What Happened to the GiveBack.org Money? October 30, 2011

What Happened to the GiveBack.org Money?

Maybe you can help me figure this out…

A few months ago, I promoted a contest at GiveBack.org that gave $50,000 to the first place winner. An atheist named Chris McCoy asked other users on Reddit to vote for him and he quickly took over the top spot, eventually winning the money.

One of the reasons I was so excited to support him was because he said a big chunk of the prize money was going to go to secular organizations that I support — including the Secular Student Alliance, Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Center For Inquiry, and the Foundation Beyond Belief.

Well, it’s been a few months and I know Foundation Beyond Belief hasn’t seen any of that money.

The Secular Student Alliance didn’t even know they were one of the groups Chris said he wanted to support.

When I spoke to Ron Lindsay at the Center For Inquiry, he told me they not not received a donation from Chris McCoy or GiveBack.org.

So where did the money go?

To be sure, I’m not complaining. And this isn’t some accusation against Chris. I know this was a gift, that it was ultimately Chris’ choice where the money went, and that it didn’t have to go to us. But since groups I have worked with (and still work with) were listed as possible beneficiaries, this is more than some passing curiosity. This money could help my organizations quite a bit.

I tried contacting AtheistGiveBack — the account Chris was using on Reddit — a week ago and still haven’t heard back.

I want to know where the money went and I want to know that it went somewhere worthwhile. A lot of people including me supported him in the contest precisely because of where the prize money was going to go. Don’t we deserve an answer?

Any help in getting to the bottom of this would be appreciated.

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  • If anything, this should be a lesson to others to not support others in such a manner unless they can and will sign a binding agreement to follow through within a specified amount of time.
    You and the others got scammed, my friend.

  • Thorny264

    To be fair, has anyone checked that he didn’t die, just want to rule it out before we slander his name.

  • Trace


  • A Portlander

    For all we know, the money hasn’t been disbursed yet.  Nobody flip your $#!%.  Yet.

  • “I tried contacting AtheistGiveBack — the account Chris was using on Reddit — a week ago and still haven’t heard back.”
    Okay, someone brought up the possibility that the recipient may be dead. Yes, that is a possibility. If the funds have not yet been disbursed, however, it would still be common courtesy for the winner to have responded to Hemant’s inquiry after a week. At the very least it is suspicious that he did not gt back to Hemant.
    I’m going with scam with death as a less likely (but still plausible) second explanation.

  • TiltedHorizon

    I googled “Chris McCoy” and found several articles about how he won the 50K, also mentioned were some of the charities he considered donating to. I then googled those charities in combination his name and found this:

    4 Paws for Ability receives donationXENIA — Charity
    and giving literally went to the dogs on Thursday, Sept. 22, when
    Stephen Paletta, founder of GiveBack.org and the 2007 winner of Oprah’s
    Big Give, paid a visit to 4 Paws for Ability, 253 Dayton Ave., to share a
    heartwarming story about the power of helping others.

    Paletta were Erin Blocksidge, a young single mother from Quesnel,
    British Columbia and Chris McCoy, a financial service representative for
    Metropolitan Life in Phoenix. The trio’s paths crossed when both
    Blocksidge and McCoy entered the 100 Days of Giving contest at Paletta’s
    GiveBack.org site to win $50,000 to give to charity. The goal behind
    the contest, according to Paletta, was to develop “a large, giving

    “It’s this idea of allowing everyone to be a philanthropist,” said Paletta.

    Blocksidge, participation in the contest was motivated by a personal
    desire to see her autistic son, Thor, receive a service dog from 4 Paws
    for Ability. Blocksidge went on a full blown recruitment effort, seeking
    out online moms to sign up at GiveBack.org. With each new member,
    Blocksidge earned points toward the $50,000 prize. Once victory was
    secured, she intended to give the money to 4 Paws for Ability. The
    single mother was on her way to first place. Then, McCoy entered the
    contest at a very late stage.

    “I’m a member of a large online
    community,” said McCoy. “I heard about the 100 Days of Giving at day 92,
    so we had some catching up to do.”

    Three days after his entry,
    McCoy was in the lead, amassing an army of new members for GiveBack.org.
    According to McCoy, people were eager to join when they learned about
    GiveBack.org’s mission.

    “We had people come in and say, ‘Yeah, this is a good idea. We want to be part of this.’”

    the contest drew to a close, the young financial service representative
    learned about Blocksidge’s cause while reading information at her
    website, Paws4Thor.com. The single mother’s quest to provide her son
    with an autism service dog touched McCoy’s heart and the hearts of his
    online community.

    “Erin’s story tugged at our heartstrings,” said McCoy. “We said, ‘Hey guys, if we win this, Erin’s getting some money.’”

    win became a shared victory on Thursday as the financial service
    representative handed his $50,000 prize over to 4 Paws for Ability,
    Blocksidge’s agency of choice, shortly after receiving the check from
    Paletta. Blocksidge also used the occasion to announce the launch of Paw
    It Forward, an online fundraiser on GiveBack.org that will benefit 4
    Paws for Ability. According to Paletta, Paw It Forward marks the
    beginning of the new social fundraising feature on GiveBack.org.

    “GiveBack.org is a platform to share people hearts,” said Paletta.

    Readers wishing to learn more about Paw It Forward are encouraged to visit GiveBack.org for more details.


  • Trace

    Yes, I saw some talk in one of Hemant’s links about “Autistic Spectral Disorders” [sic]  😉

  • Regardless of the fact that Chris did not keep the money, he still did not perform as he promised. While the money went to what seems to be a worthy cause, the money was won under false pretenses…intentional or not. He likely would not have won the prize if he had not told Hemant and others that he was going to give to the list of charities he promised to give them to.

  • ara

    If you click the link in the third paragraph/second major paragraph of Hemant’s post, (going to go to secular organizations ) you’ll see that the charity that received the money was at the top of the list originally posted.

    Doesn’t exactly sound like false pretenses to me…

  • ara

    The immediate “lol we got scammed” response seems indicative of the same problems I’m seeing with this community’s response to the ACS funding issue.  The minute something doesn’t go our way (or that we perceive it didn’t go our way), we assume the absolute worst about the other party involved and then start defaming them.

  • dauntless

    Seems very reminiscent of the persecution complex present in many religious people, doesn’t it?

  • Anonymous

    His computer might not be working or he might merely be away, overwhelmed, in a park protesting wealth disparity, or sitting in the hospital with a sick loved one.  Let us hope for the courtesy of a response, but not get agitated until there is evidence of inappropriate behavior. 

  • “Erin’s story tugged at our heartstrings,” said McCoy. “We said, ‘Hey guys, if we win this, Erin’s getting some money.’”

    I find this quote pretty lame seeing as Hemant didn’t know about it. You would think Chris would have notified some part of the community. And why not split the prize so he still gave to various orgs? 

    Seems to me that better communication on Chris’ part would probably have preserved some more respect for him. Yes yes good cause but still…

  • bokudo

    I have to be honest: this community’s handling of the ACS charity issue and now this are a major turn off for me.
    I’m not anyone important so my opinion isn’t of any legitimate weight but I thought this site was Friendly Atheist. The handling of these two issues hasn’t been friendly at all but combative and potentially slanderous.
    This money went to a good cause so let’s not cheapen the fact that something positive was accomplished by complaining that it wasn’t accomplished for your specific pet projects.

  • I’m glad it went to a good cause, but I bring this up because we were told some of the money would go to atheist groups, and it hasn’t. I think we deserve a explanation

  • Though he listed 4 Paws for Ability as the first charity that might receive funds if he won, the story posted in the first comment makes it sound as though he had absolutely no intentions of donating to anyplace else. In fact, it sounds like he joined the contest just to raise money for Paws 4 Ability!

    The good news is that this “scam” (and it does seem like it was one) didn’t hurt anyone. He didn’t take Redditers’ (or readers’) money, right? Just their time & votes & confidence?  Don’t get me wrong, that still sucks, but there’s technically no harm done.

  • ara

    but the information provided from the outset included giving to the charity to which the money went.

  • That was one of several charities specified. But did *all* of the money go there? If so, why were the atheist charities mentioned?

  • An agreement was made that if Party “A” did this for Party “B”, then Party “B” would do that in return for Party “A”.  Party “A” performed as promised. Party “B” breached that agreement and did not perform as promised.
    There is clearly a failure to perform.  That could certainly be construed as deceptive behavior. Guilty until proven innocent? Nope. He did not do as he promised. Facts are facts, no matter how you try to dress them up.
    Whatever his reasoning might be, he went back on his word. Try that in the business world and see how long you stay out of court.
     What is so damn difficult to understand about this situation?

  • TheBlackCat

    So what should we have done in the ACS case?

    In this case, assuming that the money isn’t being distributed to the organizations originally claimed, then the money was obtained under false pretenses.  Are you saying we should just ignore lies and deceit because it was for a good cause?  

  • ara

    While I absolutely believe in the value of secular giving, the problems with both of these events seem to stem from a number of issues.

    1.) There is little tradition of organized secular giving from the “atheist community”
    2.) The online movement seems to be predominantly made up of a demographic of increasingly polarized individuals (aka “the internet”).

    Because of the lack of tradition, there’s no “normal” way to do it and there’s no “normal” way to respond to events that don’t go exactly as planned.  

    Furthermore, because of the (potentially vocal minority) demographic, when things don’t go exactly as planned everyone immediately assumes the worst (see immediate assumption of being scammed) and begin doing what people on the internet do when they believe the worst of others: defamation/trolling/spamming/etc.

  • bokudo

    Maybe he just hadn’t decided which charity to give the money to.
    And I don’t particularly thnk we do deserve an explanation. Did the money come from any of us? All we did was help another organization choose the individual that got to decide where an already allotted amount was going to be donated.

  • bokudo

    In the case of the ACS issue I’d have suggested this thought process “they don’t want to recognize a group for donating money = that group shouldn’t give them the money unless they feel that the potential good of the donation outweighs the publicity of the gift”
    obviously in this case the publicity of the donation was more important and I’d have to agree. $500k to that particular organization isn’t enough potential good to outweigh the publicity

  • Apparently that is EXACTLY what bokudo and others that are making excuses for this guy are saying.  I’m surprised at the number of folks on this thread that are defending what is clearly indefensible behavior.

  • If you take a step back and look at the big picture, it looks exactly like false pretenses.

  • TiltedHorizon

    From his original posting he states:

    “The ones who will be receiving letters so far on how they would use
    the donation are: Secular Student Alliance, Center for Inquiry,
    Foundation Beyond Belief, Brother’s Brother, Autism Speaks, Atheist
    Alliance. These responses will dictate how much and where the money goes, all
    information will come back to r/atheism so everyone can see what they’re
    effort has achieved as well as how we can do more.”

    I am guessing these organizations did not respond or their plans did not impress enough. Either way, he did state, in the same post, that certain charities were ‘definitely’ getting the money but only Paws4Thor seems to have seen any. Asking for an explanation is certainly a reasonable request.  

  • bokudo

    Apparently you have information on this that some others may not, myself included. If there was any agreement to the affect that some of the donation would go to other groups then yes, McCoy’s behavior is deceitful.
    However, all I see from the 2 links in the above post is a list of potential recipients which even states that the list is neither final nor complete.

  • It’s a reasonable request, but none of the groups even received an email/letter from him. They never had a chance to make their case

  • Hemant wrote:
    ” An atheist named Chris McCoy asked other users on Reddit to vote for him…One of the reasons I was so excited to support him was because he said a big chunk of the prize money was going to go to secular organizations
    that I support…”

    Was there an implied agreement to perform?  BASED ON HEMANT”S POST it certainly appears so. It comes down to who is more believable.

  • TheBlackCat

    Let me repeat the question: “So what should we have done in the ACS case?”  You said you had a problem with how it was handled.  How would you have handled it differently?  This thought process of yours doesn’t really explain how your actions would have been different.

    As for your thought process, it isn’t a question of doing good vs. not doing good.  The money is going somewhere, it is still being used to do good.  The question is which charity is getting it.  So why should we give money to an organization that doesn’t care about it when there are a lot of ther organizations that do?  Why should we get involved with an organization that wants to minimize its involvement with us when there are lots of organizations willing to work as closely with us as we want?

    You also are forgetting that the ones that were really concerned with publicity apparently were the ACS, who were more concerned with not appearing to support atheism than they were with using the money to help people.  Why are you so concerned with our thought process when the exact same thought process had to go through their head as well?

  • TheBlackCat

    We helped the other organization pick this person based on what he said he was going to do with the money.  He almost certainly obtained the money because he said he was giving money or charities he has not given money to.  If he is, in fact, not giving the money to these charities, then he got the money by lying (or at least being intentionally deceptive).  

    Let me ask you this: what if he claimed he was giving all the money to, for example, the red cross, and using this claimed got a lot of supporters of the red cross to vote for him and thus get him the money.  Then, once he got the money, he donated it to the ASPCA.  Would the red cross supporters in that case be justified in being upset?  If so, then what is the fundamental difference here?  If not, then we have such different sets of moral and ethical standards that there is no point discussing this any further (I consider lying to be immoral).

  • “I consider lying to be immoral”
    Apparently we are in the minority on this thread.

  • But if you read the actual reddit post, 4Paws is indeed on the list. Here, the list:

    4 Paws For Ability in honor of Thor BlocksidgeSecular Student AllianceDoctors without BordersCenter for InquiryFreedom From Religion FoundationFoundation Beyond Belief

    He chose to give all the money to 4Paws. Calling him immoral and lying is a bit much when the money went to one of the groups he said would get it. You want to be curious as to WHY it all went to one charity? Sure, and try to find out. But the dude DID give the money to one of the charities on the list. He just didn’t give money to ALL of them. That part’s important.
    But maybe get facts BEFORE the character assasination starts, because I’m pretty sure the 4Paws folks are rather thrilled with Mr. McCoy right now. I mean, folks could POSSIBLY stand down from the lynch mob mentality building here, as clearly, there are different points of view at work, and an incomplete grasp of the facts.However, since i’m a cynical old bastard, I’m sure that the online lynching of Chris McCoy will continue unabated, and should he explain his reasons, the best most of you will ever do is say “oh”. Go Go Rationality.

  • Did he give *all* of the money to the one group? I hadn’t read that anywhere…
    Also, if that was his intent, why bring up the atheist groups in the first place?

  • ara

    The article posted elsewhere in this thread seemed to explain why he later decided to give it all to the one charity.  He seemed originally inclined to give to all of them, but upon hearing some specific story about a kid needing a work animal decided to give it all to 4 Paws.

    In other words, while his original intent may have been to give to many organizations, he later decided that a specific need was great enough to preclude dividing the money up.

  • Michael

    I don’t know any more about what’s really going on than anybody, but in this post on reddit from a month ago, http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/ktjkh/first_givebackorg_donation_trip_story_4_paws_4/ , he mentions at the end a ‘slight error’ in the donation amount in the article and that he’s contacted the newspaper.

    And if you read the comment he left on the Xenia article, you’ll then see that he gave them $5k, not the whole $50k.

    “Posted: Tuesday, September 27, 2011
    Chris McCoy

    There needs to be a correction, the amount of the donation was 5k, not 50.”


    Also, it’s worth nothing that the title of the reddit post is ‘First GiveBack.org donation trip story’. Since he didn’t give the entire amount to 4 Paws, then this may suggest that he’s planning other trips to award the rest.

  • ara

    this immediate jump to character assassination and rousing the online lynch mob is exactly the kind of thing we need to avoid if we want to also avoid the kind of bad PR that keeps us from appearing to be the assholes the non secular community already thinks we are 🙁

  • ara


    should have been:

    “… if we want to also avoid the kind of bad PR that makes us appear to be the assholes the non secular community already thinks we are”

  • Michael

    No, only $5k did. See my other comment. I am concerned that he hasn’t contacted the other organizations yet, but I think this whole matter deserves more investigation than it’s been given before any of us start assuming we’ve been misled. Many people don’t have an e-mail address attached to their reddit account, so he may not even know about your PM if he hasn’t signed in during the past week. Do we have any other means of contacting him?

  • Well then I stand corrected. Maybe this is a post that never should have been in the first place.

  • yeah. Hemant kind of stoked some serious silliness with this, although one could say this post is an attempt to force Chris McCoy to inform Hemant of what’s going on.

    Which means Mr. McCoy has learned that public charity is a pain in the ass, and who cares what anyone thinks. I hope he just does what he planned on and tells no one. 

  • Kjekkas

    I’ve read through all posts now, and I must say, this talk about character assassination is just taken out of thin air and completely uncalled for. At least from what’s written here. I’ll reconsider if given some evidence to the contrary.

    That said, the suspicions of scam and foul play; these are not “character assassinations” or “lynch mentality” at all.  No-one has, as far as I have seen, called for harming McCoy or sladering his name. The suspicions are purely natural reactions to the nature of this case.

    It could be clumsy handling/deliberate misleading/circumstances yet unknown..Reacting is natural, and trying to put the reactions down is the real slanderous behaviour here.

  • Sensible

    NO.  You don’t deserve to know.  You just want to know.  You’re not entitled to it.  

  • Cody Darkstalker

    I disagree, scams online involving charity are sadly very common, and this post seemed more like a polite request for documentation rather then a call for a lynch mob.  Also, the ACS is simply being called out for being difficult, there was no call for a boycott or anything nasty, people just want to know who to help and how to get the most results with their money, which is fair.

  • Michael

    “You and the others got scammed, my friend.” ~ The Godless Monster, elsewhere in this thread *

    That’s not a suspicion; that’s a conclusion.

    Suspecting Chris of scamming may be natural, but prematurely declaring he’s done so is also wrong and we can do better. There’s a difference between “I suspect you got scammed” and “You got scammed.”

    * Not trying to pick on TGM here, just provide an example

  • Michael

    I’m glad that Hemant posted this, as I’d already forgotten about the campaign. I appreciate that he’s also been very measured in both his post and his responses to comments. My hope is that we’ll learn more soon. Accountability is important, and since the winning of the prize was a group effort, Chris really ought to keep the group in the loop. 

  • And when thou donate, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are:
    for they love to donate standing high in the blog posts and in the comments, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They
    have their reward.

  • Kjekkas

    “You and the others got scammed, my friend.” ~ The Godless Monster, elsewhere in this thread ”

    Really? So what? Are you not free to not accept his conclusion?

    And the rest is really splitting hairs, don’t you think.

  • The top entry in the list would not be a false pretense. All remaining entries would.

  • ara

    then I stand corrected… and feel even more like this entire conversation was an unnecessary set of baseless assumptions and accusations of “scammer” and “liar”

  • I think invoking Hanlon’s Razor is a good idea, but…
    In a park protesting wealth disparity, while sitting on a huge chunk of donation money? Hilarious. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume the real McCoy isn’t so mindlessly stupid.

  • He won’t mind.

  • Michael

    If it’s splitting hairs to point out that someone did indeed assassinate, so to speak, McCoy’s character over something without enough facts to justify firing that shot, so be it.

  • I’d say the harm is limited to the realm of the charities involved. There was a lack of clarity and fairness between supporters and recipients.

  • ara

    if your initial post was to point out that no character assassination had occurred, is this really a good response to an example of said character assassination?

  • I don’t understand why some feel as though Hemant is being unreasonable in his questioning of where the funds went. He did his part in trying to rally people to vote for McCoy, is it not fair to want to see the fruits of ones efforts? As it stands, only 5k has gone to a charity and none of the other charities have received an e-mail from McCoy.

    For someone who wrote, “I’m trying to keep everything completely transparent…” he really has failed in that department. Regardless, it sounded as though he was really invested in choosing the “right” charities. He might have received a lot more charity recommendations than he anticipated, and is looking into all of them– which takes time if done thoroughly. An e-mail updating the proposed charities in the first place, would have been the sensible thing to do (whether or not in the end he decided to donate to them).

  • Kjekkas

    ara & Michael:

    I think you are being a little too sensitive.

  • Eskil

    How do you figure?

  • Kjekkas

    -and your threshold for flinging around real accusations is too low.

  • so far, Chris has been accused of scamming people and lying, and no one has any positive proof of either. That’s character assassination. But of course, since you agree with those conclusions, I’m “splitting hairs” and being “oversensitive”. 

  • shoulda, woulda, coulda. 

    What chris SHOULD do and what he HAS to do are two different things. What you’d like to know and what you’re ENTITLED to know are similarly, two different things. Perhaps keeping that in mind will help.

  • Eskil

    Common decency entitles Hermant to know. You are apparently unfamiliar with it.

  • McCoy himself stated that he wanted to keep everything as transparent as possible, not myself or Hemant. He doesn’t have to keep things transparent as he said he would, but due to that statement it’s quite reasonable for Hemant to expect at least an e-mail.

    Do I have to know anything? No. My rent doesn’t depend on it so it doesn’t make a difference to me. However, in this society it’s the reasonable thing to give supporters some updates, especially concerning money that was given to a person so he could donate it to good cause. But no one is going to put a gun to his head for him to do it. I don’t understand why you resort to dichotomous thinking over this matter. An e-mail stating “I’m still looking into it” is really not too much to ask.

    In the end I give him the benefit of the doubt. If you put it into perspective, 50k dollars is not a lot of money when being it’s being split up into several charities. He was actively looking into other organizations to donate to, and most likely is still looking into them.  I know I would want to send e-mails to the charities all at the same time to give each of them equal footing to make their case. Paws 4 Ability is different, because he was in direct competition with them it sounds like.

    It must be an extremely difficult decision to make.

  • As long as 4 Paws for Ability is an secular entity, fine by me.

  • Christina P.

    Religious people and those without religion have the same neural circuitry, full of evolutionary redundancies and emotional backfiring- yes, it does seem reminiscent. While we’ve moved past trying to explain mystery with omnipotent magic, we’re still subject to logical fallacies and petty behavior. Hehe…there’s always something to work on, I suppose.

  • Christina P.

    I’d say the whole situation leaves me with a taste of partial dishonesty, followed by non-confrontational silence.  McCoy may have done a bit of schmoozing to influence his win, and that’s a slimy thing to do- but it worked for him. The bottom line is, trusting an anonymous person to be completely honest is folly to begin with- but at the very least we have no proof that the money he got through the FBB’s support wasn’t squandered on margaritas and cruises to the Bahamas. In fact, we do have proof that some of it (and hopefully all) has gone towards helping those less fortunate. Instead of looking for simple monetary kickback for support service given (sorry Hemant I know FBB is your baby,) why not try to see it this way– your internet votes converted into real world help for humans who need it. Moral reward, anyone? As for Hemant wanting to know what happened to all of it, and the reports that only 5k went to 4 Paws for Ability instead of all 50k, I believe he has the right to know how the votes he drummed up were converted into help for humanity. I’m sure we would rather not find out that 45k actually did go towards those margaritas- because that’s truly wasted effort.

  • Chris McCoy

    Just had someone shoot me a link to this page.  Put down the pitchforks, you can see the lack of response on this money distributed if you search the “atheistgiveback” posts on reddit. 

    Here’s another 20k being donated, the other 25k is still coming out.  http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/nbqoa/it_doesnt_show_on_the_donation_drive_but_heres/

    I know that my time and effort is going to help great projects as well as spreading the giveback.org website as a great way to donate to charity. 
    Further – I refuse to do multiple fundraising events at once. Reddit.com/r/atheism raised over 220k for DWB last month. One cause at a time please!

  • Chris McCoy

    Lots of speculation here. Not a bit accurate. 4 Paws recieved 5k.

  • Chris McCoy

    Thank you, but I will be letting everyone know where it goes as everyone took some time and deserves to know that what they do (as small as it may be) has impact. 

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