Fund local road reconstruction
June 22, 2011 3:38 AM   Subscribe

Has there ever been any discussion about setting up something like a legal or medical fund that could help out MetaFilter users unable to afford? Or perhaps a broader MetaFilter hardship fund?

We use the phrase "lawyer up" on AskMe often enough but I don't know too many people with the time or resources to bring a claim even when they appear to be in the right. And I imagine the recent search through San Francisco could have done with a little financial support, if only to reimburse the searchers for travel, for example. Then there are tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes, and whatever else might befall us.

I'm not suggesting this be something that fully funds someone's legal team or house rebuild but I know I can probably afford to redirect a McDonald's combo or two the way of the hive each week and (perhaps selfishly) I'd feel less helpless watching something bad unfold. It'd also be nice to know that even when we're arguing about Ayn Rand's rewrite of Game of Thrones we've got each other's backs.

Is this something that would be hideously unworkable or unsustainable due to trust, scope, jurisdiction issues, etc.? Anyone want to try it anyway?
posted by doublehappy to MetaFilter-Related at 3:38 AM (96 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

We should have a grilled cheese fund that could help out MetaFilter users unable to afford. There are so many questions on AskMe about pimping grilled cheese sandwiches, but I don't know too many people with the time or resources to source artisan breads and fine cheeses.
posted by phunniemee at 3:50 AM on June 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


I can think of a few issues.

We've had someone scam the community for money (u. n. owen) and a set amount just hanging there might tempt someone to do so again.

Secondly, having to administer that money will be a headache (unless some company somewhere has made that kind of thing easy) for anyone who's doing it.

Thirdly, drama gets multiplied when there's money involved... people arguing about when it's appropriate to give out money, when not,

I don't think it's a bad idea, per se, but I think that the costs outweigh the benefits. Also, I think that people are more ready to give for a specific issue, than just donate to a nebulous, future cause (I may be wrong about this).
posted by Kattullus at 4:01 AM on June 22, 2011 [14 favorites]


I can't imagine how this could be set up without becoming a complete clusterfuck. Where would the cash be held, and by whom? How would beneficiaries be selected? Can you imagine the MeTa threads?

We already do this on a case-by-case basis anyway - I can think of at least three occasions on which a MeFi member in need has received donations from the community (and one where a dickhead user effectively scammed some generous folk, which I suspect is the sort of thing an official fund might encourage).

On preview: great minds, fools seldom, &c..
posted by jack_mo at 4:06 AM on June 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sounds like a good way to make everybody hate everyone else, and cause legal problems to boot.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:07 AM on June 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


I like the intention behind the idea--helping each other out--but the administration, policy changes, codified behavior etc. that would have to be set up to make it happen just sounds like somewhere I'd rather not see Metafilter go.

And I can't imagine Matt would want take on the extra legal hassles, financial obligations, and philosophical quandaries (pay for Joe's bypass or help Jane and her kids get back into a house?) to try to help people out just to have a half-dozen bitch at him every other week for trying to make a positive change--but not their pet positive change.
posted by johnofjack at 4:10 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah. Cluster fuck. Wellknown user X gets into trouble and has the funds at her disposal. Minor, newbie user Y nobody knows gets into trouble and wonders why the fuck no-one cares. People who don't donate become pariahs. Although I love XKCD's idea of web communities replacing physical communities, I don't see how this would wendell.
posted by Jimbob at 4:15 AM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Works in the sense that Kiva has a metafilter team. So maybe start by trying to track down existing legal/medical aid charities that would be willing to work with both financial input from and output to metafilter members? Let people with professional experience assessing need, managing and disbursing funds etc do the hard work..
posted by Ahab at 4:15 AM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I hadn't come across the u.n. owen incident before, and usually I'm a sucker for past scandal on the site. It didn't look like she was conclusively proven to be a con artist in the thread Kattullus linked - did that happen elsewhere?
posted by chmmr at 4:34 AM on June 22, 2011


It turned into a cluster fuck even when it was just a one time thing, as with that human trafficking askme with the Russian girls. I don't remember the exact details but the mods and other volunteers spent an inordinate of time and effort dealing with keeping everyone happy -- what to do with the excess, was there actually any excess, is this a justifiable amount for 'x', are we sure this isn't a put-on, what am I actually donating to, is paypal going to freeze our account, and on and on and on.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:37 AM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


It turned into a cluster fuck...

After the Russian Incident there was a statement or two from the mods explaining why a formal setup for charitable purposes wouldn't be a good idea. But I can't be arsed to find it now. I'm sure someone will be along soon.
posted by marxchivist at 4:41 AM on June 22, 2011


When I most recently helped out a mefite, I just sent a US Postal money order (note that requires cash at the Post Office).

That mefite had to trust me with his address, but beyond that it was pretty simple. Prior to that, I've used paypal to donate with a credit card, which to me was a lot scarier.
posted by orthogonality at 4:45 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, fair enough. Yeah, I had some idea that the logistics would be a bit rocky, and I wasn't envisioning this as some sort of problem solving Bill Gates charity - just something to take the edge off a crisis perhaps. I have a viewpoint perhaps almost definitely not shared by others that if someone is willing to go to great lengths to gain a small amount of cash then they've satisfied my definition of "need", but I realise there would be some massive trust/verification issues for a lot of people, and I appreciate the fairness aspect that Jimbob raised.

I was thinking of the Russian thing while I wrote this but once the initial crisis was resolved (i.e. "they are safe") I stopped reading, so I missed that shitstorm.

Also just to clarify, although it's moot, I wasn't suggesting that this be affiliated with the site in any way except perhaps that the memberbase was similar.

Anyway, I hadn't seen anything like this discussed and still don't think it's a bad concept to kick around so if anyone has any idea how something like this would work better or at all I'd be happy to hear it.
posted by doublehappy at 4:49 AM on June 22, 2011


Speaking only for myself (obviously) I don't want a single fund. I feel very strongly that this is a community and that we have an obligation to look out for one another, but just as strongly that every member should be able to make a decision to take action on a case-by-case basis. And, honestly, working that way we've done a pretty good job - we've helped people move into apartments, deal with the aftermath of at least one fire, helped with burial costs, and made a lot of donations to great causes in memory of a number of lost MeFites.

The system is not official, but it certainly isn't broken, and I have no desire to see it fixed. I think we're communally good at stepping up when the need is great. An organised thing opens a pile of PayPal headaches, as well as organisation, oversight and verification issues I genuinely do not think we would collectively deal well with. At all.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:03 AM on June 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


And I imagine the recent search through San Francisco could have done with a little financial support...

Let's take this as example.

Why should it get financial support? People volunteered, no one forced them to do, and it was for driving around their home city, so why send money there as opposed to somewhere else? Surely there's a sick Mefite or one who lost a job or had their house destroyed in fire/flood/ etc. Wouldn't money better be spent on that more important emergency? Wait, who decides which situation is more important? Do we help out the Mefite who's lost his job or the child of Mefite who needs an operation? Etc, etc

Then there's the question of why the situation in SF got help. After all, the MeFite "in need" had never contributed anything to the site other than the initial $5 signup fee. He has yet to do anything with the site since help was given to him. So why should resources be directed towards someone who's shown no interest in actually participating in the community?

Yes, that's a hard and seemingly harsh question, but it's exactly the sort of question that will come up if there's an official resource fund.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:20 AM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is... not as good an idea as it sounds, for reasons others have discussed. The biggest one is probably that it would require someone to make decisions about how the money gets spent and put in the time to manage that money. The mods have enough to do.

The way it works now, individual users can stand up and organize such a donation drive if they feel so led, and other users can contribute as they so desire. It's decentralized and not very organized, but that's how communities work in real life, so I don't see why it should be any different here.
posted by valkyryn at 5:23 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it's a very well-intentioned ideal, and I share your sentiment, but I think it would be an absolute disaster.

Basically you're proposing we start an insurance collective, and there is nothing simple about the insurance industry. Either the mods would have to administer it, and I'm pretty sure they don't have any interest in getting into the insurance business, or we would have to administer it by committee. Seeing as the default colour of the site's background causes unbridgeable rifts in the user community, I don't see how we could ever decide together which username would get to suckle from our fund.

So, again, very nice sentiment, but if I were the mods, I wouldn't touch this one with a ten foot stick.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:29 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


And yes, this question has come up before, in one form or another.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:30 AM on June 22, 2011


Really bad idea. People take advantage, people question motives. It could only get ugly.

As has been seen in the past, people are more than willing to help on an individual basis. Probably best to leave it at that.
posted by h00py at 5:38 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter doesn't have to be - and shouldn't be - the answer to everyone's problems all of the time.
posted by crossoverman at 5:55 AM on June 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Back in September I floated the idea of a "Help a Mefite in Need" space here. The reception was similar to what you're getting here, but you might find the answers illuminating.

I'd love to see something like what you're suggesting happen. But it would meet with resistance, backlash and could potentially cause huge problems for mathowie and Team Mod. Great idea, but it doesn't appear to be feasible.
posted by zarq at 5:58 AM on June 22, 2011


Link
posted by zarq at 6:02 AM on June 22, 2011


I think we should use MetaFilter for linking to interesting stuff on the internet and then commenting on it.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:07 AM on June 22, 2011 [27 favorites]


So the idea is for a mutual aid society. I do think there would be the usual problems with management, criteria, fairness, etc. I prefer the idea of a MeFi Fund that's a third-party charity, not one which would give directly to members. I think the ad hoc assistance that comes up now and then in a more natural way is self-selecting and more natural for this community.
posted by Miko at 6:08 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I've noticed is that MeFites already tend to spontaneously offer support as each crisis occurs, so I'm not sure where you perceive the need for a pre-existing fund standing by at the readiness. It's a grand idea, but feels like weird overkill ("So-and-so lost his house in a fire! But look, 500 users each spontaneously gave him help cleaning out and a place to crash, and also spontaneously chipped in and gave him three grand -- which, um, makes the $250 we've managed to scrape up in the standby emergency fund look kind of chintzy.")

MeFites are good at helping each other spontaneously -- which also lets people who are broke-but-willing-to-donate-services feel like they can help too.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:41 AM on June 22, 2011


Some companies do this, subtracting a few cents from each paycheck of every employee and giving it out from a corporate account on manager recommendation to victims of circumstance. It takes the pressure off individuals having to share their pain but not having any resources to help out. Moderating it would be a headache, but crowd sourcing might make it interesting.
posted by Brian B. at 6:53 AM on June 22, 2011


EmpressCallipygos: "What I've noticed is that MeFites already tend to spontaneously offer support as each crisis occurs, so I'm not sure where you perceive the need for a pre-existing fund standing by at the readiness."

Giving over time instead of to a specific cause is less aggressive and pressured. It also allows those of us who may not be able to pitch in at a specific time to donate when we can and not feel badly that we are unable to help someone.

Also in my experience, when money is going to a fund and the greater good it's somewhat less likely to cause a backlash. People are less likely to cast judgement when there are multiple recipients.

Personally, I prefer to give anonymously. Perhaps others do as well? And it's not always possible to give anonymously to the big, public "can you help a mefite" initiatives. I've managed to do so twice.

Plus there's the embarrassment factor of having to ask the community for help in the first place. If organized well, it would be possible to have someone quietly ask for help of the people in charge of running the fund without having the entire community judge the worthiness of their need.
posted by zarq at 7:00 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this is one of those ideas that while absolutely wonderful in motivation is a real tarpit in practice; a general standing helper-outer fund is certainly not something we're likely to get into on the official side, though I say that mostly just to reiterate since I understand that wasn't what doublehappy was talking about.

I think the general responsiveness of mefites as a group to personal crises when they arise is an admirable thing, but trying to codify and bureaucratize that would be a hard and complicated and probably inevitably dramarama sort of thing because there's so many things involved.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:11 AM on June 22, 2011


Without getting too deeply into this, this will not happen at an official level. There is a strong mechanism in place for informal support but after a few highly public "help a MeFite/MeFite issue" events in MeTa, we made a semi-official decision that this can't happen at a site level. Even the "Help get a kid a bike" and "People who want to, let's join Kiva" and holidaytime threads have been somewhat problematic, even though I find that sort of thing totally okay. People react strongly to being asked for money or feeling like a situation could be helped by money and the nuances of how to manage this sort of situation are well outside what this site can support. I peronally love the idea of a Mutual Aid Society as Miko suggests, but it would have to be informal and not managed by the same people who run the site.

As it is, I've personally supported individual MeFites privately a few times, sometimes with cash and more often with offering some legwork and/or access to resources that I have and that they don't and this informal system seems to work decently well most of the time.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:14 AM on June 22, 2011


Wikipedia has this page called "What Wikipedia is NOT" - "Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia and, as a means to that end, an online community of individuals interested in building a high-quality encyclopedia in a spirit of mutual respect. Therefore, there are certain things that Wikipedia is not."

Sometimes I think MeFi needs an equivalent page. "MetaFilter is a community blog and, as a means to that end, an online community of individuals interested in sharing links, civil discussion, ans answering questions in a spirit of mutual respect. Therefore, there are certain things that Metafilter is not."
#1 - Not a charity
posted by mattbucher at 7:22 AM on June 22, 2011


mattbucher: "Therefore, there are certain things that Metafilter is not."
#1 - Not a charity
"

Not in the formal sense, no. But some members of this community have voluntarily created charitable initiatives for our members in the past, and will no doubt do so again in the future.
posted by zarq at 7:30 AM on June 22, 2011


So why doesn't someone just start a fund? The mods have said the site's not going to officially run one, but that doesn't mean the members interested in doing so can't.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:37 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


offering some legwork and/or access to resources

This is a thing MeFi consistently does particularly well, for example, on the wiki page of crisis, health, and counseling resources. There are already a lot -- maybe not enough, but a lot -- of existing on-ground sources of help for people who need it. Efficiently helping MeFites identify and get to those is by and large much more helpful and less redundant than trying to be a charity or source of funding.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:37 AM on June 22, 2011


So why doesn't someone just start a fund?

One's awesome ideas are so much better when someone else does the work.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:43 AM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


One's awesome ideas are so much better when someone else does the work.

There's also the odd problem of using MeTa for this sort of thing. Again, this is not me speaking as me, but me speaking as someone who has tracked pretty much every charitable initiative that has come through MeTa in the past ten years. Sometimes these come via dire AskMe questions, sometimes they're inspired by the holidays, sometimes someone just knows someone is in trouble.

Once these things are public and personal and there is money in play, people get suspicious and critcal and concerned that MeFi is becoming a de facto fundraiser for a person or thing. This raises questions about what is considered a worthy person/event, and a lot of scrutiny of what's happening. This spills over [not might spill over, has spilled over] into weird juju on the rest of the site where we've sometimes needed to step in or get involved in people's offline activities in ways we'd prefer not to.

So my only very very strong caveat to even a not-formal thing like this happening is that it be very clear that it's not official and that any use of the site be either quite infrequent [using the wiki AOK] or run by us first so that people don't get the wrong idea. If anyone wants to talk to me over email about specifics, I'd be happy to talk but some "how things went wrong" stories are better off not rehashed here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:50 AM on June 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think this could be simplified by everyone giving me money, and I send you all pictures of cats.
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:45 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree with others, it's not our place to help others financially in hardship as a community (individuals, of course, can do whatever they want). Especially since there is way too much of a risk of people abusing the system, or trying to con people out of money and then causing a major shitstorm.

Personally, I could never ask strangers online for money and would think it bizarre if others did. That could just be my worldview, but it really turns me off when I see people begging for money or other things online, outside of recognized/legit charitable organizations.
posted by 1000monkeys at 8:46 AM on June 22, 2011


*not our place to help other individuals, of course
posted by 1000monkeys at 8:47 AM on June 22, 2011


(and one where a dickhead user effectively scammed some generous folk, which I suspect is the sort of thing an official fund might encourage).


Jumping jiminy, did somebody just insert a daily mail readers brain into your head ? I expect this kind of right wing benefit cheat nonsense from others - but from a scouser ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 9:13 AM on June 22, 2011


I'm pretty sure there was a Metafilter scholarship at one point or another, wasn't there?
posted by crunchland at 9:21 AM on June 22, 2011


The 2001 Metafilter scholarship fund. Entries. Results.
posted by zarq at 9:25 AM on June 22, 2011


sgt.serenity: Jumping jiminy, did somebody just insert a daily mail readers brain into your head ? I expect this kind of right wing benefit cheat nonsense from others - but from a scouser ?

Guilty conscience much? Looking at jack_mo's "On preview: great minds, fools seldom, &c.", I'm gonna go out on a limb and say he was referring to the u. n. owen fiasco that Kattullus mentioned in the previous comment.
posted by gman at 9:39 AM on June 22, 2011


The u.n. owen conversation Kattallus linked above continued in a 2nd thread.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:49 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's interesting to read those two links and see how much more moderator input there is these days in MeTa threads, which I think is a good thing.
posted by JanetLand at 10:31 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Back when the whole paypal debacle happened, I remember suggesting the idea of a MetaFilter Foundation type thing, which, while not necessarily being source for directly helping MeFites, could provide a logistical platform to make doing these sorts of 'hey let's help this cause' things we do here from time to time easier and more legit. It would also enable MeFites who give to these things to write it off on their taxes, if the MeFi Found was incorporated as a 501c3b, or whatever. There would probably be benefits w/r/t the site's revenue as well, tax-wise.

Anyway, I realize it seems like it would be a nightmare to set-up/manage. I actually don't think it'd be too difficult, but yeah, I see the reasons behind the hesitation to do something like this.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:27 AM on June 22, 2011


Can somebody loan me five dollars?
posted by dramarama tarpit helper-outer bureaucrat at 12:15 PM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lutoslawski: "Back when the whole paypal debacle happened, I remember suggesting the idea of a MetaFilter Foundation type thing, which, while not necessarily being source for directly helping MeFites, could provide a logistical platform to make doing these sorts of 'hey let's help this cause' things we do here from time to time easier and more legit. It would also enable MeFites who give to these things to write it off on their taxes, if the MeFi Found was incorporated as a 501c3b, or whatever. There would probably be benefits w/r/t the site's revenue as well, tax-wise. "

Okay, can you explain how much work, money and input would be required to set up and manage a 503b fund? Keeping in mind that it would remain a separate, unofficial entity from Metafilter.

It can't hurt to discuss it aloud, at least.
posted by zarq at 12:16 PM on June 22, 2011


Sorry. 501c3b fund. (This is why I never became a lawyer.)
posted by zarq at 12:17 PM on June 22, 2011


The u.n. owen conversation Kattallus linked above continued in a 2nd thread.

I'm not seeing the smoking gun in that thread either. maybe it was just a preponderance of the evidence thing?
posted by mreleganza at 12:46 PM on June 22, 2011


I'm not seeing the smoking gun in that thread either. maybe it was just a preponderance of the evidence thing?

Yeah, from those 2 threads, it looks like a bunch of people just thought she was shady. And a bunch of people didn't. And a bunch of people couldn't decide. So why is she now being remember as someone who scammed MeFi? I'm curious.
posted by Avenger50 at 1:12 PM on June 22, 2011


It was a weird situation, and part of what made it weird was there was the "what do we actually know-as-in-facts" (which wasn't a whole lot and is, yeah, sort of inconclusive as I understand it) vs. the more situational stuff with people having known her in other communities previously and there being sort of crappy reputation stuff informing a lot of the distrust of dramatic personal narrative and such.

Whole thing was weird and there was not-so-great behavior on more than one front, certainly. The weird aftermath of u.n. owen subsequently silently taking over her boyfriend's account and posting by proxy and generating a new batch of similar-feeling drama years later before getting called on it soured a lot of lingering shreds of benefit of the doubt, though.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:25 PM on June 22, 2011


Jessamyn's previous round-up of U.N. Owen.
posted by zarq at 1:29 PM on June 22, 2011


Can somebody loan me five dollars?

Canadian or American?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:31 PM on June 22, 2011


I'm on disability. I'll take whatever anyone can spare. I have paypal.
posted by Ardiril at 1:52 PM on June 22, 2011


Keeping in mind that it would remain a separate, unofficial entity from Metafilter.

Realistically, this is impossible. If it involves Metafilter members, however unofficially, people will often see it as Metafilter related in some form or fashion.

For instance: An editorial decision on MeFi Mag prompted someone to complain to the mods. It didn't matter that the mods had nothing at all to do with the project, the individual felt the editorial decision would reflect badly on Metafilter itself and thus the mods NEEDED to know.

Mefites are still expressing anger over something that occurred in the project to help loquacious.

The way other sites handle spoilers had some Mefites wanting to change how Metafilter operates.

Nothing exists in a vacuum, especially on the web. If someone really wants to do MeFi related fund, they really need to think and consider the implications of doing so, because it's not going to be all sunshine and roses.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:56 PM on June 22, 2011


Mefites are still expressing anger over something that occurred in the project to help loquacious.

Wait, I missed something, and the link didn't clear it up. What are you referring to, or are other people referring to?
posted by Errant at 2:28 PM on June 22, 2011


Realistically, this is impossible. If it involves Metafilter members, however unofficially, people will often see it as Metafilter related in some form or fashion.

I did not say it would not be Metafilter-related. I said it would need to be a "separate, unofficial entity."
posted by zarq at 2:31 PM on June 22, 2011


Errant, someone promised something for the auction and then didn't deliver. That's all.
posted by zarq at 2:37 PM on June 22, 2011


As a recipient of many Metafiltarians' kindnesses and incredible generosity, let me chime in a bit. I'm not in favor of it for all the reasons listed above, plus one more thing: The gift is in the giving. I have, since receiving all the help I got from you folks, have become a better more caring person, and now consider it a point of honor to contribute when something worthy comes along, even if it's only a modest amount.

More important to me are the personal connections I made to people here and on Metachat, who were supportive and kept my spirits buoyed in difficult times. I now am able to count many lifelong friends among the denizens here. That's, in the end, worth more than the cash and presents I received.

I'd encourage people here to support others in our community in need, but I see no need to bureaucratize the process. There are more good people here than you can shake a stick at.
posted by pjern at 2:48 PM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


...they really need to think and consider the implications of doing so, because it's not going to be all sunshine and roses.

To be fair, that's what this thread is about. I posted it for two reasons:
1. To gauge interest, because there's not much point doing this with three contributors on the back of a napkin; and

2. To invite thoughts, critiques, ideas, and discussion of the implications because, if I was going to do this, I'd want to do it right by members and in law.
I wasn't trying to turn MetaFilter into a Yahoo! megasite that does everything including solving the world's problems - those "omg someone mentioned MetaFilter in a NYT article" threads annoy me, too.

And I appreciate that MetaFilter members have helped each other out on an ad-hoc basis in the past but I was thinking of something more holistic (and not to usurp those networks/connections) - not everyone lives within 100 miles of a large userbase and not everyone is willing to ask for or give help non-anonymously. There have been times in my life where $40 or a free Doctor visit would have made a substantial difference and now I'm in a better position blablabal. I wasn't expecting a big uptake (I'm not that naive) but I think even with, say, 200 people putting in a few dollars a week/month you've got a pretty useful resource.

And yeah, why should we help people? Well, no reason, really. Just that this is an online community with what I believe to be a higher level of debate and my experience, for the most part, has been of a level of community and positivity (tempered with generally good natured snark) unmatched by the rest of my internet haunts.

I'd be interested to see what people's reaction would have been to, for example, interest free microloans, but I suspect this isn't the place for that as it would look too much like a business venture, so maybe memail me with any ideas.

tl;dr: I completely understand the distaste for the idea and why it will probably be unworkable so thanks everyone for your thoughts.
posted by doublehappy at 2:52 PM on June 22, 2011


I've always liked and been impressed by Modest Needs, which addresses the sort of circumstances you're talking about. It's not a closed community, but it's probably a more effective charity for that.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:17 PM on June 22, 2011


Okay, can you explain how much work, money and input would be required to set up and manage a 503b fund? Keeping in mind that it would remain a separate, unofficial entity from Metafilter.

It can't hurt to discuss it aloud, at least.


It depends on a lot of factors. Basically it takes about a year to get all the paperwork in order. From there it really just depends on how big the thing is, i.e. would there be some sort of ongoing fundraising/development effort, etc. You'd have to have a board of some kind to make decisions about where the money goes, etc. Since there probably wouldn't be, say, investment management as there is with larger foundation type entities, it probably wouldn't be too much work. But it does really depend.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:26 PM on June 22, 2011


My last $93 of disposable income went towards the complete Interplay bundle on Good Old Games. Now I only have dosh left for crucial things like booze and smokes. Probably take care of that power bill at some p
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:11 PM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have been on the receiving end of Help From MetaFilter. It is amazing, and overwhelming, and I am so grateful not just for the aid but also for the genuine kindness and the connections and the budding friendships that resulted from that help.

But it's a hard thing, a fund. There's a difference between asking someone to volunteer her time and asking someone to part with her money. There's also a point at which, look -- money can maybe get a few people out of a few dire situations, but it probably won't change their lives unless it's ... more than we can probably collect amongst ourselves.

And there is a feeling of debt that comes with money that isn't quite as strong with other things, like volunteerism.

I think that, as an alternative to a MeFi Help Fund, we might look into a MeFi Help Group. People could list themselves, tell folks what city they're in and what kind of help they can offer, and what expertise they may have, and what they're interested in helping with. They could also list things they need help with.

Maybe that's been bandied about, too? It sounds like a lot of work, from a structural/logistical end. But it might be a way in which MeFites could offer one another real life assistance without the cash entanglements.
posted by brina at 4:12 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


brina: " I think that, as an alternative to a MeFi Help Fund, we might look into a MeFi Help Group. People could list themselves, tell folks what city they're in and what kind of help they can offer, and what expertise they may have, and what they're interested in helping with. They could also list things they need help with. "

This is closer to my original idea. Only I had initially proposed it as a MeFi subsite, which obviously would not work.

Despite the problems involved, I'm still considering setting something like this up privately in the future, but haven't had the time to think about it.
posted by zarq at 5:16 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks zark & ThePinkSuperhero.
posted by chmmr at 5:24 PM on June 22, 2011


(zarq)
posted by chmmr at 5:26 PM on June 22, 2011


You're welcome.

U.N. Owen has been referenced 3 or 4 times in MeTa threads over the last few months. I suppose it might be worth adding the info to the wiki at this point.
posted by zarq at 6:16 PM on June 22, 2011


It is also very stressful for people who are getting help to be subject to scrutiny from not one, not five, but literally hundreds of people at a time. So I think that balancing oversight and community direction with privacy would be a pretty big issue.

Modest Needs does this, but they also don't have a long-standing tradition of open commenting from everyone about everything.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:19 PM on June 22, 2011


"Despite the problems involved, I'm still considering setting something like this up privately in the future, but haven't had the time to think about it."

This is a bad idea with the very best of intentions. Setting it up privately reeks of a huge clusterfuck which may spawn a lot of ill will in Metafilter. Please carefully consider what you may be unleashing.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:34 PM on June 22, 2011


brina: "... I think that, as an alternative to a MeFi Help Fund, we might look into a MeFi Help Group. People could list themselves, tell folks what city they're in and what kind of help they can offer, and what expertise they may have, and what they're interested in helping with. They could also list things they need help with."
This would be an excellent idea, although there are massive implementation hurdles if done outside MeFi while still restricting participation to MeFites, I imagine.
posted by dg at 7:41 PM on June 22, 2011


Newly signed up member, but lurking for a few years.

All I wanted to say: All that un ownen stuff was pretty interesting! Didn't realize I drank 5 beers while reading it all.

Thanks guys for all the awesome!
posted by Sweetmag at 7:42 PM on June 22, 2011


Welcome to Metafilter, Sweetmag. :)
posted by zarq at 8:08 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


That u.n. owen thread is fascinating.
posted by johnofjack at 8:09 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it could be done with proper guidelines put in place on a committee type level. But, it would be work and people are afraid of getting burned. A few bad examples tend to shy people away from further acts of trust. So, it is unlikely to happen for all the reasons/excuses given already.
posted by edgeways at 8:41 PM on June 22, 2011


Some of you are being rather too polite. It's a terrible, terrible idea. Next thing you know we'll need a subsite for hard luck stories competing for sympathy (begfilter, here we come).

I imagine the givewell boys would have a good time reviewing our efficiency, however.

Y'all who like to meet up every other week and save human trafficking victims and lost grandmas and exchange secret quonsar gifts knock yourself out. I must say I find the increasing blurring of the lines between MeFi and the offline real lives of many members not only dubious, but somewhat disturbing.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:08 PM on June 22, 2011


bless your heart
posted by edgeways at 9:25 PM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hard luck story competing for sympathy example.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:39 PM on June 22, 2011


Yeah I don't think anyone is pushing this any more so relax guys - it rarely hurts to have a conversation about something.
posted by doublehappy at 11:46 PM on June 22, 2011


could provide a logistical platform to make doing these sorts of 'hey let's help this cause' things

That seems like a better approach: Not even an organization in the sense of a 501c3b, but something to make the ad-hoc helpings-out easier. A standing emergency fund has a lot of problems, and I don't think one is needed. What would be helpful is an easier way to get many small donations to a user. Right now we go through an elaborate process each time of choosing a payment method (everybody hates Paypal, but they're the only game in town), finding someone to collect and pass on the money, etc etc. Even just a MeFiWiki page on the subject of past donation drives, what worked well and what people would recommend not doing again, could be really helpful.
posted by hattifattener at 1:12 AM on June 23, 2011


hattifattener: "Even just a MeFiWiki page on the subject of past donation drives, what worked well and what people would recommend not doing again, could be really helpful."

It could.

I can create a relevant page on the wiki for people to add content to, but am a little concerned about user privacy. Are we sure that the people being referenced will be comfortable having their situations (especially the parts which may have been controversial) rehashed on an external site?

Loquacious, pjern and brina, if you're still reading could you please weigh in?
posted by zarq at 4:23 AM on June 23, 2011


Brandon Blatcher: " This is a bad idea with the very best of intentions. Setting it up privately reeks of a huge clusterfuck which may spawn a lot of ill will in Metafilter. Please carefully consider what you may be unleashing."

Nothing is being "unleashed." No one is setting anything up yet, no concrete ideas have been agreed upon, researched, submitted for mod consideration / approval and no one here is acting unilaterally.

There is no harm in discussing it.
posted by zarq at 4:34 AM on June 23, 2011


The interesting thing is that this is the second online community I participate in that has come up with this idea. There seems to be an emergent need to redefine the notion of community around what we built, rather than what our ancestors built.

That other community is a dozen or so online gamers, so it is not comparable to the problems there would be implementing this on Metafilter. However it has worked well, mostly due to some generous members with a strong belief in karma.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 5:16 AM on June 23, 2011


A strong belief in karma?

They must not be playing the same online games that I am.
posted by box at 5:45 AM on June 23, 2011


[Comment trawling not kosher. Please take that stuff to MeMail. Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:18 AM on June 23, 2011


I knew about shrimp and lobster, but I had no idea comments were also treif.
posted by gman at 8:57 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is no harm in discussing it.

That's exactly what's happening here. I am concerned with your comment about setting something up privately, whatever that means (can you define it?), yet you acknowledge you haven't had time to think about it. That's kinda bizarre, IMO.

Honestly, you sound like exactly the sort of person who should not be heading this up, let alone the question of whether it should be done at all. You haven't thought this through, yet you're already coming spouting off ideas. Your past here has come off helpful and needlessly argumentative and petty, yet with a lack of self awareness of your own role in creating this perception. Maybe you've changed, but at this point, I still question your seeming role in attempting to head this up.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:12 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


And yet.. it seems the conversation has suddenly come to a grinding halt thanks in part to your contribution, which seriously saddens me. Having a "Help Me" section is something I would like to see happen. Honestly, it's upsetting me that mefi isn't behind it and never will be but I'll find a way to accept it. (There's a part of me that is trying not to be angry about "popular" mefites getting support while other mefites who need it as much but aren't as present on the site getting ignored, which is why I would like to see Ask Me.) But more than anything if you're OK with conversing about it, how about you let us converse instead of shutting down the convo with a personal attack against one particular person? Let us have our little sky ponies to dream about helping others without sullying it with your dirty laundry.
posted by miss-lapin at 4:50 PM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Damn it I mean Help Me and not Ask Me. Harumph.
posted by miss-lapin at 4:51 PM on June 23, 2011


(There's a part of me that is trying not to be angry about "popular" mefites getting support while other mefites who need it as much but aren't as present on the site getting ignored, which is why I would like to see Help Me.)

I probably haven't spent as much time thinking about this as you have, miss-l, but I don't know how a Help Me subsite would solve that problem.
posted by box at 5:02 PM on June 23, 2011


Yeah, we don't want people spouting off ideas about things, especially if they've had argumentative (and helpful?) pasts!

Brandon, I'm confused. On one hand you're completely against anyone forming a private group; on the other, you want a say in who runs it. Sort it out.
posted by doublehappy at 5:37 PM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


But more than anything if you're OK with conversing about it, how about you let us converse instead of shutting down the convo with a personal attack against one particular person?

Part of the conversation is discussing potential problems. It would take a particularly good combination of personalities to pull this off, so it's fine to question the abilities of anyone who wants to do this privately, form a board or whatever. Because the potential for blowback is huge and the tough questions should be asked now, not later. One of those questions should be "Is this person able to do this?"

As to shutting down discussion, I have zero power to control or inhibit discussion here. But, like everyone else here, I care about the site and would be remiss if I did not voice potential problems. Other are free and quite capable of deciding whether my thoughts are truly problems.

IMO, the best outcome out what I wrote would be for me to be utterly and completely wrong and I'd be as thrilled as anyone if I was.

On one hand you're completely against anyone forming a private group; on the other, you want a say in who runs it.

First define what's meant by "a private group". Second, if someone is going form said group, one of the next questions should be "Is this the right person to do it?"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:19 PM on June 23, 2011


I think the potential negatives of a "Help Me" site function or private group are a lot more obvious to those who have been involved at the applicant level with charitable efforts than to those who have not. If it seems as though it would be simple, fair and clear to adjudicate gifts and weigh difficulties, it would not, no matter how often the applicant contributes to the site, or how great the need, or how small the gift. The ad hoc giving that occurs here now is fine; if you feel a need to do more for individual people, in a structured way, why does it have to be for MeFites? What additional good feeling is that offering that a group like Modest Needs would not?

I've gone on record in past threads supporting the idea of a MeFi Fund, but in my mind, that would be issue-based, third-party giving to another, existing direct aid organization. MeFi doesn't have the infrastructure to be an efficient, effective, and fair direct-aid organization, and a private group - though no one could stop one being set up - would, by its very subgroup nature, be less fair. Then, too, there are questions of need verification. Does anyone here really want to be in the position of detailed information gathering, application processing, weighing contesting requests from friends online, etc? Unless it were OK with everyone that this fund would be quite easily scammed, someone would have to evaluate need and verify fact claims. That's not a pretty job and making the hard "no" decision may have social repercussions here that no disbursement committee or appointed individual wants to deal with.

Currently, the direct giving here takes the form of community giving - the kind of thing you find in a church or school when someone gets cancer, loses their house, or is struck by disaster. There's nothing wrong with this type of giving, which is targeted and very efficient in that it goes right to where it's needed at the exact time it's needed. It's true that individuals more prominent in the community probably stand a better chance of receiving this kind of aid, but (a) that's what social capital is all about - you give more, you get more support; and (b) there's no reason to assume that MeFi has to be anyone's sole source of aid.

I support more giving of all kinds, but it doesn't have to be through a formal structure on MeFi. I think the quasi-organized campaigns coordinated for holiday giving and response to disaster have been great - a self-selecting pool of people contributes and they feel good about that. Again, I do think there may be a role for a MeFi Fund in the future but don't think we're well equipped to handle direct individual aid at all well. I think if you want to give to individuals, either do so through your own individual charity - just give to whomever you want, when you think they need it, even if that means ad hoc giving - or do so through an existing organization that has already taken on the burden of structuring criteria, reviewing applications, verifying data, making awards, and reporting outcomes.
posted by Miko at 8:10 PM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


PS - I don't know where 503b came from. A public charity or private foundation would be a 501(c)3.
posted by Miko at 8:29 PM on June 23, 2011


For anyone still following this thread, mathowie has an update.
posted by zarq at 6:55 AM on June 28, 2011


PS - I don't know where 503b came from. A public charity or private foundation would be a 501(c)3.

Game of telephone. I originally said a 501c3b, which is the specific designation I think would be appropriate. 501c3s are classified as either a, b or cs, depending on the specific set-up.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:49 AM on June 28, 2011


I think you might be confused, or maybe I'm wrong - if I am, I would love a link to that section of the tax code. I've never heard of that, and I've been in 501(c)3s all my life.

As I understand it there are only two types of 501(c)3, the public charity and private foundation. The 501 is the section of tax code governing exemptions. The (3) is for
3) Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.

There are other 501(c) organizations that aren't public benefit charities - they are numbered from 1 on up, but the only ones that receive exemptions as charitable, public benefit organizations are under 3.

I'm unaware of any division of this category into groups a, b, and c but would like to know about that if there's something I've missed.
posted by Miko at 4:55 PM on June 28, 2011


« Older Every so often I see questions...  |  The Queen is Dead JK LOL LMFAO... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments