Plain Speaking

Here Be Dragons . . . The Perils of Volunteering in Cyberspace

Dear Peeps,

I apologize in advance for the opacity of this post.  I may lift the veil in the future, but right now I have no interest in shaming the organization or the individuals involved.  I’m simply offering this as an object lesson and a gentle warning.

A few years ago, I volunteered to code and maintain a website for a charitable organization located in another country.  On the other side of the world from me, in fact.  (I’m in SW Pennsylvania, in the United States.)

A little professional background:  I retired ten years ago from a career in Health Care Information Technology.  When I retired, I was a senior manager at a community hospital, responsible for all desktop and mobile technology and for all servers, and all local and wide-area network infrastructure at the home campus and about twenty-five remote locations, region-wide.  Along the way, I’d cut my chops in many different areas, including, for a few years, the design, coding, and maintenance of websites for a number of small to medium-size businesses, most of them (because of my belief that charity really does begin at home), local non-profits to which I donated my time.

When I took on this ‘international’ project, I considered my substantial contributions to WordPress, to domain registration services, to several plug-in vendors, to a number of financial clearinghouses, and to sundry other necessary underpinnings to make the site work, just part of the deal, and I committed in writing to the organization’s financial officer that I would continue to underwrite the several hundred dollars a year necessary for such support, for at least the next five years.  I investigated, researched and implemented a “dual-language” option for the website, so that a person visiting it could easily pick the native language for the organization’s location, or could choose “English,” the language of the majority of the underwriters and supporters for the charity.  I found translators in the United States who could help me produce both English and [native language] pages. (This was not a trivial undertaking given the language involved.)

There was only one native speaker of English at the organization, and he was my point of contact.  We had a good relationship, and things were moving forward at a good clip, although the eleven or twelve hour time difference presented some difficulties when it came to setting up meetings or even just conversations.  I also had a close friend (the person who’d first introduced me to the organization when he contacted me online in 2016) who did not work for the organization, but who was living in the area and who had a history of helping out the organization with financial donations and material goods.  (In fact, in 2018 this friend and I had visited the organization, on a trip I made to the country in question, and in the course of which we donated a significant amount of food and supplies.  That visit encouraged me to believe that this was an organization I could help by donating my decades of professional expertise to enhance their presence on the web.)  Between my contact and my friend who lived close by to the organization and who said that he would assist with the project, I thought that I was well-situated and well-informed and working in good faith with a good friend and a  reputable organization.

One day, though, when I was testing my way through the “donation” portion of the website, and at the point where I was ready to deploy it in a test mode, the PayPal links suddenly stopped working. (Getting PayPal to work smoothly as a donation option for one-time and/or recurring donations was a significant focus of the project.)  I thought the sudden problems with PayPal were an anomaly, so I called PayPal to see what the problem was.

The person I spoke with informed me that PayPal had suspended the organization’s account due to suspicious activity.  I won’t go into the details, but, were I PayPal, I’d have been worried too.  I contacted the person I was working with at the organization.  He explained what was going on, and that he’d been in contact with PayPal too. He told me that PayPal would probably never re-enable a “business” account for the organization (which rather put the kibosh on what I was trying to do), and that they best they could probably hope for was a new, personal PayPal account for someone who worked there. Last time I looked, this appeared to be the case. (Personal PayPal accounts do not work the same way, nor have the same options, as the business accounts).

I emailed my friend (who didn’t work for the organization, but who was a long-time supporter, and who was my ‘boots on the ground’ in the local area on the other side of the world.)  I expressed my discomfort with what I’d heard, told him I’d appreciate a second opinion, and asked him, several times, to please look into what was going on, and see if the story I’d been given by PayPal and by the organization’s employee checked out.

But my friend had decided by then that he wasn’t my friend anymore (a story for another time, perhaps), and he never responded to any of my urgent requests that he reassure me that all was well at the organization, and that no risk could accrue to me personally by continuing to associate with it.

So, eventually, at the suggestion of, and with the consent of, the only person who was communicating with me, the organization’s English-speaking employee, I stopped all work on the website.

I was at the point where the next step would have been to take things from “test” to “live,” to involve myself personally with the organization’s finances, and to provide my name and personal details to the organization’s bank and its accountant as part of the process of setting up credit card methods of payments for donations.  Once I did that, I’d have become a person whose identity would have been associated with the organization, and who might have found herself a responsible party, should any further irregularities have occurred, or should any financial liabilities have been determined and redress have been sought (I’ve spent years on the boards of charitable organizations in the United States, and I know how such things work).

By the time I backed out of the project, I’d sunk upwards of $1000 in my own money, and given thousands of dollars of “in-kind” services (my time is valuable, and I can still command a substantial fee for professional expertise, whenever I choose) to a charity on the other side of the world. (That charity is not registered in the US–setting that up was also part of the project I was working on–so don’t be thinking I got some massive tax deduction, please.  I did it for love of the organization.  Not for money.)

But I’m not a fool. Even for love.  The risk of tying my own name, and my financial assets (which are not extensive), to an organization whose reliability and integrity I couldn’t speak for, and for whom my friend would not speak up, was just too great.

Today, I found that the “friend” who wouldn’t respond to my urgent pleas for help and information is making snarky comments about me, and about the organization’s existing website (which I had nothing to do with) elsewhere on the Internet.  And that one of his “friends” (who’s utterly ignorant of any facts here) is making uninformed comments like: “To volunteer to do something for [a charity] and then totally abandon the project is shameful.”  I completely agree.  That’s why I wish my friend had gotten involved and helped me when I asked for his help.  I agree his behavior, then and now, was shameful.

But his behavior is nothing new.  These are angry and bitter people who’ve been insulting me and trolling me for years, God knows why. Nothing better to do, I guess.  Poor them.

Nevertheless, I am grateful to them for the opportunity to tell this story and to suggest that anyone who wishes to use his or her God-given or learned abilities to help others should think twice, take heed, watch out, and make sure you have all the “I’s” dotted and the “T’s” crossed before you begin.  Make sure you can trust the people you’re dealing with.  And make sure your “friends” are on board in case you need help.

God Bless.

RWKJ

 

PS:  The image at the top of this post is the El Greco portrait of St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of lost causes.  Story of my life.  LOL.

3 thoughts on “Here Be Dragons . . . The Perils of Volunteering in Cyberspace”

  1. Not only are there dragons but keyboard warriors who’ll criticise you for trying to do something helpful while they themselves sit on their backsides doing nothing other than passIng comment and wind.

    There’s something amiss here. The fact that the person who introduced you to the organisation wouldn’t assist you leads me to wonder if they’re already suspicious of the organisation’s credentials or if they might be complicit or aware of other nefarious situations with them.

    Consider it a lucky escape. Thanks to PayPal who alerted you that there were issues which caused them concern. This gave you the opportunity to withdraw before you innocently became embroiled in an organisation with apparently significant irregularities.

    There was another escape and life lesson here too. Be alert in virtual and real life not only for dragons, but for a wolves in sheep’s clothing.

    1. True dat, thanks.

      One doesn’t (at least, I don’t) like to speak ill of one’s friends, and I’m reluctant to believe that my former buddy knew of, or was part of, something shady. But he didn’t help his cause (in every sense) by refusing my good-faith and rather simple request that he check into, and reassure me that everything was on the up-and-up with, an organization I supported, and in which I’d invested quite a bit of money and a great deal of time, effort, and expertise. Shame that, apparently, a sudden, inexplicable, and overwhelming determination to “ghost” and spite me, outweighed his desire to do something useful and good for a charity he claimed to support.

      Still, different strokes for different folks. I suppose. Hope he’s found his.

      I’ll be keeping a wether eye (little agricultural joke there) out for wolves in wolves’ clothing from now on, too.

      Cheers!

    2. Well, on second thought, perhaps you are right. Either complicit (that’s the simplest explanation), or so blinded by vitriol towards me he’d much rather show off and beg for what he calls “strokes” from his sycophantic, lying little crew than he would actually provide useful help to the organization in question. His current claims are that I am lying (I expect he’s read this post), and that the organization probably didn’t want me on its team; but that being from Thailand, they were too polite to tell me so, so they made up the PayPal story instead! Here’s exactly how he put it:

      “Maybe they told a white lie to the above-mentioned source [that would be me] in order not to have to tell her directly that they did not want her on the team/staff. That would be the Thai ‘face-saving’ way to deliver bad news.”*

      and

      One of us is lying.

      Technically, the second statement is true, in a Smullyan sort of way. When he says “one of us,” he means either me or himself. And, indeed, one of us is lying.

      Let’s follow his theory down the rabbit hole into the bowels of Hell (where it belongs). To do so, we must believe that the organization was so anxious to get rid of me that they decided it was worth spreading the story that, due to untoward account activity, they had been permanently banned from PayPal–far and away the simplest, the most-widely used, and the most well-understood method of payment and donation in the world–and that they got PayPal to collude in this tale when I phoned PayPal and spoke with a lady named Robin–who backed up the story that, because of hinky account activity, they had been permanently banned from PayPal. (Although not really, because this was all a smokescreen, just to get me off the website project, right?)

      eyeroll

      Lord, I do feel important. People keep telling me it’s not all about me, but I guess it really, really is, if it was worth such a risk to the organization just so it could poke me in the eye this way.

      The problem with that story is that the organization’s website is still not taking donations via PayPal. One would almost think that their account had been permanently closed, and that they can’t re-open it! One assumes they would if they could, for the reasons mentioned above–it’s the most widely used and understood method of sending money somewhere, worldwide–and that they fact that they are not using Paypal indicates the absence of an account. That seems reasonable, na?

      Perhaps, just perhaps, what I have said here is true. Just a thought.

      I have no doubt, based on my phone and email correspondence with a member of the organization’s staff at the time, that the loss of the PayPal account had a significant and deleterious impact on donations. It forced the organization to abandon its “sponsorship option” and to resort, for international donations, to one-at-a-time bank transfers (a process which, I know because I’ve done it a few times, is cumbersome, has quite a few restrictions, possibly some stiff fees, and requires an in-person visit to one’s bank to accomplish).

      There is, today, a separate, different, donation page which has been created by the current web developer for the organization. This page takes credit-card donations only. No PayPal. I’ve advised my former friend of its location and the process for donating online, and suggested he update the link on his original post, which urges people to donate, but provides the wrong and outdated PayPal link. I don’t expect he’ll follow my advice. Much better to spend his energies defaming and lying about me, than to get things right so that someone who comes across his post in an Internet search can use the link to donate money to the organization he claims to care for so much, doncha know?

      And once again, I’ve asked this nasty little bunch to leave me out of discussions where I don’t want to be, in which I have no place, and in which–despite their oft-stated commitment to “free speech” and their disdain for sites that moderate content–they refuse to let me participate. What a buncha chicken**** fools. Apparently, two years later, I am still living rent-free inside a few of their heads, and it still really is ‘all about me.’ How sad.

      If nothing else, in this instance at least, I know that I provided them with the correct information to help them, or anyone else, donate online to the organization. If they’re so consumed with hatred, or so afraid to post it because it came from me, that they’d rather stick their fingers in their ears and shout “LALALA I can’t hear you,” and then leave the wrong information up and just continue lying about me because they can’t think of anything better to do, well, that’s very sad, but it’s totally on them.

      *I’m beyond passing judgment on a person who is so broken that he just pulls lies like this out of his ass, apparently as regularly and easily as he breathes. I just pray for him. Best I can do. LOL.

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