The Best Part of Philanthropy

Yesterday I talked about The Darker Side of Philanthropy, so today I thought I should discuss the good stuff. Fair’s fair.

As I wrote this post, a virtually endless stream of cyclists from Seattle’s annual Obliteride to obliterate cancer were rolling over my bridge in the rain. Many of them have committed to raise as much as $1000.00 to participate in this event, and as of my last viewing of the Obliteride website, they have raised 2.5 million dollars for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center so far. Good on them!

Obliteride
Obliteride, as seen from my drawbridge.

I happen to love the kind of philanthropy that stems from the larger community. I love microloan organizations such as Kiva.org. I love crowdfunding sites in general.

I also love supporting those organizations that promote the dignity of the people who will receive the assistance, such as Heifer International, which donates farm animals to people, teaches them how to raise and breed them, and encourages them to pass on these benefits to their neighbors.

I am particularly fond of those who may not have money to give, but who are generous with their time. Volunteers are awesome. People who donate blood or hair or kidneys or bone marrow are, too.

And I may be biased, but I’m crazy about people who build Little Free Libraries and keep them stocked for their community.

As a young adult, I once participated in a March of Dimes fundraiser in which I got people to pledge a penny for every mile I walked. I walked 12 miles for all those pennies, and couldn’t walk for days afterward. I admire that kind of effort a lot more than some rich person who throws a million dollars at a cause and doesn’t even feel its loss. The sacrifice and the commitment is the thing.

There really are a lot of people out there who want to do good. We are all in this together. That realization is why I haven’t lost all hope.

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The Giving Gift

A dear friend of mine gave me the best Christmas gift ever this year. It was a card. A simple card. But inside, it said, “In the spirit of the season, a night of housing, hot meals, and hope at the Sulzbacher Center were given, in your honor, to a homeless man, woman or child.”

I love the Sulzbacher Center. It’s a shelter in Jacksonville, Florida, the city I once lived in. They do amazing work. So I got to imagine that for one night, at least, someone was safe and warm and not hungry. Someone could sleep without fear. That gift was really for them, but thinking about it made me feel really good, in the way that getting something to wear or to be forced to dust for the rest of my life would not have. My dear friend knows me well.

If I had children, I would make it a tradition each Christmas to give them a “giving gift”. But I’d take it even one step further. I’d let them choose what charity to give to. I’d make a card that said something like, “You now get to spend x amount of dollars on a charity of your choice.” I’d help them research charities, if they liked. Or they could pick a problem, and then choose a charity that’s trying to help solve that problem, such as homelessness or abused animals or disease in third world countries, or natural disaster recovery.

The giving gift would be an annual lesson in compassion for others and problem solving, and it would demonstrate that happiness doesn’t come from getting stuff, it comes from doing good. There’s no better gift than that. And it doesn’t have to be restricted to just one holiday. It’s great for birthdays or Valentine’s day or any other gift giving occasion.

Feel free to start using this idea. It’s my gift to you. And to help get you started, here are links to two of my favorite organizations, Heifer International and Kiva.org.

Happy Holidays, dear readers! And thank you for making this blog such a delight for me! You are truly a gift.

gift

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My Cabinet Dream Team

It really amazes me that Donald Trump has somehow chosen the most destructive and incompetent person for every single position in his cabinet. I mean, that takes talent. Finding the worst possible human being for any job takes effort. You have to sift through a lot of scum to get to the most slimy of dregs.

The other day, while stuck in a traffic jam the likes of which can only happen in Seattle, I entertained myself by coming up with a cabinet dream team. Hey, if sports enthusiasts can do it, why can’t I? I admit this is official proof that I’m a geek. I’m okay with that.

So here’s my fantasy team. I know many of them are no longer living, but since this is a fantasy, why not?

  • Secretary of State— the Dalai Lama. He’s wise. He’s fair. He remains calm. He speaks quietly and people will listen. People respect him. If they don’t respect him, they look horrible.
  • Secretary of the Treasury—Colin Kaepernick. This is a man who recently donated 50K to Meals on Wheels. He also has raised millions to bring food and water to the people of Somalia. If anyone knows what’s truly financially important and how to make it happen, he does. So what if the NFL won’t draft him? They prefer wife-beaters. I wouldn’t hire the NFL.
  • Secretary of Defense—Mahatma Gandhi. It’s about time that we had someone who wasn’t a warmonger in this position, don’t you think?
  • Attorney General—Michelle Obama. She’s a lawyer who is intelligent and capable. She cares about people. She knows how to get her point across. She’s strong, and an excellent role model.
  • Secretary of the Interior—Theodore Roosevelt. Yeah, he liked to hunt, but he created the first national parks on the planet. On. The. Planet. That tells you all you need to know.
  • Secretary of Agriculture—Dan West, founder of Heifer International. This is my favorite charity because it is all about helping others to be able to maintain an agricultural life in a healthy, sustainable way. We need more of this if we’re going to survive.
  • Secretary of Commerce—Jessica Jackley, one of the founders of Kiva.org. This organization teaches us that through microfinance we can lift people up and allow them to help themselves by making it possible for them to have their own small businesses. This is a model we need to emulate.
  • Secretary of Labor—Bernie Sanders. Who else? This is one of the few politicians who actually has dedicated his entire career to giving a shit about people. With Bernie, the unions would be safe, we’d all have a reasonable minimum wage, and he’d work closely with the president to get a single payer health system. What a concept.
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services—Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood. A controversial choice, no doubt, but we need to protect Planned Parenthood. And if she were willing to speak out for women at a time when that just wasn’t done, I’m willing to bet she’d also support a single payer health system now.
  • Secretary of Housing and Urban Development—Martin Luther King Jr. Now, this is a man who would have been horrified at our increasing homelessness and the blight of the inner cities. He’d know how to reach people and speak the truth to them.
  • Secretary of Transportation—Neil deGrasse Tyson. I’d rather create a Secretary of Universal Exploration position for this amazing man, but barring that, this would be a good place for him. He’d look at Transportation in a scientific way. He’d encourage green options. He’d think outside the box. He’d support NASA and promote it as the transportation of our future. And we’d all probably have hovercraft in no time.
  • Secretary of Energy—Al Gore. Jeer if you want, republicans, but this man has been warning us about Global Warming since long before most of us knew what it was. And now that the vast majority of us are coming to our senses and seeing its devastation firsthand, it’s about time we let him get to work on it. We need green technology. We don’t need coal and pipelines.
  • Secretary of Education—Malala Yousafzai. Now, here’s a young woman who risked her life to go to school. She knows the value of education. And she’s another one who is so respected that anyone who opposed her would look like a jerk.
  • Secretary of Veterans Affairs—Al Franken would cut to the chase. He would come up with common sense solutions to support our veterans. He wouldn’t go for doublespeak or foolishness and he’s not easily intimidated.
  • Secretary of Homeland Security—Jon Stewart. Here’s a man that does not bullshit anyone. He has boundless common sense. He wouldn’t be swayed by fear mongers. He wouldn’t be focusing on a freakin’ wall and certainly wouldn’t be trying to tear already heavily vetted immigrant families apart.

So there you have it. My dream team. I would love to see what would happen in this country with these diverse, intelligent people at the helm! What a refreshing change it would be. Discuss below!

Cabinet

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Giving

A well thought out gift will always say, “I cared about you enough to take the time to really think about what would make you smile.” What could be more special than the gift of caring? That’s why we say it’s the thought that counts. You took the time to know me, know what interests me, know what my favorite color is and what size I am, what I wish for, what I need. You took an interest. We don’t make that sort of effort for just anyone.

Today many people in the world will exchange gifts. Some of those gifts will gather dust on a back shelf, or be relegated to the “regift” pile. That’s so unnecessary. Those gifts were usually exchanged out of some sense of obligation. The ugly sweater that doesn’t fit from the distant relative. The coffee mug from the coworker who has overlooked the fact that you don’t drink coffee. Don’t even get me started on the inedible fruitcake. And the frustrating thing about these types of presents is that the giver and the receiver usually both know what a waste they are.

The world is already full of more stuff than we need. Why add to that mix stuff that won’t be used or appreciated? In recent years, when I have felt the need to give a gift to someone who isn’t in my most intimate circle of friends or relatives, I have given a microloan to Kiva.org or a donation to Heifer International in their names. That way someone who really needs help to help themselves will benefit, and you can share in that warm feeling with the recipient of that gift. You can’t go wrong like that, because I guarantee you that the life of someone, somewhere will be improved by your generosity.

Always remember the most basic reason for giving someone a gift. It’s a way to show love. In the end, that’s all that really matters. If you are not sincerely putting love into the process, the least you can do is send some care and consideration out into the wider world.

Happy holidays, dear readers.

gift

[Image credit: fanpop.com

Charity Chicken: Anti-Dignity and Ways to Counteract It

Happy Independence Day, America! I’ve chosen to write about a topic that goes hand in hand with independence: Dignity.

My mother was a single mom in an era when that was not only less acceptable, but also not as workable. Daycare wasn’t as widely available, and women were often relegated to the most menial low-paying jobs. No one talked about a glass ceiling because women didn’t even consider looking up, let alone moving up. Divorce was scandalous. You were expected to bite your tongue, take your abuse, stay home and raise the children. How were you supposed to survive when society and culture and economics were all stacked against you?

Much to our general humiliation, there were times when we had to resort to accepting a box of food from the local church. Thanksgiving was one of those times. We got a chicken breast, some cranberries, and some beans. Nothing to make these items palatable. No bread, no butter, no spices, no sugar. Nothing. My oldest sister used to bitterly call this “charity chicken”. We were grateful to have food, of course, but it wasn’t a very festive holiday meal for a family of four. In retrospect, this food probably did more to assuage the guilt of the more affluent members of the community than it did to allow us some dignity in our struggle to survive.

Dignity is a valuable commodity when you’re poor, because there are so many mechanisms in place to try and take that from you. I get so irritated when people say that all poor people are lazy and that they want handouts and feel a sense of entitlement. Entitled to what, exactly? Humiliation, hopelessness, hunger and despair? While that may be the case for a pathetic few, the vast majority of us who are struggling would do anything to have it otherwise. In fact, it has been my experience that most poor people work harder than the rest of society. They just get fewer returns for a variety of reasons. Who works harder? A CEO of a fortune 500 company, or someone who is digging ditches in the hot sun?

If you don’t have your health or educational opportunities or a stable family unit, you often wind up at the bottom of the societal heap. Someone always has to be at the bottom, or the people at the top have nothing on which to stand.

I’d like to think that most of us make efforts to help those in need. I read somewhere that poor people tend to donate a larger percentage of their income to charity than rich people do. That says quite a bit. And there are so many worthy causes out there that there is ample opportunity to be generous.

I would like to make a personal appeal to all of you. When you do choose a charity, please choose one that allows people to maintain their dignity. Most people do not want you to throw your money or food at them and then walk away. They want to be able to lift themselves up. Sometimes they just need a helping hand to start them on their way. Donate to programs that give people job skills. Donate to groups that help restore people’s health so they can become active participants in their communities. Donate to organizations that allow people to become self-sufficient.

Here are my two favorite charities:

  • Heifer International. I often suspect that this organization would be much more popular and well known if it didn’t have such a goofy name, but the amazing work they do makes up for that faux pas. It takes your donations and buys livestock with it. Cows, ducks, goats, llamas, honey bees, you name it. These animals can provide lifesaving income and sources of food for families throughout the world. But here’s what makes this group even more amazing to me: they don’t just hand someone a cow and then walk away. They train them in the best ways to keep this cow healthy. They teach them to run a business selling the milk. And best of all, they require that they breed the animal and provide a calf or two to other families in need, so the cycle continues. Those who are helped obtain skills that will sustain them for a lifetime, and then they, too, become helpers. There is nothing more dignified than that. One donation to Heifer International can cause a positive ripple effect that will go on for years.

Heifer

  • Kiva.org. Technically this isn’t even a charity, so if you’re simply looking for a tax write off, you may want to steer clear of this one. Kiva is actually a micro loan organization, so any money you put into it you will get back. Their default rate is so incredibly low that I’ve never lost a penny in the 7 years that I have participated. In that time I’ve made 41 loans to people in 31 countries. Here’s an example of how it works. Maria in Ecuador is a single mother who has a tiny little shop that she runs out of her home. In it she sells children’s clothing. She has noticed that the farmers in her area don’t have a convenient source for heavy duty pants to wear while working in the field. She wants to expand her inventory to include these items, but she needs a loan. You make a loan to Maria, in increments of 25 dollars. Perhaps you and 23 other people around the world contribute to it. Maria then pays you back, and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve expanded her business, increased her income and improved the lives of everyone in her family. That’s a great feeling, so if you’re like me, you’ll take that same 25 dollars that you loaned to Maria and you’ll loan it to yet another person. Loaning that same money over and over and over again throughout the years, I’ve actually given $1,150.00 in loans and yet have only tied up $25.00 in actual money, which I can get back if I ever need to. What seems like a tiny amount of money can make a huge difference in the life of someone who lives on a dollar a day.

kiva

The beauty of participating in both these programs is that you get to feel all warm and fuzzy and the people you help get to keep their dignity and lift themselves up. How can you beat that?