Charity Goes Online, and Fails

For the past two days I’ve been attempting to make a donation to a charity using its Web site. I’ve been repeatedly frustrated, and the way it’s happened is a lesson.

The charity in question is called the Heifer Project, which helps families around the world become self-sufficient. The idea is to give people a source of food, not a temporary supply of food. Several relatives asked me to donate there in lieu of giving them gifts this holiday season, and I gladly complied. At least I tried.

Yesterday was the first attempt. I filled out several screens of forms, putting in my credit card number and an amount. When I clicked the button to make the transaction happen, I got an error message. I tried again. Same message.

I knew I had plenty of available credit for this donation, and called the credit-card company’s help desk to see what was going on. They told me that, indeed, they had blocked the transaction temporarily, as it was a large one, because they wanted to ensure that I had intended to make it. Fraud prevention, they said.

Well, okay, I guess. I like the idea that the credit-card folks are flagging suspicious deals. Please allow this transaction to proceed, I told them. They said fine, just try again.

So I plugged in all the information again. The Heifer Project was having none of it. Apparently — I’m still not sure of this — the system created cookies on my computer that showed I’d already made a transaction. I got a different error message, saying this session was already completed. Huh?

I called the Heifer Project’s toll-free number, and sat on hold for ten minutes before hanging up. Ultimately I decided to try one more time today.

Bzzzzttt. Another error message, just like the first one. I called the credit-card company, and was told that the computers were down, so no one could help me.

Later today, I got ahold of someone at the charity’s toll-free line. She told me she couldn’t check the computers to see if my donation had been accepted. She had a good reason — there had been an ice storm in Little Rock, where the project is based, and the power was out.

If this had been a routine charitable donation I would have quit by now. I made a promise, however. And I will keep it, even if I have to write and mail an old-fashioned check.

Which is what I eventually did…

If you’re in a donating mood, I’d like to make two particular recommendations:

  • Electronic Frontier Foundation: This is one of the only organizations in the world taking the side of average people in the war over “intellectual property” — a war that the entertainment and software industries intend to win no matter how thoroughly they stomp out some of the values and traditions that made this nation great. The EFF is defending your rights.
  • Electronic Privacy Information Center: EPIC, also a nonprofit organization, has also been at the front lines of some key battles in recent years. It has done some of the finest work in exposing governmental and corporate intrusions on our private lives. Most recently it used the Freedom of Information Act to reveal the FBI’s increasingly brazen attacks on fundamental liberties in the digital age, notably its Carnivore software that can make our online lives increasingly insecure from snooping.

  • A Sordid Holiday Tale

    Wall Street Journal: Companies quietly use mergers, spinoffs to cut worker benefits. Mergers often lead to more visible forms of pain for employees, such as layoffs and plant closings. But when it comes to benefit cuts, workers and retirees often don’t even realize they are happening because the language of pension and medical plans can be arcane and some companies tend to shroud benefit reductions in euphemism.

    “Euphemism” is another word for deception, which is what these companies do to their employees in the process of ripping them off.

    General Electric is a great company in many ways. But its willingness — no, eagerness — to cheat longtime employees is disgusting.

    You have to wonder where the lawyers and accountants parked their consciences as they stretched the boundaries of decency in search of an almighty buck for their bosses. The ethics codes of the professional classes seem to have no application here.

    This entry was posted in Archives. Bookmark the permalink.