April 2008 Posts

Nothing like a cool diaper bag.

I have to say I love the diaper bag I got for my first Fathers Day. It’s a gray messenger style bag with a pocket for all essentials – sippy cup, emergency rations of Spaghetti-O’s and goldfish, wipes, diapers, changing pad, butt cream, and purel. It’s got room to spare for a change of clothes and a few books.

For gear heads, parenthood opens up a whole new world of possibilities – from the mundane details of which baby bottle works best for your infant, to the very important performance characteristics of a stroller, you can really go overboard on things. Still, with my Diaper Dude bag and my Bugaboo stroller (both provided through the unbelievable generosity of friends and family), my son and I are ready for just about anything.

Poop in a museum? No problem.

Haircut trauma? Got a music cube and lollipop for that.

Like a guy I used to wait tables with in grad school used to say, “Failing to prepare is like preparing to fail.”

I’ve been working closely with the great folks at JOHNSON’S® on the “Celebrity Hand-Me-Down Auction” that went live on eBay last night. Well known moms and a dad (Matt Damon) have donated baby gear for auction, with proceeds going to a selection of mom and baby-related projects on a GlobalGiving web site customized for JOHNSON’S®. The projects range from providing baby gear to families in the Bronx to helping teen moms in Kenya start small businesses.

Huge thanks to the celebrities who donated very nice gear, and a big thanks to JOHNSON’S® for choosing GlobalGiving as its charitable partner.

I am an idiot.

I am an idiot, according to my colleagues here at GlobalGiving. That is because I am clueless about a lot of popular celebrities who are in the news these days.

But my cluelessness reached a new low (high?) this past week at the excellent Fortune Magazine “Brainstorm Green” conference, which was all about global warming. During a break between panels, I turned to introduce myself to the guy sitting next to me. He had been listening closely to the speakers and had been taking a lot of notes. Obviously a scientist type or policy wonk.

Me: Hi, I am Dennis Whittle. Nice to meet you.

Him: Hi, I am Chuck Leavell. Nice to meet you.

Me: What do you do?

Him: Oh, I grow trees in Georgia. I also play the piano a little bit. What about you?

Me: I work at GlobalGiving, which is sort of a marketplace for goodness. What kind of trees do you grow?

Him: I have been trying to create an approach to sustainable tree farming using native American species.

Me: Oh, very cool. And what kind of music do you play?

Him: Oh, all kinds, really.

Me: Do you ever play in public?

Him: Sometimes.

Me: What’s the name of your band?

Him: Well, I’ve been in different bands, but since 1982 it has been the Rolling Stones.

Me: Oh, yes, I have heard of that band.
* * *
(Chuck’s bio is here for any of you other clueless readers out there.)

Survey Says, “DONATION!!”

I have been fascinated with survey data my entire life. In 6th grade, I polled my classmates on whether or not they liked my classmate Kenneth Klein, to this day one of the 3 funniest people I have ever known.

I regularly watched Family Feud (I watched when Richard Dawson was the host.) As a political science undergraduate student I actually railed against “horserace” polls and their misuse in the media. Later after working for a few years, I decided to go back to school and had the great fortune to study survey research and work at the Center for Survey Research at The Ohio State University. While there, I read an article in the New York Times that rocked the foundation on which I had been working and studying. Here’s the segment of interest from the magazine article (free registration required) by Max Frankel, former executive editor at the New York Times, talking about how he was interrupted at dinner time by a telephone survey:

“…That telephone pollster called, naturally, in the middle of dinner. He asked what kind of car I dreamed of owning next. Fortunately, I was annoyed.

“Do you get paid for asking that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, then, how much will I get for my answer?”

“Why nothing, sir. We have selected you so that we can learn how to serve you better.”

With no thought at all, I heard myself inventing a doctrine that I have smugly invoked ever since: “No pay, no say.” …”

The cliched lightbulb went on for me. The entire discipline of survey research rested on the assumption that people would answer researcher’s questions for free. Max wrote that in 1995, at the dawn of the internet. Today, online survey practitioners consider incentives as a matter of course.

As did we when we surveyed GlobalGiving’s donors and newsletter subscribers recently. (If you replied, thank you!) We offered respondents the opportunity to enter into a drawing for ten $50 gift certificates, for a total cost of $500. We received over 1,200 responses, so each survey “cost us” a little more than $.40 in incentives.

So imagine my surprise, when performing one of my other duties here at GlobalGiving, analyzing site traffic that leads to donations, I saw that we actually received donations from people who had filled out the survey at surveymonkey.com. Sixteen separate donations, averaging just over $100, for a total of $1,647! No, we won’t be sending out surveys to collect donations. But yes, here is yet another data point showing how lucky we at GlobalGiving are to be bringing together our donors and projects, breaking rules left and right.

How to get a Prius cheap

Trimming the amount of meat Americans eat would not only help the planet – a mere 20 percent reduction is the equivalent of switching from a Camry to a Prius.

That is from The High Price of Beef in Sunday’s NY Times Magazine. By this measure, I have had a couple of Priuses in my garage since the late 1980s, when I reduced my beef consumption in half. I initially did this because the quality of beef was poor in Jakarta, where I lived for five years.

Around that time, a lot of research came out about the health effects of eating too much red meat, so when I returned to the US, I kept my red meat consumption low. I didn’t eliminate meat altogether (I like it too much), but I swapped quantity for quality – eating good cuts of meat fewer times per week.

More recently, I have begun eating mostly organic beef, again primarily for health reasons. I pay more for it, but eat even less of it. So my wallet wins, my health wins, and the global climate wins.

And I can tell my friends that I have not only one, but two Priuses… :)