Monday, March 12, 2007

BLaFu

'Tis the season for student groups to cajole you to pledge money you have not yet earned. As an earlier thread indicates, there is not enough money to go around to support all the worthy causes.

The panoply of groups and causes makes me wish we had an index of the most accountable organizations, so we would know who to promise our money to. For instance, how much of my OC Prom ticket went to the “Sandy?” How much from the BLF auction or spring drive is actually funding people, versus paying for two-buck Chuck, busted windshields, and ambulance rides? Last summer I did not donate anything to BLF because they never gave me the auction item I won and paid for, despite half a dozen emails to different people. This year’s auction did not exactly restore my confidence. (The item I donated generated $75, but I can’t help but wonder if it would have garnered more if people could SEE it.)

I don’t doubt that the organizations have all the best intentions. Nevertheless, I think if we had better information or metrics for effectiveness, in terms of how much of my dollar reaches a deserving person, I would be more willing to give.

Just to pick on BLF some more. I looked at www.boalt.org/blf, and learned the following: “The Berkeley Law Foundation is soliciting proposals for public interest law grants for the 2004-2005 year.” Fascinating. Actually, other parts of the website are more up-to-date, but nowhere do we see a statement that shows what BLF takes in & disburses. How much is donated by students? Alumni? Faculty? Law firms? How effective are matching grants? Who has received the summer stipends & Phoenix Fellowships? What are they doing now? What are the operating costs of BLF?

I think open info about the student groups (and affiliated organizations, such as EBCLC) would bring more money where it could be used best, improve accountability, and increase donations overall, since my hunch is that most groups distribute virtually everything they receive.

You could repeat this for other organizations as well, including, well, our own Boalt Hall. Sure would be nice to know how this capital campaign is proceeding. Anyone know where we can find numbers? Or how about intermediate goals, instead of just going for $125m? Or concrete improvements: I’d be willing to donate to a fund for climate control in the library or for toilets that flush and don’t leak.

In the meantime, go to the Barristers' Ball this Friday. You’ll find me dealing blackjack & donating to the HHK…

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24 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What, you expect accountability and efficacy in how your money is spent? This blog is back to being a registered extension of the Federalist Society. That "spend money wisely" shit is for conservatives, buddy.

3/12/2007 11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post would be reasonable if you weren't talking about a student run organization. While your suggestions are good, they plainly fail to take into account that most of the great work being done, is being done by students. It is always easy to suggest a bunch of ideas when you don't have to do the work in addition to your academic pursuits. I encourage you to volunteer your time to BLF to implement your suggestions. I'm sure they would love to have you.

3/12/2007 11:31 PM  
Blogger Callagy said...

My suggestions would only require posting publicly what the groups ought to already know internally. But I'll make a promise: $20 to the first group that can give me some decent numbers about how they spend donations.

3/12/2007 11:45 PM  
Blogger Tom Fletcher said...

BTLJ takes all of its donations and converts them into gold boullion. This gold takes up a lot of space, so new donations are being used to bribe adminsitrators to engineer a "space crisis" so that more of Simon can be used for storing precious, precious gold pieces. Further donations will be necessary to shore up the support for the fifth floor and prevent the gold from crushing everyone in the ELQ offices. Any future "earthquake retrofitting" should be eyed suspiciously - it's just a cover to reinforce the vault.

Ready to donate that $20? :)

3/12/2007 11:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom Fletcher, thank you, that is the funniest shit I've heard all day.

If only you were joking.

3/12/2007 11:57 PM  
Blogger Isaac Zaur said...

To return to the subject of earmarking donations: One reason you might want to do this is to make your donation more "sticky." There's good reason to fear that contributions to the general fund might be drained away by the rest of campus and/or the UC. But if you direct your contributions to Boalt-specific programs, there's some reason to hope that they will stay here. If you don't have a particular program in mind, a scholarship fund might be a good choice.

At least that's the advice I got from a wise 2L who used to work in development at a UC institution.

3/13/2007 8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You did not donate to blf because of some confusion over what you bought at the auction? If there had to choose an adjective to describe this behavior, what woul it be.

student run, dude. of course it's haphazard and a mess, but it's inspiring that students are doing it. don't be a hater.

3/13/2007 5:22 PM  
Anonymous Jim said...

In satisfaction of your curiosity, I can give some rough numbers on the OC Prom and the Sandy. From year to year the numbers have changed as prom costs have gone up and down. But this year we were able to keep prom costs quite low through innovative prom-planning techniques. Though the final accounting has not been completed, I'd estimate that 70% or more of your ticket price will go directly to the Sandy Cohen Fellowship. So, roughly $3.00 for food drinks and fun, $7.00 for public defense. I think that's pretty darn good...

3/13/2007 6:38 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

Student-funded fellowships are something we should be celebrating. Although BLF has been doing this for a long time, and typically gives summer fellowships to the most students (not counting the relatively new Boalt Hall Grants, of course), all of the organizations who support student summer work in this way (as well as the students who contribute to their causes) promote a spirit of giving and encourage a broad view of what it means to contribute to the public interest. I like to think that the numerous options reflect the values of our student body and give us avenues through which we can sustain our commitments to public interest work, even as we pursue jobs the private sector. In particular, these fellowships encourage students share the wealth among the Boalt community — voluntarily, through private donations.

A few clarifications:
(1) All money donated to BLF’s Spring Pledge Drive goes directly to student summer fellowships. The money comes in separately, marked for that purpose. The students who run the pledge drive, the fellowship grant process, and the disbursement of funds are all volunteers.

(2) BLF has insurance, which covered any liability the organization may have incurred from the auction.

(3) Costs for the auction were covered by tickets (though these costs were reduced because of in-kind donations). Firm donations, which were substantial, and money raised from item winners, went directly to the Phoenix Fellowship, which the auction benefits.

(4) You’re right that your item probably would have made more money if people had been able to see it. This was disappointing.

(5) As a nonprofit, BLF distributes its annual financial report to its members, who are officially defined as those who have donated a certain amount. This year, those who have donated to spring pledge drive over a certain amount will also receive that information. (Sorry, don’t have that amount off the top of my head, but it definitely covers those donating a day of pay.)

(6) Questions about this year’s auction items, if there are any remaining, can be directed to foundation@law.berkeley.edu .

(7) Definitely go to Barrister’s Ball and support the HHK.

3/13/2007 7:16 PM  
Blogger Colleen said...

A few responses to Callagy:

1) If you are interested in knowing how your money is allocated, may I suggest you first approach the organizations directly and ask how the money is distributed, instead of writing an email attacking the groups and implying that donation are mis-spent or misallocated.

2) All the organizations I know of offer meet and greets with their grant recipients. BLF takes it one step further and invites law students to sit on the panels that review the fellowship applicants. If you are that interested in knowing to whom your money goes, I suggest serving on such a panel.

3) Thank you to 11:31 for recognizing that it takes 100s of hours and hard work to put on an auction and/or fundraiser. People do it professionally, and get paid to do it at about the same level as a top firm new york lawyer. mistakes happens. errors outside of our control happen. stupid choices by drunk people who don't have to take responsibility for their actions and leave us to clean up their messes happens. And we, the volunteers, don't do it for the fame and we definitely don't do it for the party. we do it because we raise tens of thousands of dollars, per organization, for public interest scholarships. we do it so our fellow students won't have to take out additional loans over the summer to pay their rent while they work to help the disenfranchized and needy. I suggest you consider that before you go on the offensive.

3/13/2007 9:17 PM  
Blogger Tom Fletcher said...

EW-- that's one of my favorite West Wing episodes where Bartlet & Leo kick back at the end of the year with a stack of NGO materials and a checkbook. I'm looking forward to that one day.

3/13/2007 9:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

EW -- You people with the cheese! It neva ends!

3/13/2007 9:56 PM  
Blogger Isaac Zaur said...

When I was growing up, my family would spread out opening presents from various family members over the eight nights of Hannukah. One night was always set aside for "giving night," when instead of unwrapping presents we would sit down with all the solicitations we received over the course of the year and decided how much (if anything) to give each organization. I always liked this tradition. As a kid, it was interesting and felt good. For my parents, it gave them a way to prioritize and control their giving for the year.

3/13/2007 10:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

$160,000 a year + bonus and you all are complaining about paying $10 for a ticket to a party.

you'll be paying $10 for a martini next year.

3/14/2007 12:41 AM  
Blogger Callagy said...

Colleen:

1. This is a pretty good way of addressing the question to a lot of people & groups, no? Believe me, I’m not the only person who is concerned about the way student groups redistribute money. This is a chance to prove that my & other peoples’ concerns are misplaced, which some of the commenters have helped to do. As for “attacking,” I see it as asking hard but germane questions.

2. That’s precisely the problem: you’re not putting up a crapload of banners in the lobby asking me to sit on panels, but to give money. I’m also willing to give if I have some idea of where it’s going. As for student panels, where could I have learned about those except for your comment?

Besides, is it really that hard to write up a list of last years’ recipients, or even just the jobs they did? Katie 7:16 informs us that you have to give some amount of money to BLF before it will show its budget information to you; I don’t see why that is necessary.

3. Your final comment misinterprets my point: I don’t doubt the validity of what BLF or other groups are trying to do. I also don’t want to say bad things about the individuals, who I believe genuinely want to help. I just want to see evidence that you are successful at this. The auction happened to make me & others believe otherwise, and while you can blame the fiasco on a few bad actors, the whole thing seemed like a mess before the bottles started flying. It has also meant that Boalt groups are banned from using campus facilities—there was almost no Barristers’ Ball this year because of BLF (why do you think it's in Downtown Oakland?). That’s surely a step backward taken. So you can take it personally and chide me for “going on the offensive,” or you can answer my questions.

My $20 is on its way to the OC.

3/14/2007 7:39 AM  
Blogger Colleen said...

1) BLF is a 501(c)(3) and as one, its tax filings are
on public record. Anyone is welcome to request and review them. As for annual budget, BLF provides access to those who donate because those people are, in for-profit terms, the shareholders who deserve to see how their money is spent. Anyone who requests a copy of the budget will be given one. However, BLF does not spend money printing and distributingn annual reports to all students at the law school because that would use money that would otherwise be allocated to student scholarships. But again, if you are interested in seeing the numbers, contact BLF directly.

2) Admittedly, BLF does not hang banners re: the
panels. However, information about the panels is
public knowledge as emails are sent out inviting
people to volunteer and review applications. To
receive these emails, an individual must be proactive to the point where he asks BLF to put him on the email list. If you request to be on the mailing list, you will receive the appropriate information.

3) Without a doubt BLF contributed to Barrister's Ball being held off campus and the organizers of BLF have been expressing their remorse over that fact and doing what they can to assist BHWA. Without a doubt BLF could have been better organized on many different levels. Without a doubt the problems did not just stem from a few bad eggs, or even just from this year's BLF.

4) Here's an interesting fact: Barrister's Ball used
to be held off campus, but had to be moved on campus a few years back after one event went awry and drunk law students vomited all over and trashed a for-profit space. A decision was made that holding the event on campus would create less animosity in the community. My point: the organizers of BLF and Barrister's change from year to year, but the events keep running into the same problems. Is the underlying problem really bad organization, or is there something else here
people aren't talking about?

3/14/2007 9:39 AM  
Anonymous Katie said...

My point was that BLF sends detailed financial information without request to people who have donated a certain amount, not that it _only_ releases information to those people. Posting detailed financial information on a website is different than giving it to those who ask. As I mentioned above, BLF can be reached at foundation@law.berkeley.edu . We welcome your questions, comments, and concerns, and make a point of responding quickly and fully.

3/14/2007 10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Callagy and the other people who run this blog:
Posting a "tough question" on your own private blog is not just as good a way to get information as going to the relevant people. First, "questions" here often imply student orgs are acting improperly. Then students have to come here to defend their organizaitons. Second, no one has an obligation to read the ramblings, attacks, and childishness that regularly appear on this blog. Many do because either (1) they want to make sure they, their friends, or their student organization are not being attacked or (2) people are curious to check out the latest trainwreck created by a stupid, arrogant, or pedantic post. While there sometimes are interesting and thoughtful posts, they are few and far between and it is annoying to read through all the garbage to get to them. It is amazing sometimes to see the inflated sense of self-importance and downright rudeness exhibited by the white men who post here.

3/14/2007 11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd just like to echo 11:46's point.

Just because you complain about something on a blog doesn't mean people are obligated to read it or respond to it, no matter how angry you are. If you have a question, do your due diligence by contacting the relevant organization. If they stonewall you or act like a jerk then perhaps you have grounds to post it on a blog. Otherwise, in law & econ. terms, you are extracting a tax from student volunteers who have to police and respond to random comments in cyberspace in order to protect the good names of their organizations.

3/14/2007 2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only in the paranoid world of the radical, insular socialists who complain about this blog could the thumbnail statement, "They'd raise more money if they told us where it went" count as "ramblings, attacks, and childishness." If you want to know why the rest of the world doesn't take you seriously, why the rest of the LEFT doesn't take you seriously, why the rest of BOALT doesn't take you seriously, thank you for providing Exhibit Fucking A. Go climb a tree.

3/14/2007 6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL. Successive posts on the USA scandal, the history of the Langdell method, how to improve public interest funding, circuit court jurisprudence, Dean Edley and the role of the public university (picked up by a national blog), a perceptive discussion of Obama that the media missed (also picked up), an exploration of the rhetoric and perception about firm life (also picked up), and the shame of the Auto Admit board -- every one of them a "childish, rambling" attack on "Boalt students and their friends." Okayyyyyyy!

The bizarro world ("black is white" "up is down") of the nutjobs never ceases to amaze.

(PS -- As if they're channleing Rousseau here in their posts!)

3/14/2007 6:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of the Auto Admit board -- and reputational taxes in cyberspace extracted from unsuspecting law students -- did anyone catch the latest developments at xoxohth.com? It appears Google pulled its ads from the message board and the Penn law student who co-administered the message board has now left. Here is the link --
http://www.xoxohth.com/thread.php?thread_id=594221&mc=203&forum_id=2.

3/14/2007 8:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who said anything about socialism? Anyway, I'll be donating to BLF and the HHK and I appreciate Jim, Colleen, Katie and everyone else for all their hard work!

3/14/2007 9:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Callagy:

Although I don't think you were attacking the student orgs who are holding various events, I do think you struck a raw nerve for some of us. While some students get very involved with student organizations there are countless others who don't. Admittedly, it is our choice to join these organizations. However, because it is always a core group of people doing everything, I think it is easy to get burnt out and feel overwhelmed with juggling school and everything else. Most of us have had the exact same ideas you expressed, but we are just so pressed for time that the little things (that can make a difference) are often the things we just don't have time to do. For me, it is just a little irritating to read your post, which rightly or wrongly just seems like a bunch of complaining instead of acknowledging the incredible amount of work that goes into these events. Yes, there are always ways to improve—I just wish all our organizations had enough people to do the work. Again, I encourage you to volunteer your time to BLF and help implement some of your ideas.

3/14/2007 11:12 PM  

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