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.

september update
September 29, 2013

it’s been awhile since i’ve posted. my apologies. i won’t bore with why. instead, here’s a preview of what’s coming:

october 3 i’m attending a talk given by dan pallotta that i hope will inspire more mindful giving perspectives or deepen my thinking about pallotta’s TED talk points.

also, in october, i will be launching a crowd sourcing campaign on indiegogo for a writing project i’m working on. crowd sourcing is considered investing, not giving. so stay tuned for my reflections on the differences and similarities.

gestures
July 4, 2013

my daughter belongs to a teen youth group. they meet once a week and also go on several trips over the year. the trips, which can involve  plane flights and hotels, are heavily subsidized. Even so, sometimes we can’t afford to send her without a further scholarship which the group always grants us graciously.

as parents we couldn’t be more grateful for this youth group. our daughter is having a great time in a safe environment. she gets to take fun trips that we can’t take as a whole family. we’re indebted to this youth group.

so every year, we make a donation. we write them a check for a piddling amount of money, not even $50.

why bother?

we do it because we want them to know we appreciate what they provide
we do it because something is better than nothing
we do it because even if we can’ always pay our way, we can at least add to the donors list when that number matters in their annual report and fundraising efforts
we do it because we would be ashamed not to

it’s a gesture. it has zero impact on their bottom line. one could even argue it’s self-centered on our part. nevertheless it matters to the organization, because we’re recognizing what they’re doing for our daughter as best we can. we’re saying what you do matters and thank you.

what is the value of a gesture?

giving what we need
June 10, 2013

my friend kim’s mother tells this story about her early days as a philanthropist going door to door in jewish neighborhoods to collect the contents of charity boxes for the local jewish Federation to use to help jewish communities at home and abroad. because she was going door to door, many in the neighborhood saw she was coming and had their donations ready. one particular neighborhood  included a home just before the outskirts with weeds growing in front, peeling paint,  and two cracked windows taped with newspaper. kim’s mother wasn’t even sure anyone lived there, so she turned around to leave. she hadn’t taken too many steps before she heard an old woman’s voice:
Young lady, young lady?
Yes, Mam, good afternoon, she replied.
Aren’t you the lady from the Federation?
Yes, Mam, I am.
Well then, come on in. I have something for you.
kim’s mom entered the woman’s home. she was frail and limping. it was clear from the state of things she was in need of assistance. she offered kim’s mother a cup of tea. they chatted for awhile, and then the woman gave her a handful of coins for the Federation. kim’s mom thanked her and added them to the others.
that afternoon, when she returned to the Federation office, she gave them the woman’s address so they could send a member of jewish child and family services to her to ensure she received the assistance she needed.
this is what kim’s mom says– we both got what we needed through the act of giving that day.

getter
February 22, 2013

i’ve been a getter my whole life.

people who aren’t related to me have given me thousands of dollars, bought me a car, taken me on trips, done a great deal of work for me at no charge, handed me roses on the street, healing stones in a coffee shop, show tickets on lines, etc. none of these people were romantic partners or relatives.

i don’t know why i attract these generous gifts. i don’t ever ask for them. i don’t expect people i know to give me such things.

i do accept that getting, or “being gifted by others,”(the more spiritual/acceptable phrasing) is part of my nature and that like beauty, talent, and family money it is unearned.

i’m often blown away by these gifts, but i’m no longer surprised when they materialize.

they used to freak me out. sometimes i wondered if i was so pathetic that people felt sorry for me. other times some people had expectations that came along with their gift

now i think these gifts say a lot more about the amazing friends,colleagues, and strangers i know than about me.

and therein lies my first point; giving reveals much more about the giver than the receiver.

my second point nonetheless is; whoever is on the other end of the giving isn’t a passive recipient.

english isn’t the best language to talk about the relationship between the giver and the taker– with its subject/object construction– but it’s the only language in which i can write.

the receiver (or getter) is also having an experience, but it isn’t always the one the giver anticipates.

is it the responsibility of the giver to take this into account when giving?

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.

getting
March 4, 2012

question:

is why and how you give related to
why and how you get?