An escalation of odd philanthropy stirred up the Salvation Army last December, as it found, announced and auctioned off a slew of gold or rare coins slipped anonymously into its red holiday kettles across the country.
The Phantom of the Kettle story began in 1982, when a gold coin wrapped in a dollar appeared in a kettle in suburban Chicago. Philanthropic tricksters were more active last year than ever, as concealed gold coins were dropped in kettles in about a dozen states from Connecticut to Montana. Seventeen gold coins were found in Chicago alone in December. Most of the finds also turned up on television news programs, boosting donations.
In Shelby, North Carolina, South African gold coins were donated for the 10th consecutive year. Four kruggerands, worth about $500 apiece, were found in four kettles.
The place and timing of the donations have been unpredictable, which has fed anticipation. State Salvation Army official John Leidy said a Shelby kettle worker called in December and said, "It's here, it's finally here!" Leidy also said there were "an untold number of theories as to who this person might be."
About 325 collectible coins with an average value of about $200 have been slipped into kettles since 1982, said Cliff Marshall, spokesman for the charity in Chicago. In Kirksville, Missouri, someone slipped in a gold coin minted before the Civil War worth nearly $1,000.
Salvation Army officials say they don't know who is doing it but hope it will continue. They also hope the mystery is never solved. ''It's more fun to speculate than to know for sure,'' Marshall said.
Why do people do it? The coin droppers may like the thrill of seeing the donation play out in the media. One woman said after her mother died last year that she left gold coins in the kettles each year because she liked the buzz it created.
Some observers have suggested another factor. They note that the coins tend to show up when giving lags, indicating a possible attempt to generate publicity. Salvation Army did express concerns last year that "donor fatigue" after Hurricane Katrina would curb donations, which in fact were down slightly.
Are the coin capers a charming human interest story or flamboyant boosterism? On the answer to that, we tend to agree with the Salvation Army. We would rather not know.
Maverick CEO's Memo to Board: "Don't Overpay Me"
Institutional investors disapprove of
how U.S. companies compensate
executives, according to a survey by
Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a consulting
company. It polled 55 major Wall Street
funds or investment companies last
year that together manage $800 billion.
Ninety percent said that most executives
are overpaid, and nearly two thirds
said that pay packages are not
properly disclosed. Similar concerns
have become widespread. It was a
breath of fresh air, then, to learn that
one CEO has admonished his directors
for paying him too much and asking
them not to do again this year.
Last December, Ethan Berman,
founder and CEO of RiskMetrics, a Wall
Street investment consulting company,
wrote the board of directors' compensation
committee. He quoted J.P. Morgan
as having said that "he would
never lend money to a company where
the highest-paid employee was paid
more than 20 times the lowest-paid, as
it was, in his view, unstable."
Berman endorsed plans to pay
higher bonuses to certain employees -except for himself. "I do not feel
my own performance was as strong
as in previous years." He said that the
company's strong performance last
year was "driven by a large number of
employees in other roles," and he recommended
those individuals should
The CEO reviewed several ways to
use compensation to advance the
company's values. "If your assets are
your people and you treat them well,
you will bring more people and profits
to your organization," said his letter,
The New York Times
and posted online.
"In giving me what I ask, I realize
the committee will be going against
the standard approaches to compensation,"
Berman concluded. "I will
never forget my first year receiving a
bonus greater than my salary working
at a bulge bracket investment bank.
After hearing the amount from my
boss, I immediately called my
father with the news.
The first words out of
his mouth were
"don't ever feel
that you are
worth it.' I don't
want him to say
that to me
The Bear's Money
Every fall before he goes to sleep, a bear will put away five or six
hundred dollars. Money he got from garbage cans, mostly. People
throw away thousands of dollars every day, and around here
a lot of it goes to bears. But what good is money to a bear? I
mean, how many places are there that a bear can spend it? It's a
good idea to first locate the bear's den, in fall after the leaves are
down. Back on one of the old logging roads you'll find a tall pine
or spruce covered with scratch marks, the bear runes, which
translate to something like "Keep out. That means you!" You can
rest assured that the bear and his money are nearby, in a cave or
in a space dug out under some big tree roots. When you return
in winter, a long hike on snowshoes, the bear will be sound
asleep. ... In a month or two he'll wake, groggy, out of sorts,
ready to bite something, ready to rip something to shreds ... but
by then you'll be long gone, back in town, spending like a
The Winter Road: Prose Poems,
by Louis Jenkins, with
the permission of Holy Cow! Press.
Asking the question "How much do I deserve?' traps me
in my narcissism. Looking around me, however,
I'm mindful of the needs of others. I count my many blessings.
I remember I've been allowed to drink at wells that I did not dig.
And I discover that deeper part of my soul that is both generous
and courageous for justice.
-Rev. John Buehrens
of Needham, Massachusetts
writing in the newsletter
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