I am often asked how many people the Bill Cook Foundation employs to meet the needs of hundreds of students in over 20 countries. To everyone’s surprise, the answer is zero. I now understand just how differently we do business than most other Foundations. Before we decide to support a school or education-related project, we look at proposals; and I visit the people on the ground. And we do not tell them ways we can help. We ask them what they need. We are convinced that the people closest to the need generally know best. When we send funds, we ask for receipts and other appropriate evidence, and then within a year I visit to see the benefits that have resulted from your generosity and commitment.
Apparently it is unusual and even revolutionary that we assume that our grantees know more than we do and are better able to administer gifts, adhering to our guidelines. I say, long live the revolution!
It is also unusual that we do not put money into big pots. When we were asked to contribute to a large charity doing good work, I said no. Instead, I asked for proposals to fund specific needs so that you can follow your gifts and see that they did real and measureable good. Instead of sending some money to a wonderful organization, the Roma Education Fund, we bought 4 computers for an after- school program for Roma kids in Rijecka, Croatia and warm clothes and boots for Roma kids near Mostar, Bosnia. The former gift allows Roma kids to have the same opportunities as other kids in the city. We were told that Roma parents didn’t want to send their kids to school in the winter in Bosnia because they had to walk a long way and did not have proper clothes. We believed the people working with the Roma Education Fund, and we agreed to do the highest priority on their wish list. Apparently this too is unusual because so many charities tell the people working on the ground what they need rather than listening first.
We wanted to help a school for kids in the Baseco slum of Manila; people pick through trash to survive there. Father Dante suggested that we provide backpacks, pens, pencils, notebooks, a daily snack, and a small monthly allowance to kids at an age when many drop out. Well, 63 of the 72 Baseco Scholars are back this year, a number that surprised even the good Father Dante.
Of course we are different in a third way. More than 99 cents of each dollar donated goes directly to fund projects that aid students and schools. All of the work of the Foundation is donated time, and our main annual expense is the cost of wire transfers. When we hear of foundations that spend 40% in administrative costs, we ask why people want to support them when they get more bang for their bucks (turned into Myanmar kyat, Vietnam dong, Honduran lampiras, Ethiopian birr, and many other currencies) with the Bill Cook Foundation.
Please tell your friends and any organizations you belong to about the benefits donating to the Bill Cook Foundation. Perhaps you can twist a few arms or urge churches or social organizations to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sent them to our website. You might want to let Uncle Fred and Aunt Alma know that you would rather have a donation to the Bill Cook Foundation for Christmas than a new tie or necklace.
With your help, we can raise $125,000 in December. But only you are the primary voice of the Foundation. In the next few weeks, I will post a series of stories about some of the heroic folks on the ground that we trust. Stay tuned.