Friday, December 19, 2008

Pluck: a wheelchair in the slush

This past week has brought a lot of snow and cold weather to Seattle. The main downtown streets are empty of the usual cars and pedestrians. But our TisBest office is on the edge of downtown and near some of the shelters and so it is a different scene entirely. As I drove home on Friday through the dark slushy streets of Pioneer Square I had to slow down for a while because the traffic lane was occupied by a man in a wheelchair, doing his best to move along with the use of two arms and one leg. As I crept along behind I realized what was going on - the sidewalks were covered in ice and although the street had 5" of dirty slush, the street was better than the ice for a wheelchair. I don't know where this man came from or where he was going, but he was getting along, taking care of himself and doing what was necessary under adverse conditions. Last night I finished reading The Sea Wolf by Jack London - a story about Humphrey Van Weyden, a physically unfit intellectual coming to terms with the demanding physical conditions of the arctic ocean and then extricating himself from it. This morning I read in the news about Yann Elies, a singlehanded sailor who is in the Southern Ocean right now with a broken femur, waiting for rescue which is 5 days away and struggling to move 6' across his boat so as to access his store of morphine. And as I walked around in the business district last week I saw that people were staying home because it was cold and there was snow on the ground. I applaud the man in the wheelchair, Humphry and Yann. And I applaud everyone else who is out there making a go of it in the world, not looking for a bailout and offering a hand to others where they can. The word for this is 'pluck.' Pluck: the trait of showing courage and determination in spite of possible loss or injury. America and Americans used to have a lot of pluck. If America is going to be great again, each of us and all of us need to find our pluck. Charity is a very good thing, but the beneficiaries of charity must also, truly and honestly and with integrity, try help themselves with all of the pluck they can gather.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How do you choose TisBest charities?

I am frequently asked "How do you choose TisBest charities?" There is never an easy answer to this question, but I wanted to share a recent email exchange that provides some interesting insight to that question as well as fodder for thought:

To: TisBest
From: "John Smith"

Hello! I have just become aware of TisBest Philanthropy and think it's fantastic! However, I'm disappointed that you include the Boy Scouts of America on your charity list. As you undoubtedly know, the Boy Scouts of America blatantly and outrightly discriminates against gays. For that reason, I would respectfully request that you reconsider including them on your list. To be honest, I'm not sure I'll use your organization until I know that this discriminatory and hateful group is not on your list. I had planned on using the giftcard idea for my holiday and birthday shopping on a forward-going basis. I appreciate your attention to my email.


John Smith
From: TisBest

Hi John, Thank you for taking the time to write.

I will tell you an interesting story. We added 21 new charities to our list this fall and one of them was GLAAD, which provides a variety of support to the gay and lesbian communities, as you may know.

In response to our notice about adding the 21 new charities, I received an email from a woman who was irate that we had added GLAAD – it was entirely counter to her value system and she swore she would never give a TisBest Charity Gift Card again. I explained to her my theory on our list of charities. My goal is to be inclusive and to include a charity for most major interest groups so that everyone who receives a gift card will find something on the list for them. It was pointed out to us that we did not have a charity focusing on issues related to the gay and lesbian community and so we added GLAAD. My explanation was adequate for her and she decided that she would in fact continue to send our cards as gifts! I was pleased.

Now, you write from precisely the opposite perspective. I say to you what I said to her - we do not judge the substance of the charities on our list. We just try to be inclusive of all interest groups. And in the course of that, there are organizations on the list that anyone who is a strong thinker may disagree with. For me this is what makes America great – we have this amazing free expression of ideas and goals in a larger community.

TisBest does not stand for one or another goal of the charities on our list. We stand for the proposition that if all of America spent a little less money on material consumption, and a little more on trying to make the world a better place – whatever that means to them – then we would be a stronger nation for it.

Erik Marks
Executive Director
TisBest Philanthropy


To: TisBest
From: John Smith

Interesting perspective, Erik, and thank you for your prompt and thoughtful response. However, there is a big difference in the GLAAD woman's complaint and mine. Her complaint was based on GLAAD's mission running counter to her belief system: she simply doesn't believe gays and lesbians should not be portrayed positively in the media (I am a big supporter of GLAAD). My complaint is not necessarily based on the fact that BSA's mission is counter to my "value system." In fact, I was in the Boy Scouts for many years. My criticism is based on the fact that BSA blatantly discriminates against gay people, which in many states, including in Washington, is just illegal. If your goal is to simply be inclusive and find something for everyone, why wouldn't you include the KKK on your list?

Your mission is admirable and important. Yes, philanthropy is intended to better the world, but some philanthropies try to do so in the wrong way. Philanthropies that carry on their mission in discriminatory ways, such as BSA, are, in my opinion, not worth supporting. I'm not asking you to choose between me and the GLAAD woman, but perhaps you might consider reevaluating your criteria for including groups on your charity list to only include charities that do not discriminate in any manner whatsoever.


To: John Smith
From: TisBest

John, Your point is a good one. I agree with you that the two perspectives are fundamentally different. With GLAAD it is a focus on the mission of the organization. With BSA you are looking at how the organization operates, and not its mission.

I fear that engaging in an analysis of either mission, or operation, would be a slippery slope for us. Another organization we have been criticized for is PETA. The purebred dog owners associations got wind that we had PETA on our list and inundated us with email criticizing us for it. They did not have a specific complaint about PETA but a wide array of complaints, with the underlying motive presumably being that PETA was opposed to all breeding operations. But in the course of their email they criticized PETA for engaging in euthanasia, for releasing zoo animals, for terrorizing research laboratories, etc. Those activities are allegedly part of PETA’s operations. Probably some or all of those activities are illegal.

America has a long tradition of free speech through activities that are at times illegal. The Boston Tea Party was illegal. Freeing slaves was illegal. The civil rights rallies were illegal. TisBest is neither capable of, nor entitled to, stand in judgment of whether or not nonprofit organization acts illegally, and if so, whether not that illegal activity is justified by the intended goals. We choose organizations that operate with internal integrity towards the beliefs of their members. We do not judge the moral quality or legal compliance of the organization’s mission or operations in advancement of that mission.

So why not the KKK? A fair question. The easy answer is that they are not a 501c3. But that is too easy. What if they were? We would not put them on the list of TisBest Charities because their substantive mission, as well as their operations, are supported by a tiny minority, and are criticized by a vast majority. In short, their mission is not supported by a critical mass of supporters, when looking at the country as a whole.

I hope you see that my focus in this regard is towards inclusion – precisely the goal you espouse. Our goal is that the voices and opinions of all of America’s diversity may be represented on our list of Charities.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tis The Season

With the world economy in turmoil and a high-level of uncertainty in our professional lives, this holiday season is a great time to remember what we are actually celebrating.

Often around this time of year, it is common to hear people say that we should limit or even forgo giving gifts and instead, focus our attention on family and our loved ones. This they say is much more in tune with what the Christmas, Hanukkah, and holiday season is all about. At TisBest, we think this is a good start, but only half the picture.

As consumer spending drops and household budgets become tighter in this economic atmosphere, the world’s charities are finding it exceedingly difficult to meet the needs of those they serve. Food banks are nearly empty, pledges are down from years past, and our focus is being increasingly narrowed on our own needs. As disappointing as this is to hear, we know that now more than ever, every dollar we give and everything we do is going to make a big impact.

To round off the above picture for this holiday season, we think that giving intentionally is the way to go. This could mean giving our family something they truly need, or giving them the means to make an impact in the lives of those much less fortunate. A TisBest charity gift card is the perfect first step for this, as it includes both the gift giver and receiver in the act of giving.

We also suggest you take a look at our friends at Celebrate Green for other intentional gifts that are good for keeping the focus on what’s important.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

21 New Charities for TisBest

We received hundreds of charity nominations over the past year.  Here is the list of 21 that we just added to TisBest, and our thoughts about each.  

If you want to nominate a charity for TisBest, please send email to  We review the nominations each summer and we add new charities in the fall.   We look for charities that have revenues over $3 million and demonstrated widespread endorsement, fiscal responsibility, ingenuity and success within their areas of operation.  
Name, Address,
Statement of Purpose
Why We Chose Them
American Humane Association
63 Inverness Drive East
Englewood, CO 80112

Protecting children and animals from abuse and neglect since 1877.
We heard from a lot of people about American Humane Association.  American Humane Association was founded in 1877 and is unique in that its constituency includes both animals and children.  In general American Human tries to ensure that humans do not subject powerless living things to neglect or abuse.  American Human maintains an office in Los Angeles and among other duties provides oversight to ensure animals are not abused in the entertainment industry, including guidelines, set inspections, etc. 
American Jewish World Service
45 West 36th Street
New York, NY 10018

Inspiring Jews to become global citizens by drawing on Judaism’s religious and cultural traditions to inspire a more just world, both within and outside the Jewish community.
TisBest featured a good number of Christian aid organizations, but we really did not have good representatives for Jewish Aid Organizations.  American Jewish World Service is a standout and widely recognized as responsible, effective and well run.
American Refugee Committee International
430 Oak Grove Street
Suite 204
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Helping refugees of war and conflict survive and rebuild their lives.
Perhaps there is no one more indisputably deserving of charitable aid than refugees – typically women and children – fleeing war, violence, drought or other calamity.  We chose ARC because it has a solid track record of helping refugees, both with handouts and with guidance towards rebuilding a life of dignity. 
American Rivers
1101 14th Street NW
Suite 1400
Washington, DC 20005

Fighting for healthy rivers from Maine to California. 
We feature a good number of general environmental organizations, but for some people rivers are the spiritual center of the universe.  You know those people – sun-wrinkled faces, teva tan lines on their feet, kayaks on top of the Subaru and a big smile on their faces.  We added American Rivers for them.  American Rivers is the only national organization dedicated to rivers.
1700 N. Moore St, St 2000
Arlington, VA 22209

Supporting "social entrepreneurs", towards a world where everyone is a changemaker with the freedom, confidence and societal support to address any social problem and drive change.
Ashoka supports social entrepreneurs and TisBest is a social entrepreneur.  The connection is easy to see.  Check out the various arenas that Ashoka affiliates have succeeded in– it is quite amazing really.  Ashoka also has a subsidiary organization called Youth Venture – and the kids in Youth Venture uses TisBest Charity Gift Cards for fundraising.   
Catholic Relief Services
228 W. Lexington St.
Baltimore, MD 21201-3413

Alleviating human suffering, ensuring dignity and strengthening local organizations through programs in agriculture, HIV/AIDS, health, education, peace building, civil rights and micro-finance.
If you are Catholic, or even if you are not, this organization is impressive in the reach and delivery of mission services.  CRS spent over a half billion dollars in 2007, supporting programs in more than 100 countries, towards the Catholic ideal of supporting the poor and suffering of the world. 
Direct Relief International
27 S. La Patera Lane
Santa Barbara, CA 93117

Delivering non-sectarian health services to rural, impoverished, disaster-stricken and war-torn areas of the globe.
Direct Relief International delivers simple humanitarian and health care services to poor and struggling people around the globe.  In 2007 Direct Relief delivered health care support in 59 countries, including to support poor people in the United States.  DRI takes pride in its evaluation procedures, which include pre-grant analysis, mid-program assessment trips and detailed post-program debriefing. 
Ducks Unlimited
One Waterfowl Way
Memphis, Tennessee 38120

Conserving, restoring and managing wetlands and other waterfowl habitat so that the skies are filled with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.
For a lot of people who don’t have hunters in their family, Ducks Unlimited is an odd choice.  In fact, Ducks Unlimited is a very important contributor to wetlands conservation in North America; and of course wetlands are the building block for healthy ecosystems – and so almost accidentally Ducks Unlimited provides tremendous support for healthy ecosystems in America.
Epilepsy Foundation
8301 Professional Place, East
Landover, MD 20785

A national volunteer agency dedicated to the welfare of people in the United States living with epilepsy, seeking both a cure and improved quality of life for those with seizure disorders. 
Epilepsy touches the family of Erik Marks, TisBest’s Executive Director.  And so adding Epilepsy Foundation to TisBest was an easy decision to make on a personal level.  Several TisBest customers requested Epilepsy Foundation as well. 
FINCA International
1101 14th St NW
11th Floor
Washington, DC 20005

Making microloans to the world’s lowest income entrepreneurs so they can create jobs, build assets and improve their standard of living. 
We have all read a lot about microlending in recent years (at least before the headlines turned to subprime lending).  FINCA was a pioneer in microlending, beginning in 1984 when John Hatch introduced the “Village Banking” method.  Today FINCA reaches half a million families in 21 countries.
Friends of the Earth
1717 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036

Committed people fighting daily for a healthy and just world. 
Friends of the Earth takes a no-nonsense, no glitz approach to environmental conservation.  Sometimes criticized for their methods, FOE has fervent backers who believe strongly in the organization.
GLAAD – Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
5455 Wilshire Boulevard
Suite 1500
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Ensuring fair, accurate and inclusive representation of people and events in the media as a means of eliminating discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
We received numerous requests that we add a charity working in the areas of gender identity and sexual orientation in the community.  We chose GLAAD for their consistent and widely admired efforts to change minds through media cooperation and positive reinforcement. 
Greenpeace Fund
702 H St NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20001

Halting environmental destruction and promoting a safe environment for future generations with a focus on ancient forests, global warming, toxic chemicals, oceans, genetic engineering and nuclear risk. 
Greenpeace is the poster child of environmental protection organizations.  We know them for fighting whaling, but they focus as well on many other areas of environmental protection.
Heifer Project International
One World Avenue
Little Rock, AR 72202

Fighting world hunger with livestock and agricultural training.
There must be a whole lot of Heifer International fans out there judging from the number of emails we received.  We are happy to add Heifer International and support their work using sustainable agriculture as a route to ending hunger.
Humane Society of the
United States
2100 L St. NW
Washington, DC 20037

Working for a humane world in which animals are free from abuse and valued.
We remember as kids going to a Humane Society shelter to adopt a new kitten or dog.  Humane Society is more than that, providing disaster relief for animals (recall Hurricane Katrina), wildlife rehabilitation and animal sanctuaries. 
Hunger Project
Five Union Square, W
New York, NY 10003

Fighting hunger by mobilizing villages, empowering women and forging partnerships with local government.
We had not heard of the Hunger Project before someone recommended it to us.  We admire the Hunger Project for clearly stating their goal of eliminating hunger, setting out a strategy for the goal and then getting down to implementation and delivering on the strategy.  No smoke and mirrors here.
New York Road Runners Foundation
845 Third Avenue, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10022

Building physical health and emotional well-being through running programs for underserved populations of both children and adults.
To be honest, when we got a lot of emails from NYRR members, we were dubious – we certainly didn’t want to feature a jogging charity on TisBest.  But we looked into it and NYRR Foundation is a good organization.  They set up community programs around New York that use running as a tool to teach about healthy living, goal setting, self esteem and discipline.  America could use more kids growing up with those qualities, so NYRR Foundation, welcome to TisBest!
Soldiers Angels
1792 E. Washington Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91104

Provides care packages, outreach and other comfort to soldiers and military families with the goal that no soldier feels unloved.
We received numerous requests for military charities.  We chose Soldiers Angels because it is heartfully run by uncompensated volunteers dedicated to fulfilling its slogan that, “May no soldier go unloved.”  It was founded in 2003 by Patti Patton-Bader, and “ordinary mother” of two American soldiers.  Examples of programs include homemade baked goods, blankets, handmade canes for wounded soldiers, calling cards and virtual baby showers. 
United Jewish Communities
111 Eighth Ave
Suite 11E
New York, NY 10011

Enhancing the well-being of Jews around the world with a focus on the core values of chesed (compassion), Torah (Jewish learning), tikkun olam (world repair) and tzdakah (social justice).
United Jewish Communities is a hub of information, opportunities and service to the Jewish community.  UJC works through “Federations” which it describes as “the one place that belongs to every Jew, the place where philanthropy, volunteerism and shared commitment come together to make a difference, to repair the world.”    We are pleased to support such programs through TisBest.
USO (United Service Organizations)
2111 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22201

Enhancing the quality of life for military personnel and their families by providing access to USO centers and programs around the world.
We received numerous requests for military charities.  The USO was an obvious choice because is the largest and oldest organizations supporting our troops abroad.  The USO operates family centers, canteens, libraries, game rooms and other facilities providing support and refuge for American military abroad. 
Young Life
420 N. Cascade Ave
Colorado Springs, CO 80903

Bringing the message of Jesus Christ to adolescents and helping them grow in their faith and as citizens of the community. 
Young Life started in 1938 as a youth leader’s project in a local Texas Church.  Today Young Life reaches over a half million children in the United States and also operates 597 ministries abroad in 58 different countries.  Here in Seattle, the Young Life programs are admired and we have heard many anecdotes about Young Life being a key contributor to the lives of many of our admired citizens.  

Friday, May 9, 2008

Tribute to my Mother-In-Law

LaVern (Holly) Hollister Shriver Benike (1918 – 2009)

My mother-in-law died last night. For some people, losing one’s mother-in-law would be an event to cheer. But not for me. I loved my second mom. In the 33 years I knew her, we never had an argument; I’m pretty sure we didn’t have any disagreements. We did, however, share a lot of laughs.
And toast. We both loved toast. I think I became an acceptable son-in-law the moment she learned of my fondness for toast. She was a supportive, encouraging, dignified, fun-loving, cherished part of our family. She would have been 91 next week.
During the last two years she suffered from dementia. It may have been the result of a fall when she hurt her head, but it may also have been the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. She exhibited significant dementia at various times. She was often tormented by imaginary people who “took” her things from her little room at the assisted living home, who crawled into her bed, and who generally made parts of her day a walking nightmare. It’s ironic, really. She was a registered nurse for much of her life, and in the early part of her career in the 1930s, she was a private duty nurse for a wealthy gentleman who could afford personal care. She provided the kind of care she would later come to depend on.
I am grateful that she is in a better place now. But according to the Alzheimer’s Association (one of the charities supported by TisBest), there are more than 5 million Americans living with this disease right now. And many of them are suffering just as my mother-in-law suffered.
I’m pleased that TisBest supports the Alzheimer’s Association. The Association funds important research into a disease that, as of yet, has no cure.
I encourage you to visit the Association’s website to learn more about this disease, the progress that is being made in important research programs, and the many ways you can help the people who suffer from it.

Jon Siegel, Executive Director
TisBest Philanthropy

Monday, April 14, 2008

On Healing

Healing. It comes from nature or God or time or whatever you want to call the source of goodness from which balance and equilibrium is reinstated after a time of turmoil.

Here at TisBest ( we recently experienced healing. We were so successful in launching TisBest Charity Gift Cards in November 2007 that we stumbled over our own feet. Our website designers ran out of bandwith for all of our ideas and we had to switch to new web consultants who could move more quickly. Some of our banking services were not set up efficiently for the volume of money we were receiving and we had to restructure those banking services. The TisBest concept was larger than we had anticipated and rather than being able to savor our success, we were beset with challenges. What was our reaction? We just kept working hard, and we kept looking for an opportunity to allow the hand of healing to have its effect.

First and foremost, we focused on customer satisfaction. I am proud to say that our customers love TisBest! Have a look at the About Tab on our website to see the various endorsements and kudos we received. Sure, some customers ran into issues, but we worked very hard to resolve all the questions and concerns, and in the end I think down to the last person every customer is happy with their TisBest experience.

Earlier in 2008 I was proud to post 180 checks to charities, as our first distribution of funds. We raised over $350,000 for the charities in the last 6 weeks of 2007!! We will be posting the allocation among the top 50 or so charities on our website very soon.

Now, we are off and running with new innovations for TisBest Charity Gift Cards in 2008. Here are some of the improvements we have in store. You will be able to provide your own image for the cards by uploading it! You will be able to order either the instant gift cards we offer now or hard cards (biodegradable). And you will be able to give $1.00 of our money to a charity of your choice for each TisBest Gift Card that you order!


Going back to healing. Charitable donations are about bringing to others the opportunity for healing. Sometimes that means healing the sick through medical care, sometimes it means healing the land or shoreline, sometimes it means healing the balance of nature, and sometimes it means healing society through education and opportunity for children. But it is always about healing.

Erik Marks

Executive Director of TisBest