Last week, I shared several ways that you can turn your online holiday shopping into charitable contributions, benefiting those less fortunate. And over the past several days, a minor controversy has arisen surrounding a relatively high-profile online toy drive.
The debacle began a couple weeks ago, when the snarky, spoofy blog, Regretsy.com—a site dedicated to poking fun at the arts-and-crafty contributors to Etsy.com—launched a fundraising campaign to provide toys for children during the holidays, a “Secret Santa” program, of sorts. With a simple post, and the addition of a PayPal “Donate” button, the donations began pouring in from the site’s legion of loyal followers. Soon, there were enough donations to provide toys to 200 families. April Winchell, who operates Regretsy, went out and bought the toys. And then everything went south.
April was contacted by PayPal representatives, who explained that the “Donate” button was only for authorized charities—a claim that they later peddled back, admitting that anyone may use it to raise money for any charitable cause—a sick cat, an orphaned child, unexpected car repairs, etc. Things became so convoluted, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details. But, suffice it to say that communications broke down.
She tried a couple of work-arounds. What if she “sold” the toys on her website, and allowed them to be shipped as gifts to the needy families? PayPal wouldn’t allow it—even though it’s a common practice on most retail sites, particularly around the holidays. At one point, April was told “You aren’t going to get around this. It’s too late, we already know what you’re trying to do and we’re not going to let you do it.”
April asked to speak to a supervisor, and was told “No one above me will talk to you.” At the end of her rope, she asked how she could close her PayPal account. The PayPal representative told her that she would first have to “refund everything, write a letter saying you understood what you did WAS WRONG AND YOU WILL NEVER DO IT AGAIN, and then request permission to close your account.” All because she found herself in a charitable mood for the holidays.
It appeared that April would have to manually refund all of the donated money, “thousands of $2 sales and contributions”—an overwhelming task by anyone’s standards. But here’s the kicker: PayPal informed April that they would be retaining a portion of their transaction fee on every donation. That’s when it went viral, and became PayPal’s biggest PR crisis of the year.
Regretsy fans took to the social media outlets with a vengeance, blasting PayPal for essentially doing nothing but creating headaches, and collecting a small fee. By now, it had become clear that April had not violated PayPal’s “Acceptable Use Policy,” which was problematically vague to begin with. Soon, other blogs and online media outlets had picked up the story, amplifying the backlash for PayPal.
Meanwhile, April was buying and shipping toys, as the Christmas deadline loomed. How the whole PayPal situation would shake loose seemed to be anyone’s guess—but for April, it was clear that the show had to go on.
And then, last Wednesday, everything changed. Maybe it was a Christmas miracle, maybe it was buckets and buckets of bad press—or maybe, as a writer at TheDailyWh.at posited, PayPal’s heart “grew three sizes” that day. Not only did they issue a statement, apologizing for their error and any inconvenience it may have caused, they processed all of the donations as they should have in the first place.
And those 200 families that April planned to help? Well, they’re all receiving their Christmas presents, along with a hand-written note from Santa Claus. And $100 each from PayPal, who agreed to offer a donation to each family—a small token of their apology for nearly wrecking Christmas.
Don’t you love stories with happy endings?
Originally printed in “Pulse,” 12/15/2011.
© Damien Willis, 2011. All rights reserved.