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Benj and Jessica launched a nonprofit. Follow our journey as we built a 501(c)(3) and a web site, and now usher in an endless stream of worthy charity nominees and monthly grant winners!

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Thou Shalt Count To 3, No More, No Less

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4 shalt thou not count, neither count thou 2, excepting that thou then proceed to 3. 5 is right out.

Remember when we voted in Charitocracy's Top 10 for September? If it feels like forever ago, that's because it's been almost a whole week. I'm happy to say there's no crisis that needs your attention. Everything is running smoothly. If you take no action, we'll narrow the field down to the Top 3 tomorrow night, and the world will keep spinning.

But if you feel restless, I encourage you to do 5 3 things to calm yourself at https://charitocracy.org/dashboard/:

  1. Reconsider your vote, especially if it's still set to a non-Top-10 cause. This way your vote will still count when we tally the Top 3 tomorrow. You can set it right back to your favorite cause on October 1 when the full field opens back up. Or if it's looking like your favorite Top 10 cause isn't going to get the votes, now would be a good time to try to boost another cause into the Top 3!
  2. Write a comment on the discussion thread of your vote recipient to let others know why you're picking it, in case it helps them decide. It can be short and sweet. Maybe you volunteer for this cause, or have been personally touched by it somehow. Maybe you're choosing it in honor of a friend or family member. Your testimonial could persuade others! Even if your favorite cause isn't still a contender for September, your messages will help attract voters next month!
  3. Supply an avatar if you haven't so discussion thread readers can put a face (even a fake face) to your name (even if it's a fake name). Just click on the default avatar an it will bring you to the profile photo upload page.

For once I'm not coding things up to the last minute, since it turns out that narrowing down to the Top 3 causes is a lot like narrowing down to the Top 10. Instead I'm focusing on important details, like having your email notifications call you Steven & Maggie instead of Steven & Maggie. This is important stuff. The bugs I'm killing off have nasty, big, pointy teeth!

Keep Calm and Throw thy Holy Hand Grenade

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Talk Amongst Yourselves

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Charitocracy: is it more charity or democracy? Discuss.

Things are going pretty great. We've hit a few milestones since last post:

  • We crossed the 40 donor mark.
  • The September pot crossed the $200 mark.
  • Total donations crossed the $2000 mark.
  • We crossed the 2 week mark, and selected our first Top 10!

Some new things you'll notice on Charitocracy when you next log in:

  • The donor map has a lot more pins, including our first mid-western (Colorado) donors! <3
  • The Dashboard tells us when the next phase will commence (e.g. Top 3 selection in 6 days).
  • Only Top 10 causes can receive votes this week, and only Top 3 starting next Thursday. If a cause you voted for (including one you nominated) didn't make the cut, you're free to revote at any time now.
  • There are handy icons next to the cause names to make it easy to eyeball causes that you've nominated, voted for, liked, and commented on, as well as ones that have been updated since you last checked, and ones that didn't make the cut and so can't receive votes at this time.


But the most important thing I'd like to draw attention to right now is your profile pictures, or the lack thereof. I'd like to see some discussion pick up in the forum, with nominators and other supporters of causes cheerleading and trying to attract more votes. I think this is more likely to happen if we can "see" each other, instead of a sea of generic avatars. To this end, I've turned your profile pictures into animated GIFs that gently nag you to click them and upload a photo. This is super easy to do from your phone, whether you want to take a fresh selfie, upload a screenshot you took of something on the web, or whatever avatar reflects your mood.

We narrow down to the Top 3 in less than a week, so nominators, start your hype machines! And maybe we can push that pot up to $250?!

We hear you, Benj, yet we find this somehow redundant.

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Get Out the Vote

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Just do what Benj said and vote, GOSH!

When we were low on nominees a week ago, you came through with flying colors, resulting in 15 great causes, many of which were new to me. In 18 short days, one of them will win Charitocracy's first ever pot. But we need your help.

I don't mean to sound the alarm bells again, but our latest "crisis" is too few distinguishing votes! 2 days from now, Charitocracy will narrow the causes eligible to win this month from 15 down to the top 10. Number of votes is the top criteria, and then ties are first broken by the number of voters. For example, a cause with 5 votes from 5 donors will be ranked behind a cause that receives 10 half-votes from 10 donors, rewarding the cause with a broader base of support. Then if there's still a tie, a cause with more likes will win.

The problem is, thanks to the urgency during this first month to nominate causes, we have many causes with a single vote -- the vote automatically cast by the nominator -- which cannot be changed until October. So we need a bunch of non-nominators to get in there and shake up the votes! Right now we have 5 causes that have nicely separated themselves from the pack, but we have no way of distinguishing the other 5 we need for the top 10.

If you've already nominated a cause this month, thank you, your work here is done until October. If you've already voted for causes nominated by others, you're welcome to revote as often as you like, and even split your vote among up to 5 causes, but you've already helped select our top 10, so thank you, too! If you haven't signed up yet, or you signed up but didn't vote yet, we need your help! By the end of the day Wednesday we need to have enough votes that we can name the top 10 without there being a 10-way tie...

Only one cause wins Charitocracy, but we're all winners

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Act Now, Operators Are Standing By

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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.

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The code word is ‘Rochambeau,’ dig me?

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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: https://charitocracy.org/dashboard/

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.

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Okay, So We’re Doin’ This

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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!

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Charitocracy’s Day Off

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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?

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The Other Meaning of Charitocracy?

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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.

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Timing Is Everything

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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...

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Great Outdoors and Open Houses

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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!


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