When Audrey Green died in late 2009, her son Stan Frymann set out to donate her savings for global good.
Narrowing the field down was easy. Audrey was a feminist so NGOs working in the empowerment of women and girls were appealing. Schools and education seemed an obvious choice. "Mom and pop" NGOs were particularly attractive -- small grass roots organizations with low overheads and ties to villages and communities in developing countries.
Stan Frymann is no neophyte donor. He possesses a caution and meticulousness that comes from experience in charity work. He understands the ways charities are run, and how money is used. And with some criteria firmly in place, he started to research. He read Stones into Schools, followed by Three Cups of Tea. Impressed by Greg Mortenson's drive and commitment, Stan decided to donate a portion of the money to Mortenson's Central Asia Institute (CAI). Stan had already donated to other small NGOs for school buildings and thought the CAI-advertised cost of $30,000 per school seemed "realistic."
"It looked like just what I was hoping to find," Stan said in an email. "In the books (Mortenson) sounded like Superman. Who wouldn't be interested in helping buy Superman his next cape? Everyone likes to be on a winning team, and he certainly seemed to have a winning team."
In 2010, he sent CAI an email offering to fund a specific school project. "(I) didn't get a reply, so after a week I called them. I offered $30-40K, but said that it needed to go for a specific project, that I would need to see a budget, and that I would want to see pictures of the site and village to be served before, during and after construction. That is when I was told, quite cheerfully, "We don't do that."
"My memory of that simple direct statement is very clear, it blew me away," says Stan. "I suggested that it was part of their mission to build a connection between our society (represented by the donor) and their society (the community the school would serve), but the rep. rightfully told me that, no, that wasn't part of their mission statement."
Stan checked the CAI website and it does quite specifically state that they refuse contributions to fund specific projects. Yet, despite his surprise, he sent in a $100 contribution with a note attached that restated his offer to fund a specific project. Again, no response.
Stan says he is "a persistent person, and being somewhat offended, I found that the board chair is a professor, and got his email address through the college. I sent him an email with the same offer, and he also did not respond to me. I had already concluded that something was wrong at CAI, but what I had in mind was ordinary, garden-variety incompetence."
With the release of Jon Krakauer's exposé, Three Cups of Deceit, it all gelled for Mr. Frymann. "That's why it was out of the question for me to have any contact with the school I might fund, or to even fund a specific school. Their books are so messed up and their accountability system is almost nonexistent."
Perhaps the most puzzling part of the story plays out in comment forums. Frymann dipped into blog discussions but was taken aback by the often rabid attacks on Jon Krakauer in the name of defending Greg Mortenson. "People like 'story' more than numbers," he says. "If one troubles one's self to look at the financials available from many sources including the CAI website, it's pretty obvious that a rather pathetic amount of the money finds its way to Afghanistan or Pakistan, at least so far. But who can be troubled to read financials? I have to admit, I didn't until this whole thing broke open. Basically, people are saying, 'Don't trouble me with facts and numbers, I like Greg, and I like the story.'"