Let’s Get Real About Transparency and Donations

“Truth never damages a cause that is just.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

There has been a lot of talk about transparency in the political arena lately. However, my post is focused on transparency in giving. How can you be certain that your donation will serve others and not be used for administrative purposes? Can you earmark specific donations to an organization that has a tax-deductible status? What are the best crowdfunding and fundraising websites? And, how can you be certain that your donation to one of the crowdfunding websites will be used appropriately?

I’ve researched the best way for me to solicit donations for my little La Paloma Library in Nicaragua. I’ve debated on whether to apply for a 501(c)3 tax-exempt status or continue as I have been, seeking small donations through fundraisers and crowdfunding websites.

I am preparing for the future because what will happen to my little library if I move off the island, travel more often, or return to the states? Can it survive without me? I’ve invested my money and time in developing a comprehensive program to meet the needs of the teachers and the students. It is my legacy. So, in preparing for the future, I want to leave a program that will last beyond me with solid plans and financial support.

So, Let’s Get Real about Transparency and Your Donations…

I. Everything you need to know about your donations to a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization

This section gives me a headache! First, you have to determine if an organization is a charitable organization with a 501(c)3 tax-deductible status. According to the IRS tax-deductible donation rules:

The 501(c)3 groups receive the major part of their support from the public rather than from a small group of individuals. They also use the bulk of donated money to further their stated exempt-organization goals. The 501(c)3 groups include churches, hospitals, schools and groups that provide disaster aid, such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and similar organizations.

If you would like to earmark your donation to be used for a specific purpose, it is important to know that charitable organizations welcome recommended designations, but that all gifts go to the organization and are subject to its control and final discretion. 

When a 501(c)3 organization receives a charitable gift the organization is required to submit a written receipt to the donor stating (1) the donee organization has ultimate discretion over the destination of the contributions; (2) a confirmation that the donor intends for the organization, not the individual, to be the gift recipient; and (3) an acknowledgment of the donor’s preference to support a particular individual.

The last point is ambiguous in this area of giving because qualified organizations must remind donors that improperly earmarking gifts may compromise the deductibility of the donation.

For example, if an individual wanted to make a monetary donation to my library, I could partner with a 501(c)3 charitable organization so the gift could be tax-deductible. However, there is no guarantee, according to the IRS laws, that an earmarked donation will be used for my library.

This is where transparency is needed. All donors to a 501(c)3 organization must receive a written receipt of their donation as well as be informed that the charity has the final say about where the money will be used.

It is too complicated for me, a one-woman operator. I can’t see the advantage of partnering with a 501(c)3 organization because of the excessive requirements by the IRS with no guarantee that my library would receive earmarked donations. And because of the tangle of bureaucracy involved in becoming a 501(c)3 organization, I would rather keep it simple. In addition, many of my donors are foreign donors whose donations are not tax-deductible because it only applies to U.S. citizens.

Tax Deductible Donation Rules

Fuego y Agua donations for my library and the La Paloma Elementary School.

La Paloma Elementary students check out the new book donations.

II. Crowdfunding and fundraising websites

Crowdfunding websites allow individuals and businesses to solicit donations for any kind of project by accessing a large number of potential donors. There are advantages and disadvantages to using crowdfunding websites and the potential for abuse is always a concern.

Best Crowdfunding Sites for 2016

I have used YouCaring to Help Los Ramos Rebuild after a devastating landslide that destroyed their community and for donations to support The Divine Women’s Soccer Team.

Transparency in seeking donations on a crowdfunding website is important. I believe it is imperative to respond to each donor, to be specific in how their donations will be used, and to be open, honest, and accountable for  the money spent.

For these reasons, I always write a blog post with photos about how the donations have been spent and help the recipients of the donations write a letter or make a video thanking the donors. Goodie Bags for Los Ramos    Los Ramos Says Many Thanks

Continue reading

Do What You Know

“Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. You are all learners, doers, teachers.”
― Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

What do you do after moving abroad when the newness wears off and you feel like everything has become routine? I hear many expats say, “I need to find my purpose here.”

For some, it may take several years to find their purpose. Others never find it and become disgruntled and dissatisfied because their adopted country doesn’t meet their high expectations. I arrived on Ometepe Island as a freshly retired teacher with two children’s Spanish books. Because of those children’s books and 30 years of teaching K-12 and University education majors, I found my passion naturally.

The neighborhood kids came to my house regularly to read the books over and over. It didn’t take me long to find my purpose. I did what I knew the best…teaching. I became a rewired and retired teacher…my own boss…and started a children’s library in my little local La Paloma Elementary School.

I converted a storage room into a library, made bookcases, collected over 2,000 children’s books in Spanish with the help of many generous benefactors, and hired and trained Maxwell to be my librarian.  He took English lessons from me eleven years ago…and when I expressed my need for a librarian…there he was.

I Do What I Know Best

Teachers are master fundraisers.
We know exactly what the students need and how to get what they need. We beg, plead, and seek donations, discounts, and items on sale like professional bargainers. We are marketing marvels…selling the needs of our students to everyone who passes by our classroom doors. Continue reading

Part Two: Service Learning and the La Paloma Library

“Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.” ~Sir James M. Berry

Sunshine they indeed brought…in the form of painting our library, the smiles and laughter of the children, and their service to others. In August, a group from Go for Hope completed a service learning project at our La Paloma Library.

I am sorry this post is so old, but I wanted to spread the word about our new donations.
Fuego y Agua Ultra Marathons will be held on Ometepe Island the first week in February. We volunteer to run the aid stations every year and it is so exciting.

IMG_0157This year, the Fuego y Agua is going to give all the proceeds from their annual Beer Run held on Friday, February 5th to our La Paloma Elementary School.
IMG_0101 Continue reading

Service Learning and the La Paloma Library

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” ~ Milton Berle

In my case, change the word “door” to “a library.” I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned how we first encountered Nicaragua. In 2003, my husband, son, and I delivered over 500 pounds of school supplies to an impoverished school in Granada. I found the need on the Lonely Planet forum when I was searching for an international service learning project to do with my high school classes.

Service Learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enhance the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. Learn and Serve America Fact Sheet

I am trained as a service learning instructor and have completed many service learning projects with a variety of age groups. We built playgrounds, water fountains, picnic tables, painted school cafeterias, and then, I branched out internationally to help a school in Nicaragua.

So, when I received an email from Go For Hope/Supporting Community Libraries in Nicaragua, and they were bringing a service learning group to Ometepe Island, it was another serendipitous moment. I had asked for some help, and they arrived with paint brushes in hand and a willingness to spread the love of reading to my little elementary school library.

Joe Hafner organized the service learning group. When they arrived, we were ready for them to begin two days of fun in our little library.


Continue reading

Running With Scissors

This year’s Fuego y Agua races have sadly come to an end. We volunteered for our third year in a row to help the runners. I’m writing a post about the runners, next.  Meanwhile, enjoy our travels from one side of Ometepe Island to the other, as we run with scissors (figuratively)  following the Survival runners from one obstacle challenge to another.

We followed the Survival Runners on February 5th, hopping buses, taxis, and hiking around the island to find their obstacle challenges. First stop: Tesoro de Pirata.

But wait! There’s a lot more!

The School for the Deaf on Ometepe Island

Yesterday, I visited the school for the deaf in San José del Sur on Ometepe Island to see if they would be interested in participating in my mobile lending library project. Helping Hands with Hearts for Christ (H3C), was founded by Mike and Joan Vilasi three years ago. While they are in the states, Gael and Rosemary manage the school.

I  interviewed the gracious host, Gael, and asked about the history of the school.
IMG_3193I had a difficult time finding the school because it was tucked into a small cove on the beach with a lush walking trail leading to the school from the main road. “The next time you get lost,” Gael said, “just ask for Quincho Baraletta.” “This used to be an orphanage for girls, but when Volcano Concepcion erupted three years ago, the orphanages abandoned the island for the safety of the mainland.” This made sense to me because Nicaraguans  either use landmarks that disappeared years ago, or refer to a place by a previous name.

My blog friend, Tamara, shows off the beautiful flower- lined lane at the school.

My blog friend, Tamara, shows off the beautiful flowery lane at the school.

H3C new banner hanging above the entryway.

H3C new banner hanging above the entryway.

There are 37 deaf people living on Ometepe Island. Twelve children are school aged and attend H3C. A few of the children attend schools for the deaf on the mainland. Before the school opened, most of these children received no services and did not attend public school. Now, thanks to the generosity of The North Point Community Church in Maine, USA, they receive donations to run the school.

“Kindness, a language deaf people can hear and blind see. “- Mark Twain


The school has two full-time teachers and an interpreter. The nicest surprise was that one of the teachers is my neighbor in La Paloma. Who knew?


“Signs are to eyes what words are to ears.” ~ Ken Glickman

The teachers at the H3C school.

Nicaragua has a unique sign language developed by the deaf children themselves. The video below explains how the Nicaraguan Sign Language began. I am returning to the school next week to deliver my lending library books. It’s awesome to be able to share my love of reading with this school.

How can you help? Visit Helping Hands with Hearts for Christ

Other resources:
1. Deaf Children in Nicaragua Teach Scientists About Language
2. The History of Nicaraguan Sign Language
3. Mayflower Medical Outreach in Nicaragua
4. The Deaf People of Nicaragua Electronic survey report


A Dengue Mosquito Trap

This week, I’m delivering my lending library books to the schools. In addition to the books, I have a box of school supplies for each school. This morning, I found an easy to make mosquito trap. Since Dengue is a huge problem in Nicaragua, I’m going to make a trap for the schools, then teach them how to make them.

Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 7.05.48 AMScreen Shot 2013-04-02 at 7.06.32 AMSo simple, yet effective. This would be a wonderful project for volunteers in Nicaragua. Spread the word.


A Tale of a Fateful Trip

The Saga of a Fuega y Agua Ultra-Marathon volunteer as told through the lyrics of Gilligan’s Island theme song.

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from our tropic port
Of which you cannot skip.

Our mate was a mighty volunteer,
For the Fuega y Agua race
Three volunteers set out that day,
To tour the Survival chase, to tour the Survival chase

DSCN0830Nine passengers were aboard the truck,
The tiny truck was tossed,
If not for the breakfast of snickers and beer,
Our hope would all be lost, our hope would all be lost.

We tracked the runners through the race,
The obstacles were unique
Until we were told to climb the volcano,
Our tour was rather meek, our tour was rather meek.

IMG_1944In skirts and flip-flops unprepared,
Determined to ascend,
We hiked uphill for two exhausting hours,
Avoiding breaking wind, avoiding breaking wind.

With bamboo poles the runners climbed,
They passed us at every turn,
Barely able to descend,
We felt the stinging burn, we felt the stinging burn.


Midnight came and Johnson won,
We returned to our tropical nest,
To volunteer for the Kids 5K,
But wait until you hear the rest, wait until you hear the rest.

The weather started getting rough,
The waves were strong and mean,
All visitors became castaways,
Their plight was unforeseen, their plight was unforeseen.


Ron took our mate to meet the boat,
For her expected trip back home,
She waited like a refugee,
Five hours she feared to roam, five hours she feared to roam.

No phones, no food, no boats to go,
Not a single luxury,
Like Robinson Crusoe,
As primitive as can be, as primitive as can be.

refugee MoyogalpaSo, this was the tale of the castaways,
They were here for a long, long time,
They learned to make the best of things,
An experience very sublime, an experience very sublime.

Booked flights and well made plans,
Flew out the windows last night,
For they hadn’t learned to expect the unexpected,
In the land of the not quite right, the land of the not quite right.

The tale of a fateful trip is done,
Our mighty mate is well,
Aboard the Che and traveling home,
Oh the stories she can tell…oh the stories she can tell.

Stay tuned for a post about the Fuega y Agua Ultra-Marathon held on Ometepe Island February 15-17, 2013.

The Ballad of the Ultramarathon Volunteers

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Every morning at half past three, you could see them arise

lugging water and first aid, rubbing sleepers from eyes.

From spheres of the world, they came bearing shoes,

wearing volunteer t-shirts to spread the news.


Public-spirited philanthropists, that’s who they are,

Carrying water, first aid, and good will near and far.


They climbed the volcanoes with supplies on their backs,

like experienced pack mules, avoiding craters and cracks.

They nourished parched runners with food and drink,

with nary a complaint or blinking a blink.


Public-spirited philanthropists, that’s who they are,

Carrying water, first aid, and good will near and far.


Then came the day at the end of the race,

a bus packed with gringos and racers made haste,

to Charco Verde to celebrate and rest,

camaraderie, good times, and philanthropy at its best!


Public-spirited philanthropists, that’s who they are,

Carrying water, first aid, and good will near and far.

The results of the Fuego y Agua Ultramarathon: Click here.

The Gift of Running Water

On the path to get water

The tree that is beside the running water is fresher and gives more fruit.
~Saint Teresa of Avila

The first time we visited the tiny community of Los Ramos, at the base of Vulcan Concepcion, Francisco’s mother gave us a bottle of Coca Cola and a watermelon. She knew that walking a half mile down the steep and rocky path to their village parched us. Sipping on the warm Coca Cola, we watched Francisco’s grandfather unloaded two large, worn plastic water containers from the back of his horse.

“We don’t think your bodies are accustomed to our well water, so we bought you Coca Cola and a watermelon,” Francisco’s mother replied. We graciously accepted her gifts, hoping that we could eat the large watermelon at her house, because it was a long, steep uphill walk back to the main road to catch the bus.

Francisco’s mother explained to us that they made a four-mile trip to get water, two times a day. An ancient hand-dug well located next to the lake supplied the water for the community of Los Ramos. “Why is the well located so far away?” I asked. She responded, “The community of Los Ramos used to be near the lake, but we had to relocate when the Spanish conquistadors invaded the island.” When the Spanish conquistadors invaded the island??? I thought. “That was so long ago,” I  said. “Why didn’t you move your community back to the lake after the invasion, or dig another well closer to your new place?” I asked.

“Maybe, we were lazy,” she laughed. That was the only response I got, yet I knew this community wasn’t lazy. For hundreds of years, they hauled the water from a hand-dug well to supply their community. Not only was it a time-consuming and back- breaking chore, but the well is located dangerously close to the lake making me wonder about the quality of the water. Many members in the community complain of kidney problems.

Three years ago, the families in Los Ramos decided they were tired of hauling water.  Their family members were getting older and the young ones were moving away. Hauling water two times a day was exhausting. They formed a community association, planned and performed plays of the history of Los Ramos, and requested donations to install water lines and buy a water pump.

Their new water supply will come from a lake in the crater of the dormant volcano Maderas.  Although, many families in the surrounding communities receive the gift of running water through a gravity-fed system, Los Ramos is too far away for gravity to work its magic.

After three long years and months of community effort, children, parents, grandparents, and other relatives dug ditches, installed water lines, bought a pump, and waited patiently for the water to flow into their homes. But, there was an unforeseen problem. The electricity supplying their community was shared on a transformer with too many other communities. The power they received was not strong enough to run the pump. They had to buy a $2,000 electric transformer from the electric company and install it in Los Ramos to see the efforts of all their hard work.

I only discovered their need for a transformer a few days before Christmas. In my grief over a close friend’s death, I tried to channel my sorrow into constructive action. I posted on my blog, called, and emailed close friends and family about the need for a transformer for Los Ramos. The next day, my prayers were answered. Los Ramos received a donation to buy the electric transformer.

How do I thank the loving people who sent the donation that will transform the community of Los Ramos? Words are not enough to simply thank someone for giving the precious gift of water to a community. For two days, I tried to call Francisco with the good news. Last night, I was finally able to reach him. When I asked him if I could go to Los Ramos next week to deliver the money, we were both sobbing over the phone. I was simultaneously filled with joy for Los Ramos and sorrow over the death of my friend, Bobby…a strange feeling.

Next week, I’ll deliver the money to Los Ramos for the transformer that will transform their lives. Think about the word play here!  Francisco said, they will make a trip to Managua to buy the transformer. Hopefully, in a few weeks, they will have running water in all of their homes.

I am overwhelmed and filled with such loving compassion for everyone who made this possible. The gift of running water! Saint Teresa was right when she said, “The tree that is beside the running water is fresher and gives more fruit.” This can apply to many facets of our lives, especially to the wonderful community of people in Los Ramos. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for fulfilling a dream and providing a gift of running water to a community in need.

And, by the way, if you are wondering….Ron and I had to carry the 10 pound watermelon up the steep hill in 100 degree weather. We were drenched in sweat by the time we got to the bus stop. Waiting for the bus, we cracked open the watermelon and gorged on the refreshing fruit with everyone who was waiting at the bus stop with us. I’m a little worried about returning to Los Ramos next week. I have a feeling there will be a couple of big watermelons waiting for us. 🙂

If you want to help give the gift of water to local communities, below is a link for how you can help.

Charities give Christmas gift of water – USATODAY.com.