Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Friends of MS Does Little to Help People With MS

After I was first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, I naturally sought for support. I soon came into contact with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Founded in 1946, the NMSS is a "non-profit organization, and its network of chapters nationwide help people affected by multiple sclerosis by funding research, driving change through advocacy, facilitating professional education, and providing programs and services that help people with multiple sclerosis and their families" (see Wikipedia article).

The NMSS is a legitimate charity. Per this Charity Navigator report, about 20% of revenues go to administrative overhead while the rest goes to the research, advocacy, education, and assistance programs/services mentioned above. The three out of four star rating isn't the highest, but it's pretty good. This review gives the NMSS 20 for 20 on charitable accountability and governance.

When I was first diagnosed more than 2½ decades ago it was widely thought that a cure for MS was perhaps a decade away. Thanks to organizations like the NMSS we now know a lot more about the disease. It's far more complex than was thought a generation ago. But better treatments and interventions have been found so that the average person with MS is living better than at anytime in known history.

I used to participate in the MS Walk fundraising event annually. But as our family expanded, the event always ended up conflicting with other charitable activities. The first time we were contacted by an organization called Friends of MS (no website found) to give used clothes, we thought it would be a good alternative to the annual MS Walk fundraiser. However, over time I started to hear some sketchy things about Friends of MS and we discontinued our donations to that organization.

This KSL report puts some meat on the bones of those suspicions. Last year the Better Business Bureau dinged Friends of MS for tiny charity payouts (see 11/18/2014 article). This Charity Navigator report gives Friends of MS zero of four stars. In 2013 administrative and overhead costs consumed 84% of revenues and only $6,000 went to the NMSS. Fundraising consumed 67% of revenues. It looks like the organization spent two-thirds of every dollar taken in to ask for more.

KSL reports that Friends of MS board member Robert Clark concurs that the amount of funds sent to NMSS and other MS charities in recent years has been paltry, due to "increased competition for clothing, rising transportation costs, and fewer landlines for the charity to call and solicit donations." He showed financial reports demonstrating that Friends of MS has given $1.8 million to the NMSS over a 15-year period.

I don't know how much revenue Friends of MS has garnered over the past 15 years. But let's assume that the annual average is at least equivalent to the $1.2 million reported in 2013, which Clark seems to suggest was a very bad year, making for a total of $18 million. That would mean that the organization has averaged only about 10% charity (and likely less). That is abysmally bad by any measure of non-profit charities. In contrast, most employers that allow charitable donations directly from their employees' paychecks screen out non-profits whose charitable efforts amount to less than 75% of revenues.

Clark says, "Every dollar we raise is going to help people here, that work here." Many for-profit businesses could say the same thing. Clark seems to be implying that Friends of MS employees are charity cases, so that you should feel fine about the majority of your donations going to their paychecks. But most people that consider donating to Friends of MS are likely thinking research and aid programs, not fundraiser paychecks.

While Clark "is extremely proud of how the charity fulfills its mission of helping people with MS," donors should be fully aware of how their donations are being used. If you're interested, you might want to read the full KSL article to see how the tight relationship between Friends of MS and the for-profit thrift store Savers works.

Those that are interested in donating to fund MS research and services/programs for people with MS should donate to charities such as the NMSS that have a good track record of spending the bulk of their revenues on these important functions. Perhaps you could agree to fund a co-worker or a friend that is participating in the annual MS bike ride or walk. If you prefer to make sure that most of your donations go to pay fundraising expenses, then Friends of MS looks like a good option for you.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Sustain: To Strengthen or Support

From its earliest days The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has had a principle known as common consent. In the Guide to the Scriptures defines common consent as:
"The principle whereby Church members sustain those called to serve in the Church, as well as other Church decisions requiring their support, usually shown by raising the right hand.
"Jesus Christ stands at the head of his Church. Through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, he directs Church leaders in important actions and decisions. However, all Church members have the right and privilege of sustaining or not sustaining the actions and decisions of their leaders."
Most LDS Church members likely equate common consent with the sustaining of church leaders, although, this is only a subset of the principle of common consent.

Active church members will be quite familiar with the process of being asked to sustain people called to serve in church callings. This occurs in various church assemblies, ranging from young women classes to the Church's semi-annual worldwide general conference. Most members have rarely seen situations where someone has voted against sustaining. But this happened last Saturday at the Church's general conference (see Fox 13 news story).

I am old enough to recall the last time something like this happened, when dissent was expressed over the Church's official position opposing the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution (see 1980 statement by Church leaders). In a June 2012 post I discussed the time some members voted against sustaining our local bishopric.

The understanding of voting to sustain church leaders has evolved over time. In the early days of the Church it was more common for people to vote according to their reason and whims. Over the years the understanding has changed to where it is now only acceptable to vote against someone proposed for a church calling if you happen to have knowledge of that person's unworthiness to serve in the calling. Unlike years ago, disagreements over administration are now insufficient reasons to vote against sustaining an individual in a calling.

Some see this shift as a deepening of the understanding of the Church as a theocracy, where God is at the helm. Another likely factor is the organizational realities of moving from a small early 19th Century group to a diverse multimillion member worldwide institution. But to critics of the LDS Church, the shift seems like an awfully convenient way to shield church leaders from criticism.

In fact, that seems to be the main point one of the five dissenters among the 22,000 attendees at last Saturday's general conference session seemed eager to make. He and other dissenters are likely frustrated by Pres. Uchtdorf's direction for them to consult with their local stake presidents. They do not believe that stake leaders have sufficient authority to address their concerns, nor do they believe these leaders have adequate avenues for raising those concerns to those that could address them.

From what I can gather from the Fox 13 story, the concerns raised by the main dissenter interviewed are so fundamental that I doubt they could be resolved by any meeting with any church official. After considering various sources, some dissenters seem to call for more open discourse, feeling that the Church's top leaders are too insulated to be able to consider diverse viewpoints. While I do not know how genuine they are about this, it is difficult to imagine how the Church could ever flex so far as to appease them without losing its appeal to the vast majority of its active members.

One of the central features of the LDS Church is its claim that it is the authorized kingdom of God on earth, whose mission is to prepare the earth for the second coming of Christ and to prepare souls for maximum joy in the eternities. It's not a perfect organization because it's staffed with imperfect people, so there's room for improvement. But the more the organization can be reworked according to human ideas, the more it loses this defining feature, and thus, its appeal to the faithful. Too many of the viewpoints offered by dissenters seem to drive in this direction.

The first words uttered by some faithful church members following the dissenting vote on Saturday amounted to wondering why these people didn't just leave the Church if they couldn't sustain its top leaders. It seems likely that some are already headed down that road. But this uncharitable view seems antithetical to the teachings of Christ as well as the teachings of modern church leaders about gathering the lost sheep. The Lord deeply loves each of these individuals. Church members are under covenant to follow this pattern.

Of course, love does not mean tolerance for damaging behaviors. C.S. Lewis said that proper Christian love includes wishing for people to willingly accept the earthly consequences of their actions, even as they accept Christ's Atonement in assuaging the negative eternal impact of those acts. When done right (which admittedly isn't always the case), excommunication can be one of the most loving acts a church leader can perform.

Having gone through a period of spiritual crisis myself, I empathize with church members (and even former church members) that are struggling with their faith. Even those that are absolutely certain that they are right in their stance against the Church deserve mercy and kindness.

The vocal dissent by five people last Saturday seems to have caused some faithful church members to wake up and really think about what it means to sustain their leaders. Many have openly expressed their approval of top church leaders. This isn't a bad thing.

I was sitting at home during the sustaining of church leaders. It was a sacred privilege for me to raise my hand in support of each. This was no mere reaction. It was a thoughtful exercise. While I can empathize with the turmoil some dissenters must be feeling, I can also say that I know through experiences too sacred to detail here, that I am under divine mandate to fully sustain those serving today in the Church's First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve — despite their aging and faults. I feel much like what Joseph Smith expressed in Joseph Smith History 1:25. I know it. I know that God knows that I know it. And I dare not deny it.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

I Want a Nice Yard, But I Hate Doing Yard Work

I am not great when it comes to yard care. We don't have the worst yard in the neighborhood. But it's a long way from being anything like the best. I really enjoy seeing well kept yards. But apparently not enough to actually turn my yard into such a place.

For me, beautiful yards are a lot like Christmas lights on houses. I love seeing festive holiday lighting on houses. But not enough to actually put Christmas lights on my own house.

When the kids were younger they always clamored for our family to hang exterior holiday lights. I would always tell them that they couldn't see the lights on their own house from inside the house, so that if they liked Christmas lights, the best thing they could do was to look out the window at the neighbors' houses.

This didn't stop the kids from grousing about wanting to put up lights. Until they got older, that is. Eventually they got to the age where they realized that they would be the ones doing the work of setting up and taking down the lights. Then they became quite content to continue my non-lighting policy.

When our yard was still taking shape a quarter century ago, I came home from work one day to find about a dozen trees in the driveway. My wife informed me that her sister and brother-in-law were coming over for dinner, and that after dinner my brother-in-law and I would be planting those trees.

Over the years my yard care techniques have succeeded in the demise of all but two of those trees. The two remaining — a silver maple in the front yard and a blue spruce in the back yard that I planed too close to the property line — must have been of hardier stock. They have gotten quite large, despite my efforts.

Several ornamental features have been added to our yard over time. This would have been fine, except that my wife isn't much for yard care either. This means that these features have more of a natural unkempt appearance rather than anything akin to orderly beauty.

The lawn is a mess. Although we prepared the yard and carefully planted a premium seed blend all those years ago, the lawn is now filled with a variety of less wanted grasses and weeds. Moreover, it's bumpy enough to make lawn mowing a jarring experience.

The bumps resulted from trying to care for the lawn without adequate training. We had the lawn aerated each year, but this only seemed to produce a yard full of mud plugs that looked an awful lot like dog poop. When these plugs melded back into the turf they became bumps.

One day I asked a friend who has a gorgeous lawn — an avid golfer who tells me that he loves yard care almost as much as he enjoys golfing — how often he aerates beautiful his lawn. He shrugged his shoulders and replied, "Never." Gaaa! All those years of trying to do the right thing had only ended up making our lawn worse.

Despite my wife's protestations, I haven't put fertilizer on the lawn for years. Mainly because I don't want to mow more than every seven days. Every time I have fertilized in the past, the lawn has grown enough to require mowing every five days. And in my estimation, it hasn't really looked any better.

I actually do have some treatments that I know to be effective. Broad leaf killer does kill dandelions and clover. The trouble is getting around to applying the stuff. It's really not that onerous of a task. But frankly, any kind of yard work seems onerous to me. So killing weeds ends up fairly low on the priority list.

Besides, since getting a dog I have been loath to put chemicals on the lawn lest the animal be harmed by tromping around in the residue. Even if said dog has made the yard worse by digging holes, leaving droppings, and making trails.

But I have been concerned about the bountiful dandelion crop that has been popping up since spring's early arrival this year. So I finally picked up some broad leaf killer at the hardware store. As is my nature, I put off spraying the stuff while it was warm outside. I apparently had to wait until last night when temperatures had dropped more than 20 degrees from the previous day.

When I left for work this morning I noted with satisfaction that some of the dandelions already look very sickly from last night's chemical application. It looks like I got the jump on the weeds this time around.

But I know that this is just the first skirmish of the season. The weeds will be back. Maybe I will actually garner sufficient motivation to re-treat the lawn in a couple of months before it gets too bad. The realistic side of me says that I will probably procrastinate until the yard looks more like a field of yellow flowers than a lawn.

This is my perpetual conundrum. I like having a yard. I would really like to have a nice yard. But I don't like doing yard care. And I am apparently too cheap to hire professionals to manage it for me.