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NYC Mayor’s Fundraising Arm Stops Working with Investigators

Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, has been investigated for the conduct of the fundraising arm of his political campaign. The Campaign for One New York is currently being investigated by several entities, including the Joint Commission on Public Integrity (JCOPE). For the last year or so, the state ethics panel has been working closely with the Campaign for One New York but as of April 6th, that organization has stated that they will no longer be replying to JCOPE subpoenas.

Although neither the Campaign nor de Blasio have made things entirely clear, there seems to be some concern on their part that the independent, non-profit JCOPE is actually a political tool of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a political rival of de Blasio. They have implied that JCOPE has overstepped its legal purview, and has the wrong motivations in conducting the investigation.

The Joint Commission on Public Integrity was formed back in 2011 as an independent monitoring organization. Coumo has been quick to point this out, though he himself is responsible for appointing the groups chair and seven of it’s fourteen members. That does paint a picture of a group which is heavily influenced by the governor, whether or not he directly “pulls the strings.”

In response to the letter, JCOPE has asked the courts to force Campaign for One New York to comply and continue submitting to the investigation. That decision should be interesting, as it could establish precedent for de Blasio’s group to shrug off other current and future investigations, and may push other non-profit groups to do the same.

Regardless of whether JCOPE is a political tool of Coumo, the Campaign’s reaction this late is the game does seem like a political move, since they’ve been cooperating for so long already, it seems unlikely they didn’t know about Coumo’s alleged influence.

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Philanthropists Raise Funds for Lyme Disease Research

This past weekend, the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, a leader in securing funds and conducting innovative research for Lyme disease in the U.S., held a 2-day event to raise money for research into the disease. Scientists, clinicians, notable people, and more than 300 philanthropists gathered for a benefit concert and dinner that raised over $815,000 that will go towards research.

The Bay Area Lyme Foundation is a leading nonprofit organization and advocate for Lyme disease research. Funds from the event will help make Lyme disease easier to diagnose and simple to cure. The event was attended by several noteworthy guests, like Pete and Jon Najarian of CNBC, Google’s Larry Page, philanthropists Amy Rao and Harry Plant, and banker Thom Weisel. Honorary Chairs included Jane and Bert Inch, Gary Morgenthaler, and Elet Hall, a 2014 American Ninja Warrior finalist and Lyme disease sufferer.

The event, called LymeAid, offered lively performances from Diana Ross, who sang “I Will Survive” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Guests danced to her music for over an hour. Before Ross took the stage, a young singer named Kiva, 11, performed an original song, “10 Years and 17 Doctors,” about his own mother’s battle against Lyme disease. Singer-songwriter Dana Parish, also diagnosed with the disease, performed “Pull You Through.”

A panel lead by Dr. Neil Spector, a disease researcher and author of Gone in a Heartbeat, answered questions about Lyme disease and discussed its challenges which, as he describes, are similar to those faced by cancer patients. He also shared some of his own experiences treating the disease for the edification of the attendees.

Two other researchers were given $100,000 grants for their work with the disease. Dr. Britton J. Grasperge of Louisiana State University was awarded the Alexandra Cohen Emerging Leader Award to support his research identifying substances in tick saliva that attract the bacteria that actually causes Lyme disease. Chase Biesel, PhD, from North Carolina State University, was given the Laure Woods Emerging Leader Award to investigate the potential power of a certain genome to target and kill the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is currently one of the fastest-growing infectious diseases in the country. Its effects can be significant and debilitating, but if the disease is caught early, it can be treated. However, a lack of reliable testing makes the disease difficult to diagnose correctly. About 329,000 new cases are uncovered each year.

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App Helps Identify Indian Girls Most in Need of Assistance

In 2014 alone, there were 5,466 reported cases of human trafficking in India. Especially in West Bengal and along the Bangladeshi border, young women are often lured with false promises of work or a good marriage, and are then sold into the sex industry or indentured servitude.

Women in these areas are targeted because they have less resources to work with than other Indian women; they often come from poor villages where Internet access and even electricity can be spotty and hard to come by, making them desperate to get out and less informed than their wealthier peers.

One thing India does have though is a huge market for mobile phones, and with that, the potential for useful technology in the form of applications. One such app is called GPower (or Girl Power) and it allows young women to submit information about themselves in order to determine if they qualify for various government assistance programs, like welfare, counseling, or job training. The app streamlines the process of determining if a girl qualifies, and then helps her get in touch with appropriate officials.

So far it has only been tested out with around 6,000 families in 20 West Bengal villages, but according to Child in Need Institute (CINI), it has a lot of potential beyond that. It will allow NGOs like CINI to better locate and manage at-risk and in-need girls and help them avoid the dangers of human trafficking. India is a huge nation with a massive population and no single NGO can ever hope to serve the whole country. Technology like GPower effectively amplifies the reach of any given group, like CINI, and allows them to more easily pursue their missions. And globally, GPower and apps like it could be used elsewhere, especially in other countries with significant cell phone use.

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Companies that Give to Education

Several high-profile companies have committed themselves to donating generous funds to education to promote its quality, longevity—and, most importantly, its accessibility. Among these companies are private equity firm KKR, who have made significant contributions to schools through the Sponsors for Educational Opportunity programs, and Google, who is donating Chromebooks to incoming refugees to help them settle into their new homes and to provide refugees with a reliable educational platform. Additionally, car company Fiat Chrysler now offers free college educations to its employees. Though the donations and efforts look a little different, these companies are all working to support education.

KKR has given support to the Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) for years. SEO Scholars is an eight-year academic program that helps underprivileged public high school students all the way through college, supporting them for a significant portion of their lives. KKR cofounder Henry Kravis and KKR global head of public affairs Ken Mehlman attended the program’s 13th Annual Awards Dinner recently. “Since becoming Chairman of SEO’s Board of Directors, I’ve continued to be inspired by the determination of the young people we serve,” Kravis said.

Google is also doing its part to make sure people of all ages are getting access to information and opportunities they need. The tech company is donating $5.3 million to provide nonprofits with Chromebooks for Syrian refugees to help them learn new work skills, a local language, and to help them continue whatever studies they left behind. Chromebooks are an excellent low-cost option for nonprofits that can help needy people settle in to a new culture.

“[Chromebooks] can run an educational game for children, a language course for younger adults, or even feature information about the asylum application process on a pre-installed homepage,” said Jacqueline Fuller, director of Google.

Perhaps the only option better than a Chromebook is to simply offer free college education to those who want it. That’s what Fiat Chrysler is doing: the company is offering “no-cost, no-debt” college educations through Strayer University. The college offers Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s degrees in 40 different fields. In Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama, and Tennessee, 356 dealerships have opted in to participate in the program. Any employee can enroll. The company hasn’t announced how the program is paid for, but it is likely that a deal between the two institutions has been reached. Fiat Chrysler’s program, called Degrees@Work, contributes to the overall wealth of knowledge its employees have that they can then pour back into the company.

Through these measures, these three companies are contributing to the world’s shared knowledge, empowering workers and educating people for the better.

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Marriage Equality Wasn’t the End of the Fight, Just the Beginning

When the United States Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality was the law of the land, many of us rejoiced. We’d been fighting for that goal for years after all, and it seemed like that victory would change everything. But it hasn’t. Since then, and especially in 2016, there has been a rash of harsh, anti-LGBT legislature proposed and passed around the country, to deny service to LGBT people on “religious” grounds, to force transgender people to use bathrooms associated with the gender assigned on their birth certificate, and so on.

The fact that we won a victory does not mean we’ve won the war, and the forces arrayed against equality and human rights are not only strong but vindictive. Conservatives are ready and willing to use every means at their disposal to continue trying to oppress LGBT people, and they’re pushing even harder now that they’ve lost the marriage equality fight.

All this is sad, but expected. Perhaps worse is that, since that victory, donations to LGBT groups have dried up. It’s like we won marriage equality and then everybody moved on to other causes. But non-profit and charitable support for LGBT causes are needed now more than ever. Bans on gay marriage were bad, but legalized transphobia is worse. The conservative backlash has to be met with more work, with better data collection, with grants and marches and lobbying. None of which is free, and all of which needs support.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Every civil rights victory in the past has been followed by a backlash, and has required more work and more money to continue the forward momentum. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 didn’t end racism, ratifying women’s suffrage didn’t end misogyny, and enforcing marriage equality won’t end the threat to LGBT rights.

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Chinese Billionaire Donates $10 Billion to Charity

According to a survey conducted in October 2015, China now has more billionaires than the United States. That’s pretty impressive, especially for a “communist” country, but those billionaires haven’t really turned to philanthropy in any meaningful way. There are likely a number of reasons for this, from the fact that the existence of the ultra-rich is very much a new phenomenon in China, to the tendency of many wealthy Chinese to keep a low profile. Big flashy donations aren’t a good way to stay off the radar.

But that could be changing. Recently Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent holdings Ltd, a Chinese entertainment company, announced that he was donating 100 million shares to charity. That comes out to about $2 billion, of his estimated $18.8 billion fortune, and is frankly a huge sum of money. That money will go towards medical, educational, and environmental organizations through China.

Pony Ma is not the first Chinese billionaire to make such a gesture, as back in 2014 Alibaba founders Jack Ma (no relation) and Joe Tsai donated $3 billion worth of shares between them. Chinese philanthropy recently got another boost when parliament passed it’s first charity law, which attempts to shore up giving in a country where many people do not trust non-profits thanks to a variety of recent scandals there.

China does have a lot of opportunities for people to help, as large parts of the country are still “developing” and aren’t nearly as affluent as the major cities of Beijing, Hong Kong, and the like. As with anywhere else, the rise of ultra-wealthy people in China has come at the expense of others, and charitable giving is a way to make up for that, something that the rich in many other countries take to heart. Hopefully, the Chinese rich will do the same with more frequency following these examples.

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Marie-Josée Kravis and Henry R. Kravis Establish New Scholarships for Students

The Stern Undergraduate College at New York University has announced that it will use a generous donation of $1.8 million from the Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis Foundation to create a new scholarship. The funds will support high-achieving, low-income students entering Stern for the fall 2016 semester. Students given the scholarship will be known as the Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis scholars.

The Kravis Foundation also supports NYU’s “Momentum Campaign,” which hopes to raise $1 billion in funding over the next six years for scholarships. With the addition of the Kravis’ donation, the school has now raised over $100 million to put toward scholarships, and it has reached the halfway point in its overall goal with $500 million raised.

“Talent doesn’t correlate with zip code. This scholarship will help more talented men and women who lack resources pursue higher education,” said Henry Kravis, co-founder and co-CEO of global investment firm KKR.

Andrew Hamilton, NYU’s president, agrees. “Addressing college costs and affordability are among my foremost priorities,” he said. “Next year, we will enact NYU’s smallest increase in undergraduate cost-of-attendance in more than 20 years. But even important steps such as that must be accompanied by improvements in scholarship aid.”

“And so we are grateful to Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis for their generous gift, which will permit students filled with talent and ambition but lacking financial resources to obtain the NYU education of which they dream,” Hamilton said.

This is not the first donation the Kravis Foundation has made to education. Last spring, the foundation pledged $100 million to Rockefeller University to create a new laboratory as a campus extension. That laboratory will be a two-floor centerpiece of the new Stavros Niarchos Foundation—David Rockefeller River Campus, consuming three city blocks on the shore. The new lab will provide plenty of space for the school’s science and research projects.

The Kravis Foundation’s gifts ensure that new generations of intelligent, committed students will have the educational resources they need for years to come.

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Governor Christie Vetoes Bill to Tax For-Profit Functions in Non-Profit Hospitals

Non-profit hospitals in New Jersey have been scrambling to “defend” themselves against the state government, after Morristown Medical Center as found to be operating for-profit in most of it’s center, and thus was subject to property taxes. Eventually, the two parties settled for $15.5 million, but a lot of other hospitals are worried that they’ll be next, and a number of appeals are in motion at the moment.

The state legislature recently passed a bill to establish taxes for non-profit hospitals with have for-profit operations within their property, something that is apparently pretty common in the medical world. The problem is that, since the for-profit aspects operate under the same roof as the non-profit aspects of a given hospital, they aren’t’ subject to property taxes, and that’s simply not fair. They’re still making use of municipal services and therefore should be paying their fair share, even if that’s still less than a totally for-profit medical center.

But Governor Chris Christie vetoed that bill, and said he’s pushing for a two-year “freeze” on litigation related to the tax exempt status of hospitals in the state. He wants the state assembly to establish a commission to investigate the issue ad develop a system that works for all parties, and said that the bill he vetoed was “rushed.”

Response has been mixed. There are those, both in the legislature and among hospital administrators, who support the governor’s plan, with some of the latter arguing that the current handling of the situation has created an adversarial relationship between the state and the hospitals. Others in the legislature feel that the bill they presented was fair, and that the governor was mistaken in vetoing it. They argue that the problem needs to be addressed now, not later, and that all parties involved deserve clarity in developing a solution.

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Make-A-Wish Foundation Auctions One-Of-A-Kind Toys

The Make-A-Wish foundation is teaming up with video game publisher Activision and celebrities to create special, one-of-a-kind toys for the Skylanders SuperChargers video game. The celebrities include Ben Collins, formerly of Top Gear, Formula 1 driver Mac Chilton, French TV icon Joan Faggianelli, YouTube stars St3pny and TheKing77, and kite-surfing champion Gisela Pulido. Each of those celebrities has worked with Activision to create the toys.

Make-A-Wish is pretty excited about the prospect, as the celebrities in question, and the Skylanders game franchise, should draw quite a bit of attention. Ben Collins has also expressed how happy he is with the toy he designed, and that the money is going to such a deserving charity. Chilton and Collins’ designs are the first to be auctioned, and went up on the Foundation’s website on March 20, where they’ll stay until April 8.

The Make-A-Wish foundation is probably one of the most well-known charities in the world, and has been using their money to make the wishes of sick children come true for years. Hopefully, auctioning off these toys will help them in that mission. Since the auctions just started, we’ll have to wait a while to see how they turn out, but if successful, it could open up the doors to other, limited-edition charitable toy designs.

Skylanders is a popular video game franchise available across pretty much every video game console or handheld on the market. The game requires players to place specific figures on a “power base” which allows the to subsequently use that character in the games. The core games come with figures, but there are at lease several dozen more which have to be bought separately. The business model has been successful enough that Disney and Lego have both gotten in on the idea with similar games of their own, and Nintendo has a series of figures called Amiibo that work on a similar principle.

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Americans Aren’t Saving Much, But They Still Donate

According to recent surveys by Google Consumer Surveys and bankrate.com, 62% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings, and 21% have no savings account to speak of. The data has raised some concerns among fundraisers as to the ability of people to donate to charitable causes, especially retired people. 4 out of 5 people between the ages of 30 and 54 don’t think they’ll have enough money to retire.

There are, of course, deeper problems that these numbers elude too, but it makes sense for fundraisers to be concerned about their ability to raise money for charities. Although charitable donations in 2014 totaled $360 billion, which is the highest in decades and was the fifth year in a row that donations increased, that still only amounts to about 2% of the nation’s GDP, a ratio which has stayed relatively stable for the last half a century or so. That increase is due more to a recovering economy than to a sudden spike in empathy.

For those concerned about their ability to raise funds, the relative lack of personal wealth out there might seem disheartening, but people are still donating, and willing to continue doing so. The trick to getting those donations looks to be improving communications to potential donors. People want to know what their money will go to, especially those who don’t have a lot of it, and they want to feel like their donation is going to something useful. Transparency is key here, as groups less willing, or less able, to explain how they use funds are less likely to receive them, at least form smaller donors. But not everyone can tap into lifelong donors for whom writing big checks isn’t a problem. Learning to appeal to smaller donors by being honest and working hard is the best way to overcome a fear that they can’t donate much.