them that.

And I mean, as part of your professional job do someone, a client etc, a favour.  That favour will always cost you considerably.  Do not be nice, be professional.

If you want to do favours do them on your own time, but do not expect gratitude, adoration or even complimentary drinks at the bar.  If you did the favour you did it for your own reasons.

Does this mean being nasty?  No it does not.  It means not assuming you know best and that free gifts are welcome.  Often free gifts become burdensome and expensive.

Does this mean I don't do this, of course not, I'm as inconsistent as anyone else.  And every time it falls to sand I rue the day and belabour myself for committing the sin of being nice.

Simon Lucy
Monday, December 08, 2003

Jordan,

In my case I did it because they asked me to do so and asked me to do it for free. At the time, I was doing some other volunteer work for them.

I didn't expect to be paid for my efforts, but I certainly didn't expect to be slammed and put down for the contribution while others are praised and rewarded for doing far less. If no one was given banquets I would have no problem. As I said, I wouldn't have gone to the banquet but it is an issue of 'it's the thought that counts'. Personally I think the banquet is a waste of money and part of what I learned working there was that a surprisingly small amount of their cash flow goes to the purposes which they are ostensibly organized for (less than 5%).

If you were doing volunteer work for a political campaign and you were treated like this, you'd probably reconsider your time donated as well.

Charitable Soul
Monday, December 08, 2003

"The fact that you are giving your work away for free does not entitle those taking it to treat you as though you had done nothing for them."

Thanks for stating that so elegantly Dustin.

Charitable Soul
Monday, December 08, 2003

No good deed ever goes unpunished...

x is right.  Toss an invoice in the collection plate (LOL) next Sunday and request a charitable donation receipt in that amount.  If they give you any grief, send them an actual invoice.


Monday, December 08, 2003

Oh, and look for another church!


Monday, December 08, 2003

Charitable Soul, I empathize. I've never been in your shoes but I can imagine, in some distant way, how painful and frustrating it must be.

If I may offer a suggestion, is it possible for you to walk away from this project without burning your bridges? I don't know what ongoing maintenance is costing you, of course, but in the end I wonder if you'll be better off if you treat this as an expensive and painful learning experience, rather than turning it into something combative. I suspect the folks you did the work for are behaving not out of malice but simply from ignorance -- they have no idea what level of commitment you made to this project. But even if their motives are malicious, I'd question whether retaliation is the best response. Maybe it's one of those things where you can say "Wow, that experience sucked big time, but I'll never make that mistake again."

Or have you thought about raising your concerns with the appropriate... personnel? (I'm not a churchgoing guy, so I have no idea what the right terminology is.) Maybe they would respond differently if they understood the investment you made. Maybe not, but at least then you'd know that they were doing it not out of ignorance but by choice.

Sorry to hear this didn't work out. It's unfortunate that someone with altruistic motives could end up feeling screwed. But I hope it won't turn you into a lifelong cynic.

John C.
Monday, December 08, 2003

"When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they man be honored by men.  Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.  But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you."

-- Mathew 6:2-4

Where is your treasure?
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

A Bible study! Excellent!

What say ye about the following story:

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.  As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice,  “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said,  “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him — and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked,  “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him,  “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Question: did God appreciate being thanked for what he had done for the leper?

Charitable Soul
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

John,

thanks for your concern. I'm not going to burn bridges. It's not that they are malicious but actively ungrateful. I certainly don't want to enter into combat with anyone. I am going to ask them to sign off on the itemized invoice 'for tax purposes' and include the actual out of pocket costs I've incurred. I'll also tell them I'm unfortunately no longer financially able to pay their hosting bills and maintain it and lay out for them how the hosting needs to be transferred to their name and I'll give them the names of a few contractors who I feel do good enough work to maintain it well for them.

Charitable Soul
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Charitable Soul (or is it Bored Bystander?) -

Have you sat down with the pastor and told him exactly how you feel about this? After all, they are there to counsel people and talking to him might do you both some good.

Leper
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Hi Leper,

BB and I are two entities who share a common tale and a common anonymity, that's all.

The charity is associated with a certain church but none of the pastors who are affiliated with the church run the charity. The charity itself is fundamentally a non-religious one, BTW. I have discussed it with the relevant and appropriate people and that's the problem I was talking about -- they genuinely don't appreciate, crare, oor even comprehend that I have done more than a day's work for them the past year.

--

On the ringing a bell issue, I am anonymous for goodness sake! It is completely Biblical to expect appreciation from the person you are giving alms to. The bad thing is when one announces it to others (apart from those receiving the gift) by ringing a bell or going to an awards dinner (part of why I would not attend such a dinner) with the expectation of being considered a wonderful person for all you are doing in the community. I do not do this. No one knows of the work I have done on the site and I am fine with that. But it hurts that the beneficiaries of my alms are not thankful. This is legitimate and not anti-biblical; to the contrary Christ himself felt the same way, as per the story from Luke about the 10 lepers.

Charititable Soul
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Hmmm, cautious as I might be to wade in religious waters I don't see the point of that parable as being about gratitude but about faith.

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

I agree that faith is part of this story, but in this particular case, all were healed - even the nine without faith. The main feature of the story is that out of ten healed, only one thanked God for what God had done for him. The other nine did not.

Charitable Soul
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

I agree. It's not unusual to feel disappointed at receiving no thanks whatsoever in return for a favour. I often hear the argument that wanting thanks is wanting something in return, which means you were just giving to get.

Notions like this may be well-meant, but they put pressure on people almost to be more holy than God, which is a bit much to ask, really.

Furthermore, it's one thing to manage without thanks, or only perfunctory thanks; quite another to have your efforts pissed on and insulted by the beneficiaries thereof. Not suggesting that the OP avenges himself, withdraws his services, or indeed does anything in particular. I just think it should be acknowledged that he has a right to feel hurt.

In your position, Charitable Soul, the next time they asked for something to do with the site, I would probably say, "Well, I've been meaning to talk to you about that, but I didn't know if you were still interested in maintaining that site at all, or what. I have a lot of commitments this year and it's difficult for me to continue working on your site. If you want to enter into a properly drawn-up contract, my usual fee for that sort of thing is fifty thousand dollars, but if you want to give me an invoice I might be able to look into offsetting some of that against tax as a donation. Or, I know some good developers I could put you in touch with - can't guarantee that they'll want to donate their work, though." Or you could just send them a letter to that effect, warning them that things will change in 2004.

Fernanda Stickpot
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

In fact, it's probably right to reconsider supporting a charity that has money to burn on testimonial dinners for everyone who donates $500 or more. How much do those dinners cost, $499? Sounds like you'd be well out of it.

Fernanda Stickpot
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

You might want to reconsider how you donate these sites.  Even if it is a donation of effort you should probably consider drawing up a contract.

"I will produce the following ... and host the same for ..."  All labor will be free (or at a reduced rate) for a total of X hours during which at least the following items will be operational... but all physical expenses will be billed at the standard rate."

That keeps your labor free (to a point) but your out of pocket expenses covered (which is probably what you're most angry about... not only aren't you getting paid, but you're out 6,500 and not getting recognized for any of it.

You'll probably want to put hard caps on everything, including the maximum amount of billable expenses. 

Just because you're doing it to be a good person doesn't mean you should open yourself to these kinds of troubles.

Lou
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

I am horrified that your church publicly honors people with a banquet if they donate above a certain level.

Refer to the New Testament story of the widow's mite...

Charitable soul, I'm sorry this happened to you, it is always the risk we take when we give. I hope it doesn't completely harden your heart so you don't ever give of your talents again. I don't know what the answer is...but others have touched on good ideas. If your acts of giving are not feeding your soul, maybe it's time to find another avenue for giving.

Lauren B.
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The scripture quotes were actually helpful here, thanks.

I believe I have acted and had intentions in the spirit of not letting the left hand know what the right was doing. All I wanted was: new content at *some* sort of interval; and some privately expressed sense of appreciation for the volume of work I've done for the church, reflected in support for some needs that my family and I have. I am going to be clear in any "negotiation" that I don't need or desire publicly stated accolades or credit, because there are people at the church who have done *far* more than I have who have been treated even more thanklessly.

If any of you really want to know - my family was shut out from assistance from the church in a time of extreme personal stress and need, and this has precipitated a reevaluation of my relationship with the church. Not looking for a handout either, just a (missing or lacking) spirit of Christian charity.

Anyway, this is all beside the original point of this thread, which I think the OP started as a way to examine how to achieve buy-in and support for volunteer technical work.

I'm positive that Jerry Weinberg's writings have a lot to say about assessing prospect needs and psychology in the context of determining whether effort will be wasted or not.

Bored Bystander
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Another example of how organized ANYTHING is inherently dangerous.

As George Carlin states:  "First thing you know they've got you wearing little hats and visiting people you don't like at 3:00 A.M."

Be spiritual in the way you feel appropriate and support charity annonimously.  Anything more will be a let down.


Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Actually, Carlin would have said:

"First thing you know they've got you wearing little hats and visiting people you don't like at 3:00 A.M., motherfucker!"

but I felt that that wouldn't be appropriate for this discussion.


Tuesday, December 09, 2003

"Organization" is inherently dangerous only because success tends to breed complacency and arrogance. I think you need organization in most aspects of life where individual people can't muster the level of coherent effort that a concerted team can.

The point is, personally I seek out organized religion, just as most of my clients are "organized" into businesses. I want to see larger and more significant goals pursued as an outgrowth of my efforts in the former case, just as I want to have a reasonable certainty of getting paid in the latter case.

Bored Bystander
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Point taken, to each his own!


Tuesday, December 09, 2003

OK, I'll put my little hat back on. It's tough getting up at 3 AM.

Bored Bystander
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

I've found that if you can find a charismatic leader, with a deep seeded hatred for some group, to whip the rank and file into a frothing fervor, that 3 A.M. thing is a lot easier.

In my youth, I attended an exorcism that was, without question, the most spiritual event of my life.  I prayded throughout that I would, somehow, escape with my sanity.  No such luck!

Good theatre though.


Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Re: Original Post
Been there, done that, am there, doing that.

People don't know what they don't know.  Taking offense at a testimonial dinner...if you take offense at that, there's likely a longer list of things to take offense at as well.  The person that's most bothered is the person holding the list.

Likewise, we assume that we have not offended anyone else - but we don't know what we don't know.

For my part, I've created two versions of a "key" church software program.  For the second version, I realized how much I was investing, so I started tracking my time and development notes from then on.  I've invested more than three hundred hours on the project, and that's fine.  I eventually left that particular church under...less than ideal circumstances, but I worked hard not to burn my bridges.  I still talk to my software users sporatically on a friendly basis, and to this day those users are appreciative.  (Granted, hardly anyone but the actual users even know that I ever did anything.)

I decided that my 'You're welcome, and goodbye' phase would happen once I had a fully complete version with the an installable CD version for future use.  That approach worked out very well for me.

1/4 Ain't Bad
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Charitable Soul, thanks for the excellent topic. Hopefully things work out alright in the end. Let us know what happens!

Jordan Lev
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Shut down the site no matter what. You'll get hell of lot leverage, cause they will know that you're bloody serious.

Utopia is a place where no moron exists
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

I maintain the web site for Down Syndrome NSW (http://www.dsansw.org.au). I volunteered because my daughter has Down syndrome and we're members, and their old site was getting clunky and hard to maintain.

I deliberately kept the site simple - it's just information, contact details, upcoming events, photos, etc, which they supply. No interactive stuff, no ecommerce, no scripting or server-side stuff. People that visit the site generally just want information on Down Syndrome, so we aim to provide that in a simple and straightforward way.

I'm astounded by how appreciative the organisation has been. They even awarded me with a Community Service Award this year, and have mentioned my efforts several times in their newsletters etc.

And a little plug for Joel - I find CityDesk fantastic for these types of sites. They send me an email containing a new article, and I just copy and paste it into CityDesk. I might do a bit of spell-checking and formatting, but it usually only takes about 5 minutes to post a new article (a bit longer if it has photos).

Darren Collins
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Even though the topic seemed bitter, I like the way you have discussed it. Anyway, voluntary work is tough, especially when you do it alone.
For us Europeans, it also shows an aspect of U.S. culture ; doing pro bono programming work for a Church is almost unheard of in this side of the Atlantic.

Pakter
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Read : volunteer work.

Pakter
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

(I'll risk saying...)

There are a few lessons here.

Plan these things. That is, get "buy in" before doing significant work. Treat the whole thing as one would a real business transaction even if you want to donate your time.

Keep thing simple. I'm guessing that the site is much more than is truely needed.

If work that you do might have commercial value in the future, write a contract that indicates that you'll get a piece of the profit (if it ever becomes profitable).

njkayaker
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

he mi neme is Donny. wiare re mi clothess frum chrity?

Donny
Saturday, June 12, 2004

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