Feel Unsure about Charities That Help the Middle Class

The lolz dolls, and basically everyone else I know listen religiously to a local morning radio show, The Dave Ryan in the Morning Show because they always talk about drama which is fun to text about and helps my drive not suck so much. So in general, I have good feelings towards the show and have listened most mornings for the last 10+ years. But I have to take a break every December, which really blows. I have to spend the dumbest adjusting-to-the-freezing-car mornings trying to listen to something that doesn’t make me want to kill myself for freezing to death and going to work when I could be in my warm bed.

The reason is that every December the show does this thing called “Christmas Wish” where they grant wishes to needy families. It works by someone writing a letter to the station and explaining

There are two reasons I can’t deal with this, so I choose to be miserable in my car for an entire month:

1) I’m a crier. I cry when there is a sad commercial on or every time I see one of those pics of a veteran coming home and hugging their dog for the first time so fuck if I am the kind of person who can listen to someone get a life changing gift from the community without weeping the entire time and showing up at work with all my makeup cried off and swollen/red eyes. I have a real job and I can’t show up looking like a mess every day for a month.

2. This is a weird form of charity. I totally understand when something bad happens to a family in your community and you want to help out. They aren’t starving kids in Africa but they’re your community. The radio station’s listening area is a giant community and this is their way of doing that.

But here’s an example of a wish: a family has a dad that has some back problems as a result of serving in the military. They recently had a house fire and lost most of their possessions. KDWB surprised them with a $200 grocery store gift card, $100 gas card, $200 target card, $100 panera bread card, $100 cheesecake factory card, $300 gymboree card, $200 old navy card (maybe a few others I forgot), and a $2,000 furniture store card so they can buy furniture to replace theirs that was burned down.

I want to reiterate that I think this is so great that this is happening, but why does a house just burn down in America and all your possessions are gone. Isn’t that what insurance is for? Why is no one addressing this? Maybe we should pay legal fees to get their insurance money? A recurring theme of Christmas Wish families is a medical condition or unforeseen natural disaster like this and the insurance company not paying so suddenly a middle class family is destitute. Why is this sliding by? This isn’t even an issue of building safety nets into the economy, insurance is something you pay for in the event something like this happens, we need to figure out why it is not working the way that it should.

I’m a big picture person and helping one family is going to warm your heart and feel great, but it doesn’t prevent more families from falling into that situation and it’s not addressing the wider problems that need to be solved in order for this to not happen.

The second part of this is the amount of stuff the family gets. I am so happy the kids in this family will get a bunch of clothes to replace those that were destroyed in the fire. If a fire damaged my apartment right now, like, I just don’t have expensive things for it to ruin. That’s kind of okay, that’s the place I’m at in life and obviously this family is past that but it’s weird that someone not having something you also don’t have is cause for a huge concern in one case and not in another case. To say this a little more clearly: But this whole month-long event is focused on restoring fallen middle class families and I have to think about the poor families that it doesn’t help at all.

One of the criteria to be a Christmas Wish family is that you have some kind of interesting problem, you can’t just be poor- there has to be a compelling reason you are poor like a sudden medical issue, fire, natural disaster, death in the family, etc. This feels gross and exploitative.

You also have to be poor “through no fault of your own.” So families that grow up poor and never learn to manage their finances (where would they learn?) are out of the picture. I don’t think that’s right because it assumes that everyone is born knowing how to manage money and that people who make mistakes deserve to be poor. 

So, my inclination is that it’s a beneficial (if weird and misguided and self-congratulatory) thing that isn’t for me, so I should just ignore it. I don’t want it to go away from the families it helps, it’s just… annoying.

Agree to disagree.

How Not To Make The World A Better Place

Raise awareness. Lots of it. Create a viral meme that points to an outrageous but oversimplified issue. Ask people to RT you and tell their friends. Don’t have a specific call to action. Continue to do this with a new cause each week until every person in your life zones when they see your name on their feeds.

Criticize. Spend your time reading about people trying to address causes important to you. Write about how they aren’t 100% respectful or ethical or inclusive. Propose only solutions that are completely unrealistic or no solutions at all.

Discourage people from asking questions. There’s a group of feminists that don’t want you to ask questions about feminism. For real though. If you want to know about feminism you should pick up a fucking book and stop wasting their precious time because it’s not their job to educate you. I don’t get this even a little bit. Write books and websites and lobby for change all you want to but the number one way to get someone on your side is to have a relationship with them. If you could explain to your friends and acquaintances why equality is so important to you, they’ll be swayed a lot sooner than staring at some edgy t-shirt you printed. Maybe you think they’re boneheads for not already understanding what you’re telling them, that’s okay. But people have to start somewhere. You did.

Splinter. You found a niche cause like solving cancer, cool! Start your own charity and name it after yourself. Make yourself executive director and put it on Facebook. Start a fundraising campaign to fund your new charity so that you can cover all your start up costs instead of asking people to donate to an established non-profit already in place, working, and with a lower operating cost. I’m sure you know better though!

Be as unlikeable as possible. Get a blog and twitter account you use mainly to shame people for being less knowledgeable than you. Be a generally negative bitch who plays into the worst kinds of stereotypes people have about “progressives” and scare a lot of people away.

Photo Credit

Is it less moral to give $ to a homeless person than to a political candidate who may make housing affordable?

As someone who works at a nonprofit I spend a great deal of time thinking about philanthropy. Where should I work if I probably have only 1-35 years to “make a difference”. Not really willing to do the Peter Unger thing (re: it would make me mad unhappy) so I’m into thinking about how to make the best impact.

To this end, I discovered Maimonides Principles of Giving:

1. Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.
2. Giving tzedakah anonymously to an unknown recipient via a person (or public fund) which is trustworthy, wise, and can perform acts of tzedakah with your money in a most impeccable fashion.
3. Giving tzedakah anonymously to a known recipient.
4. Giving tzedakah publicly to an unknown recipient.
5. Giving tzedakah before being asked.
6. Giving adequately after being asked.
7. Giving willingly, but inadequately.
8. Giving “in sadness” - it is thought that Maimonides was referring to giving because of the sad feelings one might have in seeing people in need (as opposed to giving because it is a religious obligation; giving out of pity).

What I like about this is that it’s big picture- spend time and money on helping people for their own gain, and so that in the future they can support others. The gist is cure vs. Bandaid. It’s important to fund research for diseases, and political and structural changes to our systems that will continue to make the good, not apply temporary bandaids to broken systems.

Its important to think with our heads and our hearts. We should be inspired to give by the people we meet and the stories we hear but be strategic about what we do with this inspiration.

Knowing that we all have limited resources and a finite ability to care- where should we focus? Would you give to medical non-profits that don’t impact research or public policy? Should things like Wikipedia be able to ask for donations (considering they could easily fund themselves via ad sales)?