A year in donations

As 2009 comes to a close I’m wrapping up my first year of giving donations in a deliberate way. I don’t make a lot of money, and in fact I’m worth a negative amount if you count my student loan debt. But this is the first year I’ve made enough money that I have a little bit of flexibility in my finances. My thinking around donating has changed a lot recently, too. I don’t come from money and it’s something I’ve never been comfortable talking about. I also let my anti-capitalist politics serve as an excuse to hide from the financial realities of some of the organizing work I do – I’d work with nonprofit organizations and benefit from their development work, but I didn’t want anything to do with the money side of things. This changed after I started working more closely with nonprofits and thanks to friends and colleagues who have shown me that hiding my head in the sand when it comes to the financial side of social justice work doesn’t do anyone any good.
I’ve seen first hand the way grants from foundations can shape the work of an organization, limiting the scope of its projects and targeting them in a way that doesn’t always line up with the ideals of the people doing the work. When an organization is funded by its constituency and base we take direct financial ownership and have more power to shape its activities. I think the more organizations can be funded by a lot of small amounts from a lot of people rather than a few big amounts from a few elites the better. All my donations are pretty small and don’t add up to a large amount, but I know that every little bit helps. (For much more on this topic I highly recommend reading The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Nonprofit Industrial Complex, an anthology put together by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence.)
Feeling a personal connection to an organization played a big role in where I gave this year. For example, I donated to both the Civil Liberties and Public Policy program, a movement building reproductive justice organization where I first started doing this work, and Choice USA, a national youth reproductive justice organization that gave me my first internship in Washington, DC. These two organizations put a lot into developing me as an organizer so I feel it’s important to give back. There’s a practical side to this, too: alumni donations help development staff show leadership development programs are working and therefore help to generate more funds. Finally, I’m confident my money will be used well, since I have a good understanding of how these organizations work.
Personal connections to the places I donate aren’t limited to the reproductive justice field. I saved up so my biggest donation of the year could go to the Visual Arts Department at the Boston Arts Academy (BAA), a public high school for the visual and performing arts that I attended. At BAA I learned that my voice and ideas have value, and it’s where I first became involved in social justice organizing. Getting to spend half my day making art in high school, when so many students are bored by academics they feel no passion about, was a blessing. Public schools are underfunded as it is, and an arts high school has additional expenses, so it’s important to me that I do my small part to make sure more students have the same opportunities I did.
My donations this year also reflect the shifting focus of my work. The assassination of Dr. Tiller helped me realize the importance of connection to the direct service side of organizing for abortion access. Giving to the National Network of Abortion Fund’s George Tiller Memorial Abortion Fund was a first step on this path that was followed by volunteering with the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force as a Clinic Escort and working for the National Abortion Federation Hotline. Working on the Hotline has made it very clear to me that, especially in this economy, every small donation matters a great deal.
One of my favorite donations this year didn’t come out of my bank account. My housemates and I organized a Halloween party fundraiser for HIPS, a harm reduction organization serving sex workers in DC. I had a blast creating a queer party space for my community while raising a lot more money for a local organization in need than I could have put together myself.
I enjoyed reading Miriam’s post on donating earlier this year and especially the comments about where people donate and their ideas about donating. I’d love to hear from you again as the year wraps up – where do you donate? Why those organizations? What’s your personal thought process around donating?

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5 Comments

  1. Auriane
    Posted December 30, 2009 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Though I donate to many organizations throughout the year, one of my favorites is Donors Choose http://www.donorschoose.org , which allows donors to choose among thousands of local schools to donate money to for projects specified by the teachers/classrooms in need.

  2. Megs
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 12:46 am | Permalink

    I love to donate it is important for me to give to those who have even less than I do. I donate year round to a domestic violence safe haven in my community. I also donate to St. Jude’s Hospital. I’ve had family and friends need and receive their services and it is a tremendous organization. I teach and work at Barnes and Noble (btw thanks to Auriane for your donations schools need money and education seems to be a place that in my state everyone thinks they can continue to cut back) from Thanksgiving to Christmas B&N runs a book drive to donate new books children in the local Boys and Girls’ Clubs. I usually end up spending half my pay checks on those gifted books for children. I love to encourage reading…it’s the best way to teach children to think. I’d love to do more, but I am able to do is all very important to me.

  3. sarah
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    I live in the Netherlands and it’s not as common here to do volunteer work or organize fundraising events. I spent a year in the States after high school and got a taste for volunteering there.
    While I was in university I didn’t have a lot of money, so I donated my time. I volunteered for Amnesty International, children’s festivals and an animal shelter. I still love to get involved.
    I think funding is essential, especially for small initiatives. In their case a little money can go a long way.
    I mostly give to human rights organisations, and particularly women’s rights. This year I’m raising money by organising a women’s film night for women’s fund Mama Cash. I really believe in what they do. They consistently support gutsy initiatives and stand up for the most marginalized women. They mostly work in the Global South, but they’ve also supported initiatives in my home town Amsterdam, like the first feminist sex shop, sex worker rights groups and they were the first to support the abortion rights group Women on Waves.

  4. TabloidScully
    Posted January 1, 2010 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    It’s important for people to really do the research to fully uncover the practices their preferred charity employs–either for soliciting donations, or ultimately distributing how much of every dollar received. Many people don’t realize that less than 30 percent of every dollar they donate ultimately ends up going where they thought it would; most end up lining the pockets of professional racketeers who are rewarded handsomely for raising the funds, rewarded far more than the charitable organizations themselves.
    See more: http://globalshift.org/2009/12/charitys-bottom-dollar-where-does-the-money-go/#more-3468

  5. Posted January 2, 2010 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Quite frankly, I don’t have the money right now to donate on any wholesale fashion. With my income so limited, I chose at random two organizations that asked for contributions.
    I donated first to the Quaker Youth Book Project, a three year project/labor of love which solicited contributions of art and writing from Young Adult Friends across the world. My donation sought to ensure that copies could be distributed for free to Friends from Latin America and Africa.
    In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a contributing writer, but there are many other talented artists included as part of the collection.
    To assuage my guilt at being constantly hit up by underpaid canvassers, I also donated to that old standard, the ACLU.
    I have absolutely no strategy regarding where I donate and I certainly would contribute more if I had the means.

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