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Beta Tests and Mondays…

Mondays

... always get me down. Well not really, but it's not that exciting either.

Benj has been pulling all-nighters this week developing the sign-up section of the website. (In related news, I've been sleeping quite well since no one is breathing in the same room as me. Oh, did you hear that pin drop in London? Me, too!)

So, I spent a chunk of today beta testing this bit. I tried like hell to break the thing, but Benj did a fist pump when I told him that I couldn't. Don't worry, I didn't let him get away without taking my list of suggestions for improvement.

The best part, though, was creating accounts for all these "people" signing up. I might have used your face and assigned you an amazing superlative. So, if you need ideas when this thing goes live, let me know.

As for me, I shall henceforth be referred to by my Charitocracy Username. And since it's Monday, I'm totally okay with that.

Signed,

World's Okayest Wife

Puppy Monkey Baby

Let’s Encrypt!

Keymaster

This week I'm hoping to complete a critical component of the Charitocracy web site: donor signup & billing. The goal is to make it super quick and convenient for a new donor visiting the site to sign up and commence annual credit card donations of $13/year (or more if desired). Super quick, convenient, and secure!

Toward that goal, the main accomplishment I want to highlight has been adoption of secure communications (HTTPS protocol) for charitocracy.org at no cost to us. I'm running this blog on a hosted server without any extra security, but the main charitocracy domain, aka my 2009 Mac Mini sitting here on my desk, is now running HTTP over TLS with a certificate signed by Let's Encrypt.

Usually this is roughly a $100/year expenditure. You pay a 3rd-party company to check that you control the domain of interest, and they generate you a TLS (successor to SSL if you've heard of that) security certificate which you install on your server. If configured correctly, all data transmitted between your web site and your visitors will be encrypted so bad guys snooping the network traffic only see gibberish, whether it be credit card details or other private information. You'll know it's working because there will be a little padlock symbol next to the domain name at the top of your browser.

The beauty of Let's Encrypt, a relatively new non-profit organization themselves, is that they're helping make the web more secure by encouraging and empowering everyone with a website to self-prove their domain ownership and generate their own certificates all for free using a tool they've created and maintain. I secured charitocracy.org and saved Charitocracy a hundred bucks a year all while binge-watching Making a Murderer from the comfort of my living room couch. Feel free to hop over to charitocracy.org to admire our padlock. Thanks, Let's Encrypt!

Making

All Night Long

Everyone

I've officially pulled my first Charitocracy all-nighter! It's now 6:30am, so I'll keep this brief. But here are a few of the (debatably) exciting things I've done since last week:

• Applied for and was granted business checking and savings accounts at DCU, the credit union I've used since my first job at DEC in the mid-90s.

• Set up accounts at PayPal and Braintree (credit cards), the combination of which I intend to use for donation processing. Maybe I'll integrate Amazon, too, but I haven't decided yet. Braintree credit card entry will let us take credit card info without donors leaving our site, except that the text fields into which you type your numbers are actually little frames hosted at Braintree, covering most of the PCI security concerns: we won't see or store any sensitive data ourselves. I'm hoping that once Braintree is fully integrated into new parent company PayPal, they'll also offer PayPal's 0.7% nonprofit discount on transaction fees.

• Brought my 2009 Mac Mini back to life after blunt force trauma sidelined it during our most recent New England to North Carolina migration in August. I managed to get its original hard disk back up and running, and it survived zeroing the whole disk, upgrading from Snow Leopard to El Capitan, and even full disk encryption. But if it fails, I have a new 9.5mm 1TB fusion drive ready to install.

• Installed MAMP and other goodies on Mac Mini to serve as a staging... server. Interestingly, I lost a couple hours getting outgoing email (postfix) working. Well, it works now.  And I concede "interestingly" is a bit of a stretch.

• To put icing on my all-nighter cake, compiled the first draft of our privacy policy and terms and conditions, required by Braintree.  I'm... falling asleep here... just remembering the privacy policy and... terms and conditions...

ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzz

Hello

Who’s the Boss?

I am.

There are a lot of words that have been used to describe me. Some not fit for print, I'm sure. But some others include Type A, extrovert, control-freak, and most definitely bossy. And you know what? I'm okay with those things. Probably because they are all true.

There has been a crusade against the word bossy lately. And I get it. A boy asserts himself and he's a leader. A girl does it and she's bossy. As a mom to a creative and bright girl, I find myself worrying when she seems to always be towing the line between leader and dictator. But what about if you're the boss? Does the boss ever get to be bossy?

Well, I'll be the first to tell you that I don't want a boss. No one is the boss of me. Or so I thought...

Let me back this up a bit. For more than 7 years, Benj traveled for work. It started out at a week every 2 months. Then every 6 weeks, then every month. Throw in extra conferences, worldwide meetings, and events, and before I knew it, it was not uncommon for him to be gone 1-3 (or even 4!) weeks a month. For those of you keeping score at home, I was basically home alone with our kids 50% of the time. It doesn't work for everyone, but it seemed to work for us.

Little did I know that my life was about to change. Dramatically. Benj decided to take a year leave of absence from his job (commonly referred to as The Year of Benj™ around here) and be home. All the time. I will admit that I was nervous about this transition. Could we all survive being together all day, every day? I'm pleased to report that we've made it nearly 3 months and we're all still alive. Benj is happier, the kids are glad that Dad is around more, and I finally feel like I have a parenting partner and present husband.

And you think that would be enough for Benj. But no. He had to go and rope me into this little dream of his. Sure he calls me the CEO and President. But that's just for my ego. Let's get real. He's calling the shots around here and it ain't easy for me. You try going from having a half-time husband to one who's your boss! Let me tell you, there is nothing hotter than waking up to your husband boss whispering sweet nothings like, "Hey, how are those bylaws coming along?"

Thankfully, he's not as bossy as I am.

Slide over here and help proofread this IRS form

 

It’s Business Time

I don't always attend board meetings, but when I do, I wear pajamas.

I didn't read Jessica's meeting minutes, so I don't know what level of detail they contain. But in case it isn't otherwise documented for posterity, I'd like to record the fact that the first board of directors meeting of Charitocracy Corporation on January 13, 2016 was held in bed.

I've worked in my home office since we moved to North Carolina in 2010. There's a bed in there because it serves as an overflow guest room several times a year. I'll also use it myself from time to time when working past 4am, not as much to avoid disturbing Jessica so late as to avoid being disturbed myself when the house starts waking up at 6am!

But that's not where we held our meeting.

Jessica recently set up her own home office in our bedroom. Our good friend Scott built her a custom desk to fit into a strangely shaped nook by the windows. In addition to her Staples "executive" office chair, there's also a massively oversized couch-like chair facing her desk. The kids sometimes do their homework there so Jessica can help as needed while doing other work.

But we did not hold our first board of directors meeting at that stately, crimson red desk, either.

It has been cold here in the Outer Banks of North Carolina this week. Sometimes you're just more productive with laptops in bed. Jessica was very professional, setting up a Charitocracy Meeting Minutes template for future reuse before calling the meeting to order. (Wait, has she done this before?!) We appointed ourselves to various officer positions each: Jessica as President, CEO, and Secretary, and me as Vice President, CTO, and Treasurer. We adopted the bylaws on which Jessica had been iterating daily. We resolved to open bank accounts, seek liability insurance, and hand off our Form 1023 to our CPA for inspection before mailing it off to the IRS. We set a date for our next meeting. All from the comfort of our bed.

I do hope to attract additional board members as we pick up steam this year. We'll benefit greatly from broader perspectives and deeper experience, and maybe fend off some raised eyebrows as we start up a nonprofit as a wife and husband team. But in the meantime, I will enjoy meetings of the executive committee, wherever they may be.

I now call to order a meeting of Charitocracy's Board of Directors.

It’s Going To Be a Happy New Year

We managed to get one concrete thing done in 2015 before the holidays: incorporating in the state of North Carolina. We've started 2016 by tackling Form 1023, which is the IRS paperwork necessary to request tax-exempt status and classification as a 501(c)(3) public charity. It takes an average of 110 days for the form to be processed, so there's no point doing any software engineering until our Form 1023 is shipped off. I promise I'm not procrastinating!

There's an "EZ" impossibly short version of the 1023, which we were very tempted to use, but it's only good if you don't expect to exceed $50,000 per year in donations for 3 years. Assuming every Charitocracy participant gave the minimum $1 per month, that would mean a maximum of just over 4000 users, even at the end of 3 years. No way, right?! Sadly, if the 1023-EZ is a 1st grade book report, the non-EZ version is a PhD dissertation.

As part of it I need to project financials for 3 years. It's a total stab in the dark, and I don't know whether to be conservative or optimistic in my estimates. This document will become public if/when the IRS grants our tax-exempt determination. Whether I'm way over or way under, you'll all be able to laugh when looking back 3 years from now! But I intend to aim for the sky and try to get us there, unless our accountant talks me back down to Earth.

Now, assuming we get this tome off to the IRS next week, we'll commence two parallel missions for the next 4+ months: (1) build Charitocracy from the ground up, and (2) line up as many prospective participants as possible so we hit the ground running during the first month we're operational. To that end, please like us on Facebook and share with friends and family. There's a Facebook widget on this blog page for your convenience. Facebook likes will make as good a proxy as anything until we're ready to take initial signups! You Facebook holdouts can keep following along on Twitter, RSS, or email (look for "subscribe to blog via email" on this page).

Jessica expects 100 participants for the first month. I want 500, please. Let's make it a happy new year!

Make It So

Winter Is Coming

"You know nothing, Benj Lipchak."  The meme potential is endless.

If you haven't heard, my wife Jessica and I are launching a nonprofit in 2016.  The basic concept involves mobilizing many small donations into a big pool, and voting on how to spend it.  Our mission is to make it easy and fun to give money to good causes, and encourage everyone to make philanthropy, even at a small scale, a priority and source of pride in their daily lives.

Toward the end of October I started a one year unpaid leave of absence from the job I love in order to tackle this project head on.  We're starting from scratch, so I expect it to take the full year to bring this operation online.  While I have zero experience in this space, Jessica has been around the nonprofit block a few times organizing and leading community nonprofits and gaining/maintaining tax exempt status.  This blog will detail our trials and tribulations while launching Charitocracy.

Many friends have already offered to help.  We'll use this forum to broadcast specific help requests when they arise.  Eventually we'll need guinea pigs to beta test our software.  I'll need to write all of that software first, but if you want to volunteer for some of that, too, I may be able to accommodate!  But today the call to action is for you to follow us.  Whether that means signing up for email updates (look elsewhere on this page), subscribing to our RSS feed, liking our Facebook page, following us on Twitter, or sharing this blog with likeminded friends and family, any or all of the above would be greatly appreciated!  Also, if you have any advice to share, please don't hesitate to leave comments on our blog posts.

Thank you, enjoy the holidays, and try to keep warm!

Charitocracy Is Coming