The Internet is marvelous. I love the Internet.
The Internet is a curse. I hate the Internet.
Attach me to a polygraph and the needle wouldn’t budge.
Now, you might think that makes me schizophrenic. I prefer to side with F. Scott Fitzgerald, who said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
Besides, I’m fairly certain I am not alone in my clashing emotions about a technology that quite literally has changed our lives.
No other invention has made the acquisition of knowledge so fast and easy. But no other invention has made the ability to spread misinformation so fast and easy.
My most recent reason for being a hater is a well-intentioned email from a reader who figured I would be interested in the topic because of a couple of columns I wrote about deceptive charity fundraising.
I had noted that the nation’s biggest charity telemarketer, Bath-based InfoCision, often keeps 70 to 80 percent of the money it raises for major charities.
In another column, I zeroed in on AMVETS, which allows third-party callers and drivers to collect goods using the AMVETS name and sell them at for-profit thrift stores such as Village Discount. Only a tiny portion of the money is forwarded to AMVETS.
The fact the reader took my research, which included interviews, database searching and number crunching, and coupled it with bogus information that came her way on the Internet was particularly discouraging.
I read your articles on bad charities, so when I received this email, I thought you might be interested in reading it (though you might know all of this information already).
After reading your article, I decided to not shop at Village Discount anymore (I have two sons under age 7 who grow like weeds, so I won’t buy brand new clothes for them until their late teens when they stop growing!). But I thought Goodwill was still OK until I read this.
I was saddened to learn this, since I have donated to some of these charities in the past, but it’s good to know this information so that I don’t waste more of my hard-earned money on a greedy CEO.
She attached an email that had been forwarded to her by a friend who also forwarded it to nine other people.
The headline: “THINK BEFORE YOU DONATE.”
“As you open your pockets to do a good thing and make yourself feel good,” it read, “please keep the following facts in mind.”
Thumbnail rundowns on a number of charities followed. Goodwill’s entry said:
“CEO and owner Mark Curran profits $2.3 million a year.
“Goodwill is a very catchy name for his business.
“You donate to his business and then he sells the items for PROFIT.
“He pays nothing for his products and pays his workers minimum wage! Nice Guy.
“$0.00 goes to help anyone!
“Stop giving to this man.”
Nice rant. Slight problem: It isn’t true.
For starters, the CEO is not Mark Curran. It’s Jim Gibbons, who has been in that position for five years. More to the point, Goodwill’s CEO makes $725,000 a year, not $2.3 million.
Gosh, missed it by a mere $1,575,000.00.
Gibbons’ salary is public knowledge. Anyone can look it up because the Form 990 tax returns of charity organizations are posted on the Internet. (Wow! I love the Internet!)
And Goodwill is not a profit-making operation. It is a nonprofit group that spends its money on job-training, job placement and other community-based programs for people who have disabilities, lack education or face other barriers to normal employment.
Does Goodwill pay low wages? You betcha. But many of the people receiving those wages wouldn’t find work elsewhere.
The independent group CharityWatch gives Goodwill a rating of “A.” It says Goodwill uses 85 percent of the money it takes in on its programs.
The people who pass along bogus emails are generally well-intentioned. They realize that knowledge is power, and they want to help their family and friends (and newspaper wretches) attain it. What they apparently don’t realize is how easily total fabrications now pass for “knowledge.”
I will not dispute that $725,000 is a big-time salary. But Goodwill is a huge international organization, and it should be run by somebody who knows what he’s doing. Gibbons has an MBA from Harvard.
Could Goodwill find a great leader for, say, $400,000? Probably. Feel free to argue that point. Just don’t claim he’s making $2.3 million when he’s actually making less than a third of that.
How can the folks at Goodwill — or any organization — combat false information that circulates in high volume over the Internet for years and years? I’m not sure they can.
But we can at least try to help. Do yourself and your friends and me and everybody else in this grand land a favor: Before you hit the “forward” button on an email, do a little research.
If you don’t have the time, the “delete” key is a marvelous option.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com.