A Donation Request from the Boy Scouts of America

And how I handled it.

Apparently, Arizona Highways magazine has once again featured my helicopter charter company, Flying M Air, in its magazine. This time, I’m on a list of “31 Things To Do Before You Die.” Although I should be thrilled about this, I’m not. I’m only in Arizona half the year and, in all honesty, have begun thinking of moving my business to Washington permanently.

But I digress.

With publicity like that comes the usual collection of beggars. People looking for money or service donations or “partnerships” with what they believe are ultra-successful businesses come out of the woodwork, visit my site, and start contacting me by phone and email. The ballsiest of these (so far) has been The Boy Scouts of America. Here’s the email their fundraising person sent me yesterday:

Today I am writing concerning the Grand Canyon Council, Boy Scouts of America’s First Annual East Valley Golf Tournament, which will be held on Saturday September 15, 2012 at the Alta Mesa Golf Club in Mesa, Arizona. This will be the first of what we hope will many annual golf out to celebrate the Character Development programs of Scouting here in our community.

Scouting serves nearly 50,000 young people annual in our community with the mission of preparing our youth members to make ethical and moral over their lifetime by instilling in them the Scout Oath and Law. You will find enclosed additional information about some of our successes for your review.

The Alta Mea Golf Club’s 7,093 yard Dick Phelps designed Championship course will provide a wonderful setting for our first annual event. The East Valley Golf Tournament will include lunch, great raffle items, a silent auction, and a player participation package that will be worth in excess of $150.

The event’s auction and lunch will create a great deal of excitement that will top off a perfect day of golf and fellowship. Most auction items are unique, high quality items and/or packages that auction winner’s treasure. I’d like to ask you to consider donating a Multi Day Excursion. Your donation will help Scouting make a positive difference in the lives of over 50,000 children in our community. All donors are recognized in the event program.

If you would like to contribute to this worthy cause, please contact us. Should you have any questions, please contact me at 602-###-#### or XXXXXXX@bsamail.org. Thank you for your consideration of our request. Your generous support will be deeply appreciated!

There was no enclosure. She obviously copied and pasted a boilerplate letter into the message content field on the form on Flying M Air’s website.

Apparently, her editing was limited to requesting a specific service we offer: a Multi-Day Excursion. What you might not know, however, is that our Southwest Circle Helicopter Adventure costs $6,995 for two people. So she was asking for us to donate nearly $7K worth of services for … wait for it … recognition in the event program and their deep appreciation.

Wow.

I did say ballsy, didn’t I?

Of course, The Boy Scouts of America have been in the news quite a bit lately. The New York Times‘ July 17, 2012 article titled “Boy Scouts to Continue Excluding Gay People” — published just two days before I received the email above — begins with the summary:

The Boy Scouts of America has reaffirmed its longtime policy of barring openly gay boys from membership and gay or lesbian adults from serving as leaders. The decision, announced on Tuesday, came after what the organization described as a wide-ranging internal review, and despite public protests.

The article goes on to provide details. If you’re not aware of BSA’s stance on gays, you really ought to read it or one of the dozens of other articles exposing the BSA as the homophobic, backward-thinking organization that it is. Just Google “boy scouts gay” and you’ll get enough links to last through a week of reading.

I guess the BSA’s fundraising people think that their stance on gays is something we should all be glad about — something we all want to support by donating to their charity events. Why else would I get an email message asking for a donation so soon after the BSA made their announcement?

Well, I’m not glad. I don’t think any group should be discriminated against for any reason. The BSA is excluding scouts and leaders based on their sexual orientation. That’s just plain wrong.

I didn’t waste much time crafting a response to the request. I kept it short and simple:

I’m sorry, but the BSA’s anti-gay stance makes it impossible for us to support them. I’m sure you understand.

And I don’t think anything has given me as much pleasure lately as clicking that Send button.

About the Golf Ball Drops

Your questions, answered.

Yesterday, I did a golf ball drop. I have another one scheduled for today. And I’ve done at least three of them in the past. (You can read a blog post that details one of them and see a video of another drop embedded in this post.) Here’s a shot from my helicopter’s skidcam to give you a better idea of what it looks like:

Golf Ball Drop

The Tweets

Last night, when I tweeted:

Today’s golf ball drop had 2100 balls. Just learned that tomorrow’s will have 4900. Can you even IMAGINE that many golf balls? Not me.

I got two replies:

mjburian
I don’t understand (but I’m intrigued). You’re dropping them from altitude? Where? Individually?

Daniel_Loxton
Wait, what? Why would someone drop golf balls (or any solid object) out of a helicopter? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST01bZJPuE0

(The link is to a pertinent WKRP in Cincinnati video clip; watch it if you haven’t seen it before.)

So I figured I’d explain what this is about.

Golf Ball Drop Explained

A golf ball drop is usually a charity or fund-raising event. The fundraisers “sell” numbered golf balls for a set price. The balls are taken up in a helicopter and dropped from 200-300 feet onto a target which is normally a standard sized golf hole or cup. Often, a ring of lines is drawn around the target on the grass to mark different levels of prizes. The ball(s) that go in the cup or are within the rings or are even just closest to the center of the target win the prize(s). The money left over after paying for the helicopter, the balls, and the prizes makes up the proceeds from the fund-raising event.

Normally, this is a big spectator event. After all, who doesn’t like helicopters? Who wouldn’t want to watch something being dropped out of one? It’s a fun way to raise money.

Safety Issues

As a safety-conscious pilot, I do everything in my power to make the flight as safe as possible. The dropper sits behind me, strapped in with his door off. All the other helicopter doors are on to limit the possibility of loose items flying out another door.

The balls are usually stored in bags or boxes on the seat beside the dropper. He drops them out the open door — which is on the side opposite of the helicopter’s tail rotor. The balls generally go straight down, but some do bounce off the skid. I’ve never had one bounce dangerously, but I do leave my door on in to prevent one from bouncing back into the cockpit and getting under my pedals.

Below us, the target area is clear of all people and non-essential equipment. I allow only one passenger — the dropper — on board and run with minimum fuel to keep the aircraft light. I point into the wind during the hover.

The only real danger to the flight is the out of ground effect hover right smack dab in the middle of the deadman’s curve. In the unlikely event of an engine failure, things would get ugly fast.

Yesterday’s Drop

Yesterday’s drop was done at the CrackerJax Family Fun Park less than 1/2 mile from Scottsdale Airport. This required additional coordination with the Scottsdale Tower, since CrackerJax is right under the helicopter approach path to the airport.

It was done to raise money for the notMYkid charity. There were a total of 2,100 balls preloaded into 11 very nice drawstring canvas bags. Due to the size and weight of that many balls — an estimated 400 pounds that would not fit in the left rear passenger seat — we did it in two drops, with a hot loading of the balls between the drops.

The photo above is from my helicopter’s skidcam, which I’d rigged up specifically for the flight. On hindsight, I wish I’d pointed it down more; maybe I’ll try a different angle for today’s drop of 4,900 balls — it’ll likely take 3 or 4 drops to do them all.

It’s All in a Day’s Work

Do I like doing golf ball drops? I like doing anything different and interesting, especially if it’s something that can entertain spectators, too. There were very few spectators for yesterday’s drop, but I expect at least 100 for today’s.

And I really can’t knock getting paid to fly.

Three Charities You Can Help by Helping Yourself

It’s the time of year for giving, so give!

At the end of the year, many non-profit organizations make their year-end plea for funds. They know the same thing deduction-savvy taxpayers know: a donation before year-end can get you a write-off on April 15th.

In general, I prefer educational charities over other types. (For obvious reasons, I don’t give to religious charities, although I did donate to Non-Believers Giving Aid right after the disaster in Haiti.) I think it’s important to keep quality information flowing from the folks who can create it to the folks who can benefit from it. That’s why I suggest the following three charitable organizations if you’re interested in making year-end contributions to charities that directly benefit you and your family:

  • NPR LogoNPR (National Public Radio) had its semiannual pledge drive last week. I caught the tail end of it while driving to do errands, but never got around to picking up the phone. That’s a shame because they often have matching funds during fund drives, so my $50 donation can get my local NPR affiliate $100. Still, I’ll send my contribution by visiting the Support Public Radio page on its Web site. NPR, if you’re not aware, airs a wide variety of radio programming, from talk shows about current events and science to comedy and music. Even if you don’t listen in on the radio, you can subscribe to podcasts for most shows. And if you listen in more than one listening area — for example, I listen in Washington State during the summer months and Phoenix in the winter months — consider splitting your contribution between both of the radio stations you listen to.
  • PBS LogoPBS (Public Broadcasting Service) is similar to NPR in that it airs a lot of educational and thought-provoking content. From Sesame Street to NOVA, from FRONTLINE to Masterpiece, these are the folks who teach and entertain us with something more substantial than the latest incarnation of CSI and Dancing with the Stars. Although you can donate during a pledge drive and receive a “gift,” you don’t need to wait for a pledge drive to donate. (Seriously: do you really need another tote bag?)
  • Wikipedia LogoWikipedia is the online encyclopedia. Say what you will about its accuracy, but you can’t deny that it’s one of the best free sources around for general information about any subject at all. These days, you can’t visit a Wikipedia page without seeing “an urgent appeal” from Jimmy Wales. That’s because it costs a ton of money to run those Web servers. If you use Wikipedia — and who doesn’t? — why not send a little cash their way? Yes, it is tax-deductible in the U.S.

These are the ones on my list. If you think about it, you’ll probably come up with others that might be more meaningful to you and your family. These are organizations that enhance your life and help round out your knowledge. Don’t they deserve your support?

Take a moment and send a little cash their way. It doesn’t matter how much or how little — even $20 can help, especially when hundreds of people just like you send the same.

And remember the added bonus of a tax deduction in April.

The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas

Remarkable reading for the holidays!

The Atheist's Guide to ChristmasA month or more ago, someone on Twitter tweeted a link to the Kindle version of The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas for just $1. Like a lot of people, I consider a buck “why not?” money for anything that interests me. I followed the link and downloaded the book. It sat on my iPad for a while, half forgotten.

Sometime later, while I was eating alone in a restaurant in Phoenix, I cracked the cover (so to speak) and began reading it. It wasn’t at all as I expected. It was so much better.

You see, I expected some sort of anti-religious rant against Christmas and everything concerned with it. Not sure why I expected this — perhaps it’s got something to do with the conservative media’s perceived “war against Christmas” that crops up every year here in the U.S. If you believe the conservatives on FoxNews, etc., anyone who is not Christian hates Christmas and wants to destroy it. Following that line of reason, the folks who should hate it most are atheists, since they don’t believe in any religious doctrines at all.

But that’s not what this book was all about.

The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas is a collection of 42 stories and essays from a variety of atheist scientists, comedians, philosophers, and writers. They include reminiscences (eg., Phil Plait’s “Starry, Starry Night”), celebration suggestions (eg., Josie Long’s “Things to Make and Do at Christmas”), scientific information (eg., Brian Cox’s The Large Hadron Collider: A scientific Creation Story”), historical information (eg., Claire Rayner’s “How to Have a Peaceful Pagan Christmas”), and tall tales (eg., Nick Doody’s “How to Understand Christmas: A Scientific Overview”).

Sure, there was the takeoff on Jeeves and Wooster by Richard Dawkins in which Woofter and Jarvis engage in a conversation about the existence of God, Jesus’s part in the Holy Trinity, and bible inconsistencies. But that was just one small chapter in a very large book. Most of the book is very positive and uplifting, encouraging non-believers to enjoy the Christmas season the way most believers do: with decorations, big meals, gift giving, and gatherings of friends and family members.

The book makes it clear that you don’t need to believe in God or religious doctrines to enjoy a holiday that just happens to coincide with the winter solstice. (Not exactly a coincidence, but try to explain that to a believer.) It also offers plenty of helpful tips and advice for getting along with believers during a holiday that may have some serious religious significance to them.

I’m about halfway through the book — although I do admit that I began reading by using the interactive table of contents to pick and choose among the essays I wanted to read first. While some chapters are better than others as far as their relevance to my personal thoughts about Christmas, I’m certain that any atheist would find something of value in its pages. Likewise, I don’t think any believers would be offended by its contents. As the book’s introduction states, The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas is an “atheist book it’s safe to leave around your granny.” Indeed, I’m certain that even believers would find a lot of content in this book to help make their Christmas celebrations more enjoyable — without threatening their beliefs.

The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas was edited by Ariane Sherine and published by Friday Books. All book royalties are donated to charity — how’s that for the spirit of Christmas giving?