If I Was Jeff Bezos of Amazon and I wanted to do the Right Thing, Here's What I'd Do
Last updated: 6/16/2002; 10:21:47 AM
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If I Was Jeff Bezos of Amazon and I wanted to do the Right Thing, Here's What I'd Do

I'd help this man:

Bram Moolenaar

I don't know how many people even know who Bram Moolenaar is, certainly I've never met him, but this is a man that I just plain respect.  "What ?" you ask.  "How does this fit with Amazon ?"  Be patient for a bit… All will be made clear but the background is important and it does require delving into computing history or even pre-history.  So….

The History

A long, long time ago, in a place known today and then as "Berkley", a brilliant programmer named Bill Joydecided he didn't like his programming editor and said "I can do better" (or something like that - interview).  This ultimately grew into an editor named VI (pronounced "vi" like "violet") and became 1 of the two editors that still dominate *nix to this day (the other, of course, being Emacs made by the demi god RMS but that is a different tale for another day).  For reasons of copyright or trademark, people were able to create their own versions of VI but NOT call them VI.  This led to the creation of Vim or VI Improved which is where Bram enters the picture.  Vim and VI style editors are a love or hate thing but they do exist and literally millions of people know how to use them and use them every single day (me for example). 

Getting to the Point albeit a Bit Slowly

Now, here is where the Bezos / Amazon connection comes into being.  Bram currently lives in Holland (he is Dutch) but earlier in his life he spent about a year living in Uganda doing charitable work – the proverbial "good work".  Here is his web page about it:

http://www.vim.org/html/uganda.html  &  Really use this one: ==> [http://www.vim.org/iccf/](http://www.vim.org/iccf/)

And here is a quote:

"Kibaale Children's Centre (KCC) is located in Kibaale, a small town in the south of Uganda, near Tanzania, in East Africa.  The area is known as Rakai District.  The population is mostly farmers.  Although people are poor, there is enough food.  But this district is suffering from AIDS more than any other part of the world.  Some say that it started there.  Estimations are that 10 to 30% of the Ugandans are infected with HIV.  Because parents die, there are many orphans.  In this district about 60.000 children have lost one or both parents, out of a population of 350.000.  And this is still continuing.

The children need a lot of help.  The KCC is working hard to provide the needy with food, medical care and education.  Food and medical care to keep them healthy now, and education so that they can take care of themselves in the future.  KCC works on a Christian base, but help is given to children of any religion.

Summer 1994 to summer 1995 I spent a whole year at the centre, working as a volunteer.  I have helped to expand the centre and worked in the area of water and sanitation.  I learned that the help that the KCC provides really helps. Now that I'm back in Holland, I would like to continue supporting KCC.  To do this I'm raising funds and organizing the sponsorship program."

Ok.  This has been long winded and I apologize but the point is drawing near.  Bram has written a fantastic editor. The feature I like most is that if the computer crashes or you get disconnected from a remote *nix box, I can go back into Vim, open the same file and every single keystroke is there.  That's right – every damn keystroke.  Microsoft Word doesn't do this, nor Visual C++, nor StarBase / Premia CodeWright.  (That's about $1,300 worth of commercial software outsmarted by a damn good Dutch programmer and the people that work with him.  Go Bram!). 

Bram doesn't sell Vim what he does is distribute it as " CharityWare".  He uses it to solicit donations that he personally makes sure get to the KCC.  Here's his pitch.  Yes it's long but I don't want to shorten it any more than I did:

… I'm raising funds and organizing the sponsorship program.  Please consider one of these possibilities:

1.  Sponsor a child: $15 a month.  (Holland: fl 27,50)
2.  Sponsor a child and the improvement of its environment: $25 a month (Holland: fl 45)
3.  Sponsor the health team: Any amount a month or quarter
4.  A one-time donation

Compared with other organizations that do child sponsorship the amounts are very low.  This is because the money goes directly to the centre.  Less than 5% is used for administration.  This is possible because this is a small organization that works with volunteers.  If you would like to sponsor a child, you should have the intention to do this for at least one year.

How do you know that the money will be spent right?  First of all you have my personal guarantee as the author of Vim.  I trust the people that are working at the centre, I know them personally.  Further more, the centre is co-sponsored and inspected by World Vision, Save the Children Fund and International Child Care Fund.  The centre is visited at least once a year to check the progress (at our own cost).  I have visited the centre myself in 1996, 1998 and 2000.

If you have any further questions, send me e-mail: <Bram@vim.org&gt;.

The address of the centre is:
Kibaale Childrens Centre
p.o. box 1658
Masaka, Uganda, East Africa

Sending money:

USA and Canada: Contact Kibaale Children's Fund (KCF) in Surrey, Canada.  They take care of the Canadian sponsors for the children in
Kibaale.  You can send them a one time donation directly.  Please send me a note so that know what has been donated because of Vim.  Ask KCF for information about sponsorship.  

Kibaale Children's Fund c/o Pacific Academy
10238-168 Street
Surrey, B.C. V4N 1Z4
Phone: 604-581-5353

If you make a donation to Kibaale Children's Fund (KCF) you will receive a tax receipt which can be submitted with your tax return (under the Free Trade Agreement tax receipts issued by an organization registered in Canada are fully accepted by the IRS in the USA).

Credit Card: You can use PayPal to send money with a Credit card.  This is the most widely used Internet based payment system.  It's
really simple to use.  Use this link to find more info: https://www.paypal.com/affil/pal=Bram%40moolenaar.net.  The e-mail address for sending the money to is: Bram@iccf-holland.org    Unfortunately, the extra cost is a bit high.  The other methods are preferred. (emphasis mine)

The Amazon Connection

You are probably wondering that, if I feel this strongly, have I donated?  Good question and the answer is No.  Now, why haven't I donated myself?  Well, I'm as lazy as everyone else.  If I have to pick up a phone and call Canada then I probably won't do it.  What I think needs to happen is this:

  1. A generic web system that lets any legal charity (as defined by U.S. IRS 501(c) – I think that's right) use Amazon to capture funds.
  2. Background: PayPal is good but they have a bad reputation and Amazon already has my credit card info and I just plain trust them.  They aren't perfect but they really are damn good.
  3. The old Amazon Tip Jar is now called the Amazon Honor System and lets any website collect donations.
  4. Amazon should introduce some kind of " Charitable Honor System" that has these constraints:
    • Minimal transaction processing costs like 2 - 3 % (the goal should be to COVER THEIR COSTS ONLY – I actually think they should charge 0% and take a tax write off on it but let's not ask too much)
    • Charges some kind of small setup fee for the charity so that there the paperwork is verified correctly.  Something like $99 to weed out the idiots and the fakers.  Perhaps this goes into an escrow account or is later donated to the same charity.
    • Sends the contributor an IRS approved receipt.  Tip for Amazon : This gives you a way to sell future financial services to people.  Think about it!
  5. Sends the money to the right place.
  6. Displays a running total so Bram (or who ever) can feel good about their work and encourages other people make donations.

This is really a simple concept – it leverages a trusted brand name, handles verification, weeds out at least the low end scammers and lets anyone with a valid charitable connection raise money.  I know there have been other attempts at this but I don't want a DOT com trying to grab 50% of it – I want to know that AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE of my donation actually helps people.

Now that may have been long but I hope you think it was worth reading.  I think it was worth writing.

Why It's Important that Amazon Cut their Rates

When Bram and I emailed about this (I contacted him with the idea just out of the blue), he stressed this to me:

"It does sound like a good idea. Obviously, all attention drawn to the goal of helping needy children in Uganda is good.  I do hope that the overhead is indeed low. We aim at a maximum of 5%.  PayPal actually takes more, if you take into account that they use a bad exchange rate. It's still better than cashing US cheques though. But in Holland we have almost no overhead, that's why the average is less then 1%. This sets us apart from other organisations."

Let's just make that clear again:
This is a charity that operates in it's home country for less than 1% overhead.  That's cool.  It's also unbelievable.

Want to Pitch In

Send an email of support to amazon@fuzzygroup.com.  I'll handle routing them to Amazon when we get more than one or two.


My thanks go out to:

  • Bram Moolenar for both inspiring me and for being kind and thoughtful in the review process.  http://vim.sf.net/
  • Kjartan Mannes for reviewing and confirming that I'm not nuts.
  • Guy K. Haas for the standard set of grammatical corrections and clarifications.  And a few new ones this time!
  • Michael Bernsteinfor pointing out Affero to me and giving me some great thoughts.

Side Note: Affero

Let's say that you like this idea but you don't want to use Amazon or we just can't get Amazon to pitch in and do the right think.  Take a look at www.affero.com/.  This is an open source project to build a similar style payment architecture.  Even if it's technically just as good or better, I still think Amazon should do this.  Here's why:

  • Trust.  Amazon is a name brand.  My mom buys from them.  She may see the logo and even contribute.  That's the power of trust.  I'm an Open Source geek (I really love the stuff – even though I made my money to date in the closed source world) and I didn't know these guys existed.  I also don't know if I would trust them which makes me think that it wouldn't work.
  • Easy Use.  The beautiful thing about Amazon is they have my credit card number already.  As we all get busier and busier this is very subtle but very important.

 More details on Affero from Mike: (great job on the $ examples.  Thanks!)

  • Affero's fees are 10%, added to the contributor's bill.
  • This is considerably lower than Amazon's 15% + $0.15 which is taken out of the contribution. Affero: $10 donation + $1 fee -> charity gets $10
  • Amazon: $10 donation - $1.65 fee -> charity gets $8.35
  • Affero's server software is open-source. A charity that wants to avoid the fees can set up their own server.

Your comments regarding trust and ease of use are well taken. Lowering the barrier to entry is  important, and does significantly affect the number of people who make contributions. Thus, Affero's service fees can be justified saying that more people will contribute if they only have to register once, and Amazon's higher fees can be justified by saying that contributions will be even higher if users are already registered.  My point is that Amazon is certain to justify their fees in exactly this way. If you have a plan of attack for getting them to make an exception on their fee structure for non-profits, I'd be very interested to know what it is.

My plan is this essay and the people that write in.  Simple.  Naive.  Happy to be that way. I tilt at windmills also.




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