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?

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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