Consumer Reports' Excellence Award: Tell Us Which Small Non-Profit Should Be Awarded $25,000!

Five small non-profits are competing for $25,000 as part of the first Consumer Reports Excellence in Consumer Advocacy Award, and we need your help choosing the winner.

The five finalists were narrowed down from 150 nominees, based on their effectiveness, reach, relevance, organizing and sustainability. Those factors — along with your votes — will help us choose the winner, who will be honored for the impact they’ve had on consumers through policy advocacy or direct action at the state, local or national level.

Voting runs from now until August 31, 2011, at 11:59 p.m. ET. Read about the finalists, watch their videos and vote for the nominee you would like to see receive $25,000 to continue their work. (Reader votes will count for 10% of the final score. You can vote only once. For more information, see the Contest FAQ and Official Rules.)

Finalists:
Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety
Economic Fairness Oregon
The Empowered Patient Coalition
Parents For Window Blind Safety
Virginia Citizens Consumer Council

Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety

Comments from CARS:

If you buy a car, or ride in one, CARS is working for you. For over 30 years, CARS keeps winning victories for consumers, fighting against:

  • The #1 killers of young people in the nation — vehicle crashes
  • The #1 source of consumer complaints — auto scams

CARS is a national non-profit consumer organization dedicated to saving lives, preventing injuries, and reducing motor-vehicle related economic losses.

The founder of CARS is best known for initiating California’s auto lemon law. That sparked lemon laws in the other 49 states. Those laws spurred auto manufacturers to improve the safety and quality of vehicles, speed up repairs, and give lemon owners refunds for seriously defective autos.

CARS also played a leading role in winning these battles:

  • Air bags installed as standard equipment, saving over 28,000 lives and preventing hundreds of thousands of debilitating injuries
  • Curbing “lemon laundering” of defective, repurchased lemons to unsuspecting used car buyers
  • Mandating seat belt shoulder harnesses be adjustable, so they can properly fit people of different sizes
  • Requiring auto manufacturers to notify car owners where to report auto safety defects, speeding up auto safety recalls
  • Expanding protection under California’s landmark auto lemon law to include small businesses, self-employed entrepreneurs, and military Servicemembers
  • Passage of first-in-the-nation laws to curb predatory auto lending
  • Initiatives to reduce vehicle theft and salvage fraud — projected to save the American public up to $11.3 billion each year
  • CARS also works to accelerate the replacement of gas guzzlers with more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The president of CARS has been repeatedly invited to testify before Congress on behalf of consumers. CARS is widely respected as a credible source on auto issues, and is frequently quoted by major news media. CARS is also active in building the consumer movement.

This award would give a huge boost to CARS’ ability to win ongoing battles to protect consumers from unsafe, defective vehicles, recalled rental cars, and auto sales scams.

carconsumers.org/

Economic Fairness Oregon

Comments from EFO:

Fair play. It’s a concept we all learned in school. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been the guiding principle for the credit card companies that hand us a 30-page contract filled with tricks and traps, or the payday lenders who make big profits charging low-wage workers 500% interest.
And, fair play certainly wasn’t considered when Wall Street banks made record profits by selling toxic loans, then took billions in taxpayer money to bail themselves out — all while turning their backs on homeowners who watch as their home values plummet and their jobs disappear. Economic Fairness Oregon fights to protect all the hardworking Oregonians who play by the rules and expect businesses to do the same.

Our goal is to restore a financial system built to work for the people, not against them.

EFO successfully lobbied to hold big banks accountable under Oregon’s consumer protection law, helped pass laws cracking down on unethical debt settlement companies and limited the use of pre-employment credit checks.

We have three full-time staff. Mari Borden heads up EFO’s outreach and coalition building. Thanks to her efforts, EFO is forging relationships with community leaders, citizen activists and partner organizations statewide. Saadia McConville is EFO’s communications director. Through her work, EFO has helped shape important local and national media coverage on consumer financial issues. Angela Martin is EFO’s executive director. She heads up EFO’s policy research and legislative advocacy.

However, the most important members of our team are the citizens who become vocal advocates for change. Homeowners in foreclosure who testify before the legislature, borrowers who share stories of struggling with triple digit interest or job seekers who stand up to fight intrusive credit checks when they apply for work.

The generous award from Consumers Union would give EFO the opportunity to greatly increase our capacity to engage individuals, policymakers and voters in the fight for a fair economy. By connecting real stories and human faces to the economic challenges so many of us are facing, we are able to combat the myths perpetuated by lobbyists for the financial industry by giving the members of our community a voice.

economicfairnessoregon.org

The Empowered Patient Coalition

Comments from EPO:

The Empowered Patient Coalition was founded by Julia Hallisy and Helen Haskell, two mothers of children who suffered medical error. At The Empowered Patient Coalition, we strive to be a driving force in consumer education, public awareness and patient empowerment. Our aim is to give a voice to patients’ needs.

Many Americans are unaware that, while our healthcare system often provides cutting edge medical treatment, it also carries a significant amount of risk and harm. We believe that patients can be true members of their medical team and improve their medical outcomes when they have a foundation of good information and the support of an active patient advocacy community.

The Empowered Patient Coalition provides practical information in many formats, including a book, a guide to hospital care, fact sheets and checklists, a medical event survey and community-based empowered patient training courses. Our materials are based on real experiences of family members and advocates who struggled at the bedside and now want to share their knowledge with others.

As individuals and as an organization, we have worked for years to improve the American healthcare system through legislation, policy change, and working with individual medical providers. We are proud to be part of a network of dedicated patient safety advocates who have promoted public reporting of hospital-acquired infection, safe work hours for medical trainees, and many other legal and medical reforms. We have worked hard over the years to help keep the different parts of our patient advocacy community in touch with each other through our email list, advocate directories, and social media. Almost all that we have done has been self-funded. Now we believe we have reached the point that we need help. We ask for your vote to help us get funding to compile the data from our survey, to design and print more patient materials, to extend our outreach and create a self-sustaining organization that can continue to work with others to help achieve a safe, efficient, and compassionate healthcare system.

www.empoweredpatientcoalition.org

Parents For Window Blind Safety

Comments from PFWBS:

PFWBS was founded in 2002 to educate the public, support parents who have lost children and children with serious injuries, to test window coverings for safety and to pressure the industry to eliminate the hazards.

In the past nine years PFWBS has record of nearly five hundred injures and deaths since 1983. Since then the death and injury rate remains the same. PFWBS has been successful in pressuring the Industry to create a safety standard in which no inner cords can be exposed on any Roman Shade product that is manufactured. The standard was published in December 2009. Currently, PFWBS is on the WCMA steering committee fighting for the elimination of hazards on the 2011 Window Covering Safety Standard. PFWBS has also developed a Seal of Approval, which is placed on products that meets PFWBS specific criteria for safety. The public needs a clear way to identify which product is safe for their children and the Seal of Approval gives that sense of security.

The CR award would allow funding for our Safety Testing and Educational program. Our safety testing program is the most effective way in educating the public by having our seal of approval on products in stores all over the nation. PFWBS will work with large national retailers in educating and encouraging them to sell only cordless window coverings. PFWBS is a cause that has a cure; will you please help us get this message out to the public? Together we can help families so that they may never have to lose another son or daughter, niece or nephew, cousin or friend to something so preventable as window cord strangulation. Help us cure this epidemic once and for all.

pfwbs.org/

Virginia Citizens Consumer Council

Comments from VCCC:

Since 1967 the Virginia Citizens Consumer Council (VCCC), Virginia’s leading consumer advocacy and education organization, has given consumers a voice in matters that affect our pocketbooks, including rules for electric and telephone companies, availability of payday loans, and testing of weights and measures used in the marketplace.

VCCC has been successful. For example at the Virginia Supreme Court, it won millions of dollars for Dominion Virginia Power’s ratepayers in one case and protected free speech in another. It regularly weighs in for consumers before legislative and regulatory bodies with testimony and written information, often based on research VCCC conducted.

“Virginia is open for business.” As Virginia’s status as the most business friendly state in the nation has become THE most important goal for politicians, it has become increasingly difficult to get consumer protection law, regulatory decisions, and enforcement. Government provided consumer education and services, even those as basic as ensuring that the weights and measures used in the marketplace are accurate, have declined. Virginians need VCCC now more than ever!

VCCC’s largest resource is its volunteers. It operates primarily on volunteer efforts. VCCC is an active member of the Consumer Federation of America and has been involved in its projects including promoting home radon testing, supporting food safety, and the America Saves social marketing program.

Historically, VCCC has depended upon materials printed on paper and face-to-face meetings to educate consumers and help them influence public policy. Local and statewide media have helped spread the word. These methods are not as available or effective today. However, new technology offers the opportunity to reach and involve more consumers.

VCCC needs an interactive website and to create material to effectively use social media. The $20,000 award that Consumer’s Union is offering could give our efforts to educate and engage Virginia consumers a HUGE boost! We will target the money to develop strategies and materials to make more Virginia citizens aware of VCCC and specifically target involvement of younger consumers.

VCCC Facebook Page