dignity
December 21, 2013

when my daughter was very young, like 3-5 yrs old young, we embraced the jewish tradition at home of putting coins in a charity box every friday night. the first time the box was full we asked our daughter to decide where to donate the money. there were some obvious choices: the animal shelter she’d visited with her daisy girl scout troop, the homeless youth center where her dad worked, her own school. but she didn’t even hesitate– dignity village, she declared.

dignity village is an enclave of homeless people who created a makeshift tent village under the highway near where we lived. we drove by it occasionally. our daughter had asked what it was, and we ‘d explained it to her. she’d been with her dad once when he dropped off a couple of sleeping pads for camping that we didn’t need anymore.

ok, dignity village. we all got into the car with the bag of change from the charity box and drove to dignity village. at the entry we explained why we were there. we were led to the man in charge. our daughter handed him the bag. some one came with a camera and took a picture. the man told us our daughter was their youngest donor. then someone else came with one of those small packets of peanut butter crackers, gave it to the man in charge and he handed it to our daughter. she hesitated and looked at me. i nodded. she took the crackers and said thank you.

she left satisfied but confused. she had come to dignity village to give them money and they gave her food even though she had plenty and they didn’t. it was important to them to give you something too, i explained to my daughter. they wanted to thank you. and they wanted you to know that they also have things to give, things that are  important to all of us: food & dignity.

$5
October 27, 2013

what is it about $5?

in my recent crowd funding campaign i chose $5 as the first level of giving.

i almost always invest $5 (or the first giving level) in crowd funding campaigns my friends have started as well as other campaigns i feel excited about. my little bit of money– an additional funder to the overall number, a high five to the folks putting out their project, being a participant in something that matters to me or to one of my people, knowing that every bit helps them reach the goal– those are the reasons i  do it.

i had to practically beg one of my supporters to give at this level. i wanted to encourage $5 investors by showing that others had done it before them. but this supporter had a hard time not giving more. in fact, when i explained my reasons and she agreed to be the first $5 investor she gave it anonymously.

$5 is what i believe almost everyone i know on FB, etc. could kick in without it having very much, if any impact on them. it’s roughly the cost of a latte, a beer, a fro yo; you can’t even get a glass of wine for a fiver unless it’s happy hour! so i figured $5 is a great way for folks to offer me a thumbs up at no significant cost to them while still being able to participate, to show some support. was i ever wrong.

now i don’t give $5 to many causes outside of crowd funding, because it often generates a full blown email or snail mail campaign for more of my money that probably costs more than the 5 bucks i gave.  but this is a crowd funding– no matter what you invest, you click a few buttons to pay by credit card of Pay Pal and that’s it.

so what is it about $5?

i’ve asked a few people and this is what i’ve heard back so far; i’m embarrassed to give the lowest amount b/c
you know i can give more
people will think i’m cheap
what difference will such a small amount make
it’s too much trouble for only $5

i really hoped to have a slew of $5 investments so i could reach my goal without anyone having to put themselves out.

would you please add any other reasons why you or someone you know wouldn’t invest $5 assuming it’s not any financial burden whatsoever? i’d like to collect as many legitimate reasons as possible.

meanwhile, i’m left with the following musings: it appears that most people who think like this invest nothing rather $5. do folks think i included $5 as a way to shame them? how much do the above reasons have to do with giving as an exercise in support vs. self-imaging?

p.s: here’s the link to my campaign
http://igg.me/p/470449/x/3933463

redux plus
October 13, 2013

attending the dan pallotta talk was like hearing his TED talk live with additional icing on the cake in the form of a lot more statistics. that’s how it felt. it was good to review the points he makes. they still make sense. he’s a very professional speaker, but he seemed weary. and he was peddling his books, uncharitable and the new charity case.

i was reminded of the the sobering facts that charity is a measly 2% of the GDP (gross domestic product) and of that 2% only 20% of it goes to health and human services. this seems a gross failing of our priorities and values as a people and a country. the question is why?

pallotta’s answer is to let philanthropy use the methods and tactics that make capitalism successful, to shift old ways of thinking about non-profits such as, overhead steals from the cause  and the moral superiority of using less to fundraise to capitalist thinking such as, incentivizing success and using marketing and advertising to increase the market demand for more philanthropy.

i don’t know if this, “using what works” from capitalism is the right fix. but i do know that the most important statement pallotta made was this, when you don’t permit failure you kill innovation. its time we permit ourselves as donors and givers and our non-profits to try new ways of achieving philanthropy with permission not to get it right all the time.

morality vs. frugality
August 27, 2013

In his TED talk, dan pollotta makes a distinction in philanthropy between frugality and morality. the bottom line: they aren’t equal. pallotta says too often donors want to see the organizations they give to behaving in fiscally frugal ways. the reasoning goes that the less a non-profit spends on everything other than direct service the better (read more trustworthy, honest, high minded) the organization. in other words many donors do equate frugality with morality.

do you?

i can honestly say i was influenced by my upbringing to believe in general frugality is a superior trait and one to aspire to. such a world view has definitely affected my perspectives and actions. i admit to having made moral judgments about others based in large part on their spending habits. and i’ve been hypocritical enough not to count some very lavish spenders I know as less moral.

but less isn’t always more. the true bottom line for non-profits is impact. and by chaining donations to both organizations and individuals to the measure of their frugality is often short sighted.

maybe you think someone who needs financial assistance shouldn’t be spending money on an iphone or a taxi. maybe that’s because you think you know better than they do about being smart with your money. maybe that means you feel superior or judgmental or that you only want to give to people who subscribe to your world view.

sure you have that right. but take a moment to think about how your assumptions limit you. can you recall a time your actions were judged by someone who didn’t have all the information and criticized your values? what would it be like to give money to someone for whom frugality wasn’t a strong value?

why we think like we do
May 4, 2013

in his fascinating TED talk, dan pallotta offers the following take on the origins of our american perspective on giving.

pallota believes our ideology comes from Puritan beliefs. he explains that although we commonly learn Puritans came to America for the sake of religious freedom that they also came to make $. pallaota claims Puritans were really aggressive capitalists. this presented them with a dilemma. their self-interest (capitalist tendencies) would lead to eternal damnation. to reconcile these two contradictory values they turned to charity. they could do penance for their capitalist self-interest at 5% on the dollar. so charity developed out of a desire for  (and as a means of) doing  penance, not as a method (or a desire)  to help the less fortunate or solve social problems.

framed this way, it’s easy to see why there can exist an inherent conflict in the act of giving as we have come to understand it. it would, in fact make sense that our philanthropy puts the emphasis on the wrong syllable, so to speak.

what would it look like and how would it feel to step out of this giving legacy?

dan pallotta: the way we think about charity is dead wrong
April 20, 2013

in a recent and fabulous TED talk, dan pallotta spoke about many aspects of giving i will visit in my posts. i highly recommend anyone concerned about philanthropy and/or solving issues of health, hunger and poverty listen and take heed:

http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pallotta_the_way_we_think_about_charity_is_dead_wrong.html

i will be posting about pallotta’s take on:

  • why we see philanthropy the way we do
  • morality vs. frugality
  • the potential for our generational legacy

stay tuned….

caught
April 6, 2013

the situation: three large trash bags filled with brand new, cozy, zip-up hoodies to give away

solution: bring them to the community college where i work and put them out on the free table in the student center

simple enough, right? it wasn’t. i hauled the bags into my office but didn’t have time to take them over until the end of the day. it was friday. hmm, not many people on campus. what if they were cleaned out by the weekend students? maybe i should wait until monday. but then the students who come tuesdays and thursdays might not get any. maybe i should put out one bag monday, one tuesday and one friday afternoon for the weekenders.

so there i was, trying to manage who got the hoodies i neither worked or paid for. because they were in my possession i felt like it was my responsibility and right to decide how they were distributed.

stewardship or control? there are important differences. either way, as givers we have power and with that power, however subtly, comes an assumption that we know what’s best for the receivers. unless we challenges our presumed authority.

do no harm
March 10, 2012

there are girls who can’t afford to attend their prom.
a non-profit creates a contest for these girls.
the girls write an essay and get letters of recommendation to submit to the contest.
the winner gets a free prom dress, $500 towards her education, a free makeover for prom night, a ticket to the prom, a refurbished laptop and more.

my friend K rolls her eyes, well off white ladies, right?
right.
so these girls learn:
a. you have to out yourself and your family situation to total strangers who are better off than you about your poor pitiful but deserving state to have a chance to get out of it for the night
b. it’s a contest and only one girl is going to win and the rest are, well, losers (again)
c. nothing worth having doesn’t cost money or dignity
d. white people are definitely in control

and what does it say about the underlying beliefs of the folks at the non-profit that hold this contest?

one reason mindful giving matters is that sincerely well meaning people can give and make it worse.

give: dictionary definitions
February 14, 2012

these definitions of give are courtesy of dictionary.com, and i think they’re worth considering in terms of the ways we think about and like to give:

to present voluntarily and without expecting compensation; bestow

to hand to someone.

to place in someone’s care.

to grant (permission, opportunity, etc.) to someone

to impart or communicate: to give advice

to yield somewhat

to collapse

offer, vouchsafe, impart, accord, furnish, provide, supply, donate, contribute, give, confer, grant, present

Give is the general word: to give someone a book, permission, etc.

Confer usually means to give an honor or a favor; it implies courteous and gracious giving: to confer a degree.

Grant is limited to the idea of acceding to a request; it may apply to the bestowal of privileges, or the fulfillment of an expressed wish: to grant a charter, a prayer, permission, etc

Present, a more formal word than give, usually implies a certain ceremony in the giving: to present a citation to a regiment.

giving inventory #1
February 7, 2012

i haven’t kept a list before, so this is off the top of my head for the past 6 months or so:

time & energy

clean and repair used books to distribute to children without books at home

make placemates and greeting cards for elderly shut-ins to go with their holiday meal

collect unsold clothes from local boutique to donate to a women’s shelter

make medicinal herbs with middle school students studying The Renaissance

advise aspiring writer on publishing strategies

assist high school student with college essay writing

organize Author Day at my daughter’s school

make dinner for 4 as an auction item

money

groceries for those without

local independent radio station

Move-On campaigns

round up for charities (through my bank)

2 kickstarter campaigns that didn’t include incentives of equal value

canned food drive

jewish federation

other

old coat to clothing drive

several trips to Goodwill to drop off used clothes and other items