Act Now, Operators Are Standing By

Great Scott! September nominations at Charitocracy end at midnight!

We've raised $988, and you've nominated 7 causes so far.  Not bad for week 1!  Today is the last day to nominate causes for September, so if you have a pet cause (whether or not it's actually a pet cause, though we do have 2 of those in the running already) please sign up today and nominate it. The Top Ten narrowing that occurs a week from now will be a tad anticlimactic if we don't get 4 more causes...

So there's no day like today to sign up! $13/year (or more if you want). Even if you prefer not to get involved in the process, nominating or even voting, you'd still be supporting a dozen charitable causes each year without lifting another finger. And the more $ in the pot each month, the more interesting it is for everyone else, attracting more donors to give!

In other news, we just received our solicitation approvals from Michigan, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Oregon, so we'll be able to open the front door to the site before we know it. There are only 7 states and jurisdictions (yes, I'm looking at you, DC) we're still waiting to hear from. Which reminds me, I need to decorate the front door of Charitocracy with a sales pitch so first-time visitors understand what we're trying to do and how it all works. If you have any ideas for good taglines (or bad ones) I'd love to hear them!

Hmmm, shaved and wearing a tie... Yeah, I'm really feeling I can trust Benj with my charity money.

The code word is ‘Rochambeau,’ dig me?

It's an older code, sir, but it checks out.

The Charitocracy main page remains the same poker-faced, "Coming soon!" message it's been all along. Until we're granted permission to solicit from the general public across the nation, this is how we'll keep the charitable hordes at bay: a secret back door for friends and family.

Not unlike Charitocracy, Rochambeau is a bit difficult to say and spell, so instead use this link to get in:

Note that beta test accounts and nominated causes have been wiped from the server, so don't be surprised that your old username/password aren't recognized.

Please sign up at a donation level you're comfortable with, maybe nominate your favorite cause of broad national appeal (i.e. probably not your local school PTO!), and definitely report any problems you encounter, big or small, via this blog, Facebook, email (benj at charitocracy dot org), or text message. Screenshots welcome!

Nominations will close in 7 days, at which point you'll receive an email summary of the newly nominated causes. (I hope there's more than 10, or it'll be real hard to narrow them down to the top 10 halfway through the month!) Vote now, revote later! Your vote won't be locked in until September 30.

I'm excited that Charitocracy is ALIVE, we have real donation dollars going into the pot, and we'll be able to write a real check to some deserving cause a month from now! Let's make that check as big as possible, friends...

Invention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple.

Okay, So We’re Doin’ This

Raise a glass to Washington, D.C. tangling us in their Charitocracy

Big news!  But first, a status update, now that I've been back from vacation in California for a few days:

I hired a registered agent for the District of Columbia, completed 3 of their many forms, and mailed off the last of them yesterday. I still have at least one big one to go (BBL-EZ -- ha!), but it requires waiting for prior ones to be processed first. Meanwhile, I've been following up with the ~20 states we haven't heard back from yet, getting green lights from a bunch of them via email today. So that leaves about a dozen states we expect to hear back from in the next couple weeks, eventually granting us permission to "do business" and solicit donations in their great states. I only hope to break even on the nearly $2000 in annual fees required for the privilege to operate a charity nationwide. At least our nonprofit status is more secure than ever.

We've certainly done the legwork in good faith, but technically we're supposed to wait for all the green lights before opening up the web site to take donations. Our CEO (remember her?) thinks we should flip the switch now regardless. Clearly she's an adrenaline junky not averse to living on the edge! As Grace Hopper (the Navy's amazing computer pioneer) put it, "It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission." I'm inclined to agree.

So here's my compromise: I'm going to leave the front-page of the site in its current "under construction" form. I'm going to reset the database, removing all beta test users and their nominated causes, starting from scratch. I'm going to turn on real credit card processing. And then we're going to conduct illicit charitable business behind closed doors, like a speakeasy during prohibition. Just you and me, see.  Friends and family and loyal followers. No soliciting strangers during this first month! Which is actually perfect, because it will also give me time to put together the "pitch" for the rest of the world to see on the front page.

Starting in September we'll go through the full cycle for the first time, for real, with real $ at stake: nomination week, top 10 selection week, top 3 selection week, then awarding Charitocracy's first check! This will depend on a bunch of you getting your nominations in starting Thursday so we actually have more than 10 causes from which to select. But based on the number of people who've been asking, "When will it go live already, come ON, seriously?" I'm not concerned in the least.

Pardon me, while I go finish the web site now.

You have your orders, Benj, go, man, go!

Charitocracy’s Day Off

How could I possibly be expected to handle Charitocracy on a day like this?

Some good news and some bad news... which do you want first? Good news first? Okay, you got it!

We shipped off all but 3 of our state-by-state solicitation registration or exemption applications this week. That's 38 different forms, fees, and combinations of certificates, founding documents, IRS letters of determination, budget estimates, and/or first-born children. Only 3 left to go, the ones where we're dragging our heals to pay the $100/year for registered agents: DC, MI, and ND. We'll get there!

Helping get all that paperwork done sucked all the time out of my August so far. And that means I couldn't code up the new weekly Charitocracy touch points before heading off on vacation. You may have noticed the distinct lack of email after week 1 summarizing the new nominations. And you'll notice today the deafening silence of no email highlighting the top 10 causes yet. We'll get there, too!

But for now, "Life moves pretty fast." If I don't stop and look around once in a while, I could miss it. (Back in action circa August 25. Feel free to continue testing out Charitocracy in the meantime!)

Lipchak? Lipchak? Anyone?

The Other Meaning of Charitocracy?

Join Charitocracy as we celebrate Red Tape Awareness Month

This week has been brought to us by the letters, F, U, and the number 41. That's not just my age, it's also how many states and jurisdictions (read: Washington, D.C.) with whom we need to register before we can solicit donations nationwide.

Jessica and I would be nowhere on this task yet if it weren't for the week-long tireless effort of none other... than my mother! She paved the way by pre-filling every PDF from every state that requires a paper form, each one a unique snowflake of pure charitable bureaucracy. Might one say: a charitocracy?

We still need to fill in some blanks where Ma left us sticky notes to flag the tricky bits. We still need to hire "registered agents" with in-state addresses at nearly $100/year to do nothing more than wait around and answer the door if we get served with a lawsuit. (Speaking of which, if you reside in CA, CO, MI, ND, OR, or DC you could possibly save us $100/year by letting us list your name and address instead of a for-profit company's!) And then we need to get most of the forms notarized. Only then can I get back to the fun work, putting the finishing touches on the web site.

Speaking of which, we're only 2 days from the end of Week 1 in the new 4-phase monthly routine. That means 2 days left to nominate a new cause if you're so inclined! There haven't been any new nominations yet this month, so have at it, please! Motivate us to get this paperwork done so we can turn on actual donations in September!

I'm watching you, Charitocracy. Always watching. Always.

Timing Is Everything

Please Benj, tell me more about how Charitocracy will be ready to go live in June 2016

Okay, beta testers new and old, we're at the end of another month.

I recently added the end-of-month code that actually does something at the end of the month. At the stroke of midnight (NYC time) it counts votes, records a winner, cancels all votes donors had cast for it, makes voting for the cause impossible for the next 11 months, adds it to the Celebrate page of past winners, and emails everyone about the winner (unless you've opted-out in your notification preferences).

So let's test it, shall we?!  Usual fake credit card: 4242 4242 4242 4242

Jessica and I have discovered a bit of an administrative obstacle to going live, accepting real donations: the requirement to register for solicitation of donations with nearly every state in This Great Nation of Ours, each with its own set of forms, fee, renewal cycle, etc. So what this means is we have one more month to do a full test of the new (not yet coded!) monthly cycle:

  • At midnight, start of new month: name last month's winner, open up for new nominations, voting begins on full field of nominees
  • At midnight end of week 1: end new nominations, email out digest of newly nominated causes, voting continues
  • At midnight end of week 2: narrow down the field to top 10 causes, email donors the list and encourage re-vote
  • At midnight end of week 3: narrow down to top 3 causes, email donors the list and encourage re-vote
  • Name winner, lather, rinse, repeat!

This new cycle, led by your recent Facebook poll responses, is intended to make Charitocracy more fun and engaging by providing several "touch points" during the month: news updates on progress and motivation to get back on there and take action. A donor can continue to take a hands-off approach and let Charitocracy be their crowd-curated charity-of-the-month club. But I like having something to actually go on there and do more than once a month. I hope you agree?

So let's close July out with a new winner under the old "anything goes" approach, and meanwhile I'll code up the new world order and have it ready for August 1! Feedback appreciated, as always. (You'll find us slaving over the mimeograph machine in the back office, filling out our TPS reports solicitation registration forms.)

If I don't get my red stapler back...

Great Outdoors and Open Houses

Wow, they must be all out beta-testing Charitocracy

I'm back from a week of camping with the kids, and happy to see Charitocracy's beta test server is still humming along with no signs of missing me. I would be lying if I said the reverse were true. I'd have pulled all-nighters in the tent if I had (A) power, (B) Internet, (C) Hodor to carry me around the next day on the hiking trail with the kids.

As I get back to work here, I've decided that keeping the test server online as I make further progress will be a good way to build my discipline as a fledgling sysadmin. I'll use maintenance mode (shutting down the site with a "back in 5!" message) sparingly and do most of the new work on a separate staging server before merging the databases back together and putting the new code online. It will slow me down a bit at first, but once we go live this is how I'll need to operate anyway, so best get used to it now!

All of this is to say: the Charitocracy beta test open house is permanent. Jump on whenever you feel inspired to test the latest and greatest. I'll post here on the blog when there's something new to try out. This post has instructions and caveats that I'll try to keep current. Happy beta-testing!  Hopefully the open house will be short-lived, and I can instead start taking actual sign ups...

Charitocracy's open house shall remain open!


Everyone’s a Critic

Never mind using Charitocracy, they can't even say or spell it right! Ha ha ha

I spend a lot of time under the illusion that I'm my own worst critic. While I try to hold myself to a high standard, and don't often live up to it, I at least aim high before I fall short. I'm extremely detail-oriented... especially when looking over someone else's shoulder. It's only when I invite other critics to the party that I realize how easy I've been on myself, how many corners I've cut, mistakes I've made, and how much better I can do.

With fresh eyes, desire to help, and the necessary distance from the nuts and bolts of this endeavor to question everything, you beta testers have provided me a wealth of ideas, big and small, on how to improve Charitocracy. I still have some big ideas to digest, but at least most of the smaller ones have been tackled embraced and are now visible on the test site.  Consider this a Charitocracy open house for critics!

If you missed the last beta test, feel free to jump on now. Fake credit card: 4242 4242 4242 4242 with any future expiration date and any 3-digit CVC. It is certainly not too late for any and all feedback. See the beta test announcement for caveats/known issues.

For those of you who already beta tested, feel free to jump back on, see what's changed, which of your reported bugs have been addressed, and then please try out the new WYSIWYG comment editor to make sure it works well enough. I've left your accounts exactly as they were, though of course you're welcome to sign up again with another email account. (If you've forgotten your password, go ahead and try to recover like you would in real life!)

Here's a summary of the bigger ticket items I've addressed since the first beta that started 2 weeks ago:

  • Support retina displays (high-dpi avatars, logos, icons, etc.)
  • Use simple WYSIWYG editor for discussion posts
  • Add vote summary to donor account widget
  • Big reminder to hit Submit button after entering CC #
  • Improve layout for small screens
  • Fix momentary flash of menu during page load on small screens
  • Donor map can go full-screen
  • Make discussion comments editable forever
  • Add alphabetical sort of causes
  • Use display name (vs. username) if set in profile
  • Limit length of display names shown
  • Change donation page now shows all 4 plans, defaults to current plan
  • Make one-time donations adjustable on its page, not just in widget
  • Add 'apply' button when changing split vote percentages
  • Detect when in iOS Facebook browser, provide instructions
  • Add note about checking spam folder if password reset email not received
  • Make social share pop-up less obtrusive on large screens

I'll be traveling non-stop for the coming week, but will check in on the Charitocracy open house from time to time, and look forward to your criticism. Bring it on!

Charitocracy #fail list? It's already been broughton.

The Aftermath

The morning after Charitocracy's beta test

It's been a week since our first 2-day beta test, and I've been busy! I received a lot of useful feedback from so many of you, and wanted to give shout-outs to those who took time to type up a laundry list for me: Lionel Lemarié, Kim Belli Andews, Brian & Julie Miller, and Alistair Bell. I've nearly worked through all of your suggestions!

Thanks also to those who IM'd me your quick observations and thumbs ups. And extra special thanks to Stephanie LaFond, Lisa Nicholson, Andrew Whitaker, and Amy Cayer who each created multiple accounts to test more features and device compatibility. You and everyone who helped beta test are amazing for pitching in on this critical effort!

The vital stats

  • Length: 2 days
  • Number of beta test accounts created: 39
  • Number of causes nominated: 16
  • Number of votes cast: 31
  • Number of likes: 63
  • Number of comments: 22
  • Breakdown of Bronze/Silver/Gold/Platinum memberships: 26/4/5/4
  • Most generous one-time donation: $2500 (the max!) by Amy Cayer
  • Funniest one-time donations: $314 (π) by Alistair Bell, $167.12 (no idea!) by Mary Bartlett
  • Most popular: Project Shakespeare with 9 likes nominated by... me (as KennyBranagh)
  • drumroll, please?
  • Total pot size for June: $8691.12
  • Most votes: Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Inc. with 2.6 votes nominated by... me (as Vonnegut).

And that's why Charitocracy won't be in the business of nominating causes.  Clearly I'm way too persuasive?

Stay tuned for the next round, where I'll open it up for folks to test all the improvements and bug fixes, and perhaps focus on another aspect of the site that needs attention.  Onward!

Keep calm and beta test

Once More unto the Breach, Dear Friends

Blood & guts, maming & dismembering, fine, but Benj wants us to test Charitocracy?!

The day has come for you to help in a very real way. I want you to do a quick beta test! I've given you a test credit card # to use below, so it's only your time I need right now, about 15-20 minutes? But it has to be before the clock strikes midnight (EDT) on Thursday night June 30! Yeah, that means today or tomorrow, the sooner the better!

10-Step Test Script (or as many as you can!)

  1. Go here! (Thanks, and stay tuned for next round of testing!)
  2. Sign up, which includes choosing a recurring donation plan. Use credit card # 4242-4242-4242-4242, any future expiration date, and any 3 digits for CVC code. Feel free to use a fun fictional username, but email address has to be real for account creation. And please use your real full name in the signup form so I'll know who it is if you have issues!
  3. Choose one of these two options (or sign up twice with two different email addresses and do both for double the fun):
    • Nominate a cause, especially if you're one of the earliest testers. Nomination will lock in your full vote for the month. Or...
    • Vote for one or more causes that have already been nominated. You can split your vote amongst up to 5 causes. You can even adjust the split.
  4. Add to the discussion of as many causes as you want, but please comment on at least one. Don't worry, it's 90% friends and family in here and I'll be deleting all of this beta test content before we go live. Say whatever you like! Feel free to experiment with fancy formatting, video links, etc.
  5. Like some other nominated causes, after all, they're free! You get one vote (split up to 5-ways) but as many Likes as you... like.
  6. Sweeten the pot by adding a one-time donation. Be generous, it's only play money for now!
  7. Get on the map by entering your rough location (or a fictional one) into your profile, if you didn't do it during sign-up. You can fine-tune or remove your rough location at any time.
  8. Give yourself a profile pic if you like. It'll make beta testing more fun this way, I promise!
  9. Change your donation by increasing or decreasing your recurring donation plan or cancelling future donations. You could also try changing your credit card #, though you'd just change it to the same pretend one above, so it's a bit silly.
  10. Report bugs that you encounter, or things you're not sure about. If it wasn't easy enough to self-discover how to achieve the objectives above, let me know! I'd much rather hear it from you while I can fix it than from strangers after we go live. Post your feedback as a reply to this blog or on Facebook or in a private message or email. Equally valuable would be a message saying "I ran through your script on my <details of your PC/phone/tablet, browser> and it all just worked!"


  • Not yet Mac retina-friendly! Doh!
  • When held in standard portrait orientation on iPhone (and probably other small devices), text is cramped and wraps funny sometimes. The commenter's avatar floats in a weird spot! But everything should work.
  • Social aspects of site (friending, display name, notifications, privacy) aren't totally complete yet, but some parts are there.
  • Pitch video and other pre-signup materials are not in place yet.
  • Celebrate page, which will have leader boards and info on winning causes is not complete (or even started yet).
  • It all needs to be a bit faster and prettier, agreed. But do report to me if things were unusably slow or unbearably ugly. I need to know!
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'