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Secrets of the Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy

Regular _floss readers may remember the article I posted last month about The Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy. The group gives away $100 grants to people, as long as those people promise to give away the money in a creative way. We got so many excellent reader ideas in the comments section, we decided to take a closer look at the Society's past giveaways.

Before we get started on the actual philanthropic practices of the Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy, let's take a quick look at the history of the program. In my original article, I mistakenly said the Society was based in the Bay Area. As it turns out, the San Francisco and Athens, Georgia, branches are only chapters of the original group, which was started by Courtney Martin in New York City back in 2006.

Miss Martin was an aspiring writer who had just finished her first book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, and suddenly found herself in possession of a six-figure royalty advance. Unlike most people, who would be thrilled to have this amount of cash in their pockets, Martin felt guilty that she suddenly had so much money, so she decided to give some of it away to charity. The only problem was that she didn't know how. In the end, she decided to give nine of her friends and family members $100 and then ask them to give it away as they saw fit. She only asked that they reported back to her a month later.

And thus, the Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy was born.

[Image by Flickr user Surat Lozowick.]

The organization met together on a regular basis, but in the last year, their publicity has exploded. The no-longer-secret society was featured in the New York Times, Forbes, and San Francisco Chronicle. Aside from the San Francisco and Athens chapters that have already sprung up, Martin says there are chapters being planned for Maui, Krakow, Houston, Santa Fe, Vancouver and Los Angeles. If your city isn't on the list, Martin encourages you to just start your own anyway. Based on the comments section in our last article, I'd say plenty of you have grand enough ideas to start a chapter in your neighborhood.

Now what about the giveaways that have already taken place in the existing chapters? Here are 15 that definitely stand out as prime examples of creative philanthropy in motion.

  • Editor Kate Torgovnick collected the works of young New York students involved in a nonprofit literacy program and is turning their writing into a book.
  • Brett Lockspeiser broke his $100 into dollar bills and sat in a San Francisco BART station with a sign that said, "I will give you $1 for you to give to someone else." Many people gave it to a grateful musician who was playing in the same subway station. One passerby posted a note to Lockspeiser on Craigslist later, assuring she did pass on the dollar.
  • Television writer Becky Friedman broke her $100 into 10,000 pennies and then passed them along to friends who lived throughout the country. She then asked her friends to spread them out in their cities in order to make lucky pennies easier to find.

[Image by Flickr user Cobalt123.[

  • Helen Coster, a journalist for Forbes, put $100 into a "thank you" card and then asked her friend to give it to the friendly clerk at the local drug store who always manages to brighten her day when she buys toothpaste.
  • Kamy Wicoff, the founder of SheWrites.com, offered the award to the most frequent commenter on her woman's writing website. The winner of the $100 ended up being a former corrections officer who was looking to take up writing.
  • Alphabet City resident Michael Radparvar spent his $100 to fix a bike he found on the street, which he then gave to a person whose bike was recently stolen.
  • David Ibnale tried to give away umbrellas to passersby during a Bay Area rainstorm, only to find that many people thought it was a suspicious act.
  • Jocelyn Wyatt filled up two boxes with Reese's peanut butter cups, Kraft macaroni and cheese, and red licorice and then sent them to college students who were doing volunteer work in Guatemala and Senegal. Since she spent the full $100 on the treats, she had to spend an extra $120 of her own money to ship the food.
  • Christina Zanfagna lived out a movie scene and offered to buy drinks for everyone in a restaurant. How many times have you wanted to yell out to everyone "the next round's on me"?
  • Clark Kellogg put the $100 in a bank account and estimated that it will turn into $2.1 million (??) in 100 years. He has left written instructions for his great-granddaughter to distribute the funds to strangers when she retrieves it in the next century.
  • Jeremy Mende brought a stack of dollar bills to San Francisco's Union Square and then offered to pay people $1 if they had a conversation with one another. He videotaped the results and it's now a popular online video:

100 Dollars 50 Conversations from MendeDesign on Vimeo.

  • That's not the only viral video showing the works of these guerrilla do-gooders. Andrew Marantz paid strangers in New York's Bryant Park to hold his hand and share secrets while he taped the connections:
  • Joshua Krafchin walked along New York's B train and begged people to take one dollar bills from him. Like Ibnale, he found a lot of people were surprisingly suspicious to take something from a stranger with no strings attached. The expressions of the distrustful subway riders are pretty amusing:
  • Martin's mother broke the $100 into 400 quarters and spread them around a grammar school playground, which provided the kids with one of the most stimulating recesses they had ever had.
  • Amy Coenen wrote inspirational messages about giving on the back of $5 bills and then left them as tips throughout the city.

I know many readers already left comments about what you would do with $100, but if you haven't already, share your ideas here. Also, tell the tales of the time a stranger's generosity helped brighten your day.

I think between all of you we can easily spark enough inspiration to bring a few new chapters to the Society.

As for me, I'd send anonymous cash donations to a few of my favorite blog writers. There are a lot of bloggers out there that bring me hours of joy and I know they get minimal thanks and compensation for their time.

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10 Highest Grossing Movie Franchises of All Time
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Disney/Marvel Studios

Though it has yet to even open in U.S. theaters, box office analysts are already predicting that Black Panther is going to devour President's Day weekend, with an anticipated $170 million in ticket sales on the line. While it’s still got a ways to go to make the more than $1.51 billion that the original The Avengers film earned in 2012, this latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will only ensure the franchise's dominance of Hollywood's pockets well into 2018 and beyond. Here are the 10 highest grossing movie franchises of all time, based on worldwide box office.

1. MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE

Worldwide Gross: $13,508,505,227

Though it seems a bit unfair, the whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—including The Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, and Guardians of the Galaxy movies—is officially a single franchise in Hollywood's eyes. Which makes it a tough one to beat, with 18 (and counting) films in the past 10 years, led (financially-speaking) by The Avengers ($1,519,479,547), Avengers: Age of Ultron ($1,408,218,722), and Captain America: Civil War ($1,153,304,495).

2. STAR WARS

Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill in 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'
Jonathan Olley, Lucasfilm

Worldwide Gross: $8,926,689,927

Though it's been more than 40 years since the original Star Wars film hit theaters and entranced moviegoers, since Disney purchased the franchise in 2012, they've been making up for lost time with new entries in the original space opera, plus a bunch of standalone series—including a recently announced new one courtesy of Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. While it may take the Mouse House a couple of years to match Marvel's quantity of films, at the rate they're cranking them out, we probably won't have too long to wait.

3. HARRY POTTER

Worldwide Gross: $8,532,684,345

The big-screen incarnation of J. K. Rowling’s boy wizard has proven to be just as profitable as the book version. Since 2001, nine movie adaptations have been released, beginning with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. While nearly all of them—including 2016's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them—have approached the $1 billion mark, 2011's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II brought in the biggest profit, with a worldwide take of $1,341,511,219. With two more Fantastic Beasts movies on the way in the next two years, this box office behemoth shows no signs of slowing down.

4. JAMES BOND

Daniel Craig stars at James Bond in 'Spectre' (2015)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions

Worldwide Gross: $7,077,929,291

While "Who will play the next James Bond?" is a question as old as this movie franchise itself, one thing that's never in question is 007's ability to attract an audience—and he only seems to be getting better with age. Bond's Daniel Craig era has seen some of its most critically acclaimed, and profitable, entries in the series, which kicked off in 1963 with Dr. No. But the franchise’s high position on this list is largely thanks to 2012’s Skyfall, which earned $1,110,526,981 around the world.

5. THE LORD OF THE RINGS

Worldwide Gross: $5,895,804,182

First, it’s important to note that Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth franchise includes not just The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but all three of The Hobbit movies as well. While the former series might be the more critically acclaimed of the two, when all is said and done, both series contributed to the franchise’s position here: Among the six films, 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ($1,141,403,341) and 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ($1,017,003,568) are the two biggest moneymakers.

6. FAST AND THE FURIOUS

Worldwide Gross: $5,139,434,105

It’s possible that even the producers of the Fast and the Furious series themselves are a little surprised by just how popular the franchise has become, with eight adrenaline-fueled films that seem to grow more popular with each entry. While the first film in the series, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, made a respectable $206,512,310, 2017's The Fate of the Furious made nearly six times that amount—a grand total of $1,237,466,026. So it should come as no surprise that two more are already in the works.

7. X-MEN

Stephen Merchant and Hugh Jackman in 'Logan' (2017)
Ben Rothstein - © 2017 Marvel. TM and © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Worldwide Gross: $5,016,911,347

Though the X-Men are a Marvel creation, they're treated as their very own (mutant) entity in the box office world. Which is particularly impressive when you consider that the franchise's 10 films (and counting) have generated enough dough on their own to compete at the same level as their cinematic parent. While 2017's Logan made an impressive $615,577,068 at the box office—and managed to be that rare comic book movie that scored an Oscar nomination for its script—it's Ryan Reynolds's Deadpool that's leading this series in box office dollars, with a worldwide gross of $801,029,249 on the first movie. Given the excitement that's already surrounding this May's sequel, expect that number to climb even higher.

8. SPIDER-MAN

Worldwide Gross: $4,858,770,389

Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man kicked off a new era in comic book moviemaking with its audience-friendly mix of action, humor, and just a little camp. His final film for the series, Spider-Man 3, earned the most money of the bunch, with a box office total of $894,860,230. Two reboots later, audiences don't seem to be tiring of the ever-changing web-slinger; 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming took in a not-too-shabby $880,206,511 (and a sequel is already in production for 2019).

9. BATMAN


© TM & DC Comics/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Worldwide Gross: $4,572,000,197

Though the final tally above represents more than a quarter-century of Batman movies—going back to Tim Burton and Michael Keaton’s 1989 original and spanning the less memorable Val Kilmer and George Clooney years—the real earnings in this franchise have come from Christopher Nolan’s reboots. In fact, 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises earned $1,084,439,099 on its own, accounting for nearly one-quarter of the franchise's entire haul. And in case you're wondering: yes, 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is officially part of the franchise.

10. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN

Worldwide Gross: $4,505,013,091

First it was a Disney theme park ride, then it was a box office smash success and one of the few times that Johnny Depp agreed to make a truly “commercial” film. But over the course of nearly 15 years, from 2003 to 2017, the swashbuckling series has managed to plunder more than $4.5 billion in ticket sales—even if its most recent entry, 2017's Dead Man Tell No Tales, was one of its least impressive earners with (a still-impressive) $794,758,876.

All figures courtesy of The Numbers.

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Big Questions
Do Olympians Have to Pay Tax on Their Medals?
JUNG YEON-JE, AFP/Getty Images
JUNG YEON-JE, AFP/Getty Images

An athlete can train for his or her entire life for an opportunity to compete in the Olympic Games, but victory is never assured. The only guarantee? If you do win, your state government is going to want a piece of the action.

In the United States, medal winners are no different from lotto prize recipients or someone who hits a jackpot in Vegas. The prize is considered income, and income gets taxed. The federal government used to take a chunk of the cash, up until President Barack Obama abolished the so-called "victory tax" in 2016. That leaves only state taxes.

But it’s not really the actual medal that has to be reported—it’s the money awarded by the United States Olympic Committee.

In recognition of representing the United States with a victory, the USOC gifts gold medalists with $37,500; $22,500 for silver; and $15,000 for bronze. That’s the amount that gets earmarked for review as income, with the rate depending on the sum of the athlete’s total earnings.

A good accountant can probably find a way to deduct training expenses, reducing an athlete’s net income. On a state by state basis, athletes might also benefit from politicians lobbying to strike the winnings from being tax-eligible. In Pennsylvania, for example, Rep. Marty Flynn (D) has introduced a bill excluding Olympians and Paralympic athletes from taxation. Until then, anyone from PA who takes home gold will have to set aside about $1100 for the state.

It could be worse. For the 2016 Summer Games, Britain—which placed second in the number of medals won overall—didn't pay its athletes a cent.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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