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 to pick up the cost (several hundred dollars per year), if the project was completed to the satisfaction of all, 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–yes, I tell it here), 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. My English language contact at the organization was returning to the States. No other person at the organization spoke anything remotely approaching fluent English. There was a twelve-hour time-zone difference. And given all those factors and given what I’d been told was an uncertain financial situation, the risk of tying my own name, and possibly my financial assets (which are not extensive), to an organization whose reliability and integrity I couldn’t speak for, with which I couldn’t readily communicate, 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.
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.