Location: The Couchsurfing Project >> We are upset that CS has become a for-profit corporation
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Would you like to take back money from your verification donation?
Posted October 29th, 2011 - 9:27 am by from Olsztyn, Poland (Permalink)
Hello!
Just before my last trip I've got verified. I've naively believed in that whole chip talk about being more trustworthy, getting hosts easier etc. Silly - I know, but in that time my profile was nearly empty and I really thought I need that. Moreover I thought I'm supporting something worth to support. But during my trip I've talked, I've read, I've thought and I've got aware that motives I described above were just stupid. So a little bit to discharge my frustration (I really felt cheated), a little bit in sign of protest I've sent this e-mail to CS administration:



"Dear CS Staff,
just before starting my last trip I decided to make a donation and get verified, but I have not been aware that I am donating to B-Company. Now, when I know that my money will not support non-profit organisation as I intended, I would like to have them back and cancel verification. Can you offer me any help in that mater?
Yours sincerely
Mateusz Karbowski"



As I said: I've did it in sign of protest, completely sure that it just can't work - it would be precedence that would potentially cause too serious consequences. But look what they answered (it looks like copy-paste answer, mostly explanations of becoming B-corp which you know; I've bold single important passage; don't lose time on reading rest):



"Hello Mateusz!

Thank you for contacting us. Our apologies for the duplicate charge. I have refunded the transaction and you should see those funds returned to your account within a few days. We appreciate your patience and apologize for any inconvenience.

For four years, we had been trying to get a legal certification for United States non-profits known as 501c3. However, because what we do as an organization and as a social network doesn't fit neatly into 501c3 categories, we were denied this status all the times we tried.

We were finally advised to take on a structure that fits better and enables us to maximize our ability to achieve our mission and our full potential: the B Corporation structure. As a B Corporation, or B Corp, CouchSurfing will achieve the idealistic integrity of a non-profit as well as the efficiency and flexibility of a more traditional company. That means that we can leverage the benefits of both and hire more people, improve the site, and deliver the features you've been asking for as well as the ones we've all been dreaming about.

Even though being a non-profit has been a major defining feature of CouchSurfing, it isn't CouchSurfing's core identity. Our identity is our vision and our mission. We get people together and we help them share stories and hospitality and inspiring experiences.

We encourage you to learn more about our transition process, and B Corporations, by checking the videos available on http://www.couchsurfing.org/bcorp.

Thank you for being a member of the CouchSurfing Project!

Happy Surfing!

[Name and location of volunteer]
CouchSurfing Volunteer"



Big surprise! Whole email is out of point - I've never been double charged, I haven't been asking about reasons for becoming B-corp and whole reply has no straight connection to what I've written - but answer was more or less positive. My verification was canceled immediately. For money I've been waiting few days (I've already started to think that this part will not be so easy) but in the end everything worked.

Few more important things about chronology to mention:
- on 21.08 I've started verification,
- on 24.08 my bank account was charged,
- on 28.08 I've received message about CS becoming B-corp,
- on 19.10 (or 20.10, I'm not sure) I've sent complain,
- on 21.10 I've got answer
- on 25.10 I've got money refund.
Probably not many people are in same situation (donated just before CS becoming B-corp) but I hope that someone will find this info useful. I encourage you to try to do the same - even if you donated long time ago. You have nothing to lose and even showing your disapproval this way is enough.
See you on road!
Mateusz

Posted October 29th, 2011 - 2:41 pm by from Paris, France (Permalink)
Thanks for sharing Mateusz. I am not surprised by the answer and that you were refunded. I believe that upon request legally they are obliged to return any donations made after CS was told by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service that they would not be given 501c3 charity status about a year ago. And possibly further back.

I encourage anyone who has paid money to CS trusting that f it was going to a charitable cause and now regrets doing that to ask for a refund. You can then always donate the refund to another non-profit ogranization (hospitality community or other).

I am just surprised that they continue to send such very formal messages signed by volunteers and that such sensitive issues aren't handled by CS employees.

Posted October 29th, 2011 - 5:07 pm from Istanbul, Turkey
This member profile has been deactivated

Posted October 30th, 2011 - 9:12 am by from Olsztyn, Poland (Permalink)
I haven't completed verification. Postcard has been waiting for me in home when I returned but I haven't entered code - would be a little bit cynical to complete verification and just after that ask to have money back.
Actually it doesn't change anything in this matter I guess, but note also that I've literally asked to cancel my verification. Maybe that was mistake.

Posted October 30th, 2011 - 2:25 pm from Istanbul, Turkey
This member profile has been deactivated

Posted October 30th, 2011 - 5:00 pm from Vostok Station, Antarctica
This member profile has been deactivated

Posted October 30th, 2011 - 7:58 pm by from Olsztyn, Poland (Permalink)
Let me know how it worked samai77. Would be nice to know that someone successfully used this info. ;)

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Posted October 31st, 2011 - 8:38 am by from Tromso, Norway (Permalink)
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Posted October 31st, 2011 - 8:39 am by from Tromso, Norway (Permalink)
This post has been removed by the user.

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Posted October 31st, 2011 - 10:52 am by from Paris, France (Permalink)
I tried to get my verification money back (verification that I did less than a year ago) , and they are telling me it's not possible ?
Anyone else has managed to get their donnation back ??
I donnated sometimes around Feb 2010

Posted October 31st, 2011 - 10:55 am by from Paris, France (Permalink)
This was our exchange:

Hello ZOROXEUS!

Thank you for contacting us. Unfortunately we are unable to refund transactions that have been settled that long ago.

For four years, we had been trying to get a legal certification for United States non-profits known as 501c3. However, because what we do as an organization and as a social network doesn't fit neatly into 501c3 categories, we were denied this status all the times we tried.

We were finally advised to take ...
blah blah blah


YOUR QUESTION:

Hello
I have learned that you have changed your status from a charity to a B-corp.
I would like to have a refund please for the amount I have given you to the CS organization to be "verified".

Posted October 31st, 2011 - 1:30 pm from Ausservillgraten, Austria
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Posted October 31st, 2011 - 4:07 pm from Kolkata, India
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Posted October 31st, 2011 - 5:19 pm by from Paris, France (Permalink)
Andrey: "do you remember that Last Minute COuch possibility was only for verified users before?"

The irony is that, for the moment, only hosts need to be verified in order to use the Last Minute Hosting feature, but not the surfers, which seems to suggest that "unverified" hosts are more of a safety hazard than "unverified" guests. Which is absurd considering that all verification does is check if the name given to CS resembles that used on the credit card and if the member can receive a postcard at a post address. And the host's address is of course known to the surfer (and the name probably on the door or mailbox), while the surfer's real name and address aren't.

Posted October 31st, 2011 - 5:30 pm by from Dijon, France (Permalink)
"And the host's address is of course known to the surfer (and the name probably on the door or mailbox), while the surfer's real name and address aren't."

Numerous hosts come pick up surfers. I doubt many surfers verify the address. I personally have been driven out to remote country places that look perfect for a horror film.

Posted October 31st, 2011 - 8:10 pm by from Paris, France (Permalink)
"Numerous hosts come pick up surfers. I doubt many surfers verify the
address. I personally have been driven out to remote country places that
look perfect for a horror film."


Would those places have looked any differently knowing that CS recorded the postal address to which the mail was sent to at the time of verification?

Posted November 1st, 2011 - 9:47 am from Tourlaville, France
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Posted November 1st, 2011 - 3:38 pm by from Paris, France (Permalink)
Verification payments were never accepted by the IRS as charitable donations. They are fees for a verification service (page 9) and for green checkmarks sold to customers. The sale of this service continues in all legality. It is the almost exlusive source of revenue for CouchSurfing/Better World Through Travel Inc. accounting for 99% of funds (while actual donations without counterparts accounted for only 1%, source Casey Fenton, October 9th in Paris). Nothing has changed in this respect, and contrary to what CouchSurfing wants to make believe there was no need to bring in outside investors because of any changes to donations.

Posted November 4th, 2011 - 2:20 am by from Sharon Springs, United States (Permalink)
i once chartered a not-for-profit corp under ny state law. Then, as now, the incentive for most such legal entities was procuring donations which were deductible for tax purposes. But federal nfp designation is a weighty process (as csf has learned). I have no problem if csf want to "B" real, and their official response appears quite reasonable, i.e core purpose etc. Since incorporation limits individual legal liability, attempts by cs members to retrieve verification "donations are both complaint/confession of greed and gullibility). After all, cs-ers, you know you could have actually donated the like amount, rather than paying for the verification service. Accept your personal responsibility for this decision, but don't stop asking cs corporate "inspiritors" to justify their corporate policy. After all, at that level, no individual is liable for his/her/whatever action.

Posted November 4th, 2011 - 8:01 am by from Dijon, France (Permalink)
Seth said (in full):

"i once chartered a not-for-profit corp under ny state law. Then, as now, the incentive for most such legal entities was procuring donations which were deductible for tax purposes. But federal nfp designation is a weighty process (as csf has learned)."

I have received federal nonprofit status for many nonprofits. It was not that complicated. CS applied for "charity" status, not normal nonprofit status. If CS governance had been legal, it might have even received charity status, but since CS governance was clearly illegal, the IRS rightly refused. CS received no significant amount of funding from US citizens seeking tax deductions, or the "incentive" you mention is of little importance.


" I have no problem if csf want to "B" real, and their official response appears quite reasonable, i.e core purpose etc. Since incorporation limits individual legal liability, attempts by cs members to retrieve verification "donations are both complaint/confession of greed and gullibility)."

CS management is NOT applying for Benefit Corporation status. It instead made a misleading application to a private organization for a paid seal of approval. It is likely even this will be revoked soon. One of CS's outside investors, "Benchmark Capital" recently abandoned even this seal of approval.


"After all, cs-ers, you know you could have actually donated the like amount, rather than paying for the verification service. Accept your personal responsibility for this decision,"

I'm afraid I don't understand the logic here. If I donated money to CS,
then I am responsible for Fenton stealing community property?

"but don't stop asking cs corporate "inspiritors" to justify their corporate policy. After all, at that level, no individual is liable for his/her/whatever action."

No, I will not stop asking. But neither will I stop at asking. If CS management refuses to be accountable, there are options being explored.

David

Posted November 4th, 2011 - 10:21 am from Munich, Germany
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Posted November 5th, 2011 - 7:02 pm by from Sharon Springs, United States (Permalink)
All not-for-profits in US are chartered by states only as corporations. Corporations have one clear advantage over other membership groups, a legal exemption for individual liability for corporate actions. Their is no compulsion to seek 501c Federal classification. Such status does however confer the ability to seek donations which are IRS tax exempt for the donor. Such donations exclude those made for services rendered. Shortly after I joined CS in 2009, I made a donation, alerting CS management that their "verification" policy was disingenuous if not illegal.
The point regarding individual responsibility cuts both ways: ignorance of the law is excused only for those legally incapacitated; i.e it is the responsibility of each member to separates the tares from the edible grain.

Posted November 5th, 2011 - 7:15 pm by from Paris, France (Permalink)
Seth: "Shortly after I joined CS in 2009, I made a donation,
alerting CS management that their "verification" policy was
disingenuous if not illegal."


What was the response?

Posted November 6th, 2011 - 2:56 am by from Sharon Springs, United States (Permalink)
The response was simply that I was wrong. Couchsurfing justified its right to provide a "verification" option to facilitate the safety of its members and that no one was denied/deprived of membership if they chose not to "donate" to this purpose (quotations mine).
ps I have searched my cs file for a record of this exchange, but it has apparently been deleted (but not by me).

Posted November 6th, 2011 - 7:54 am by from Paris, France (Permalink)
Well, following earlier complaints they removed text which implied that donations could be charitable or tax deductable. Still the use of he word "donation" has certainly been problematic, as are the unsubstantiated claims that verification increases safety or makes finding a couch "a lot easier". In my view, people who donated for those purposes should question these false claims rather than the legal form of CS.

"no one was denied/deprived of membership if they chose not to "donate" to this purpose"

That would be difficult as it would cut the number of profiles to 8.2% of he current number...

You may have a copy of the CS message in your personal email where CS cannot delete it.

Posted November 6th, 2011 - 11:38 pm by from Sharon Springs, United States (Permalink)
In 1981-2 AYH certified a private operator hostel here in Sharon Springs NY. The charge? $4/p/night. In return AYH included a listing in the national handbook. What passed thru our doors was a fascinating melange of dedicated intelligent curious travelers. Two years out, in a rapid top-down shift of policy, not-for-profit AYH decided to "monetize" the social network by demanding that all operators collect and submit to the "national" a "head" tax. In one fell swoop the AYH squelched its inspiration and focus, and morphed into a "successful" business operation. Sound familiar?