The heavier stuff

Give away your money

January 15, 2021

Hi there everyone. I initially started off this post with a whole bunch of stuff on recent news items of 2020 and 2021. I could spend my time here explaining why no one is getting First Amendment arguments correct, or why it’s pretty normal to be scared of the stuff happening right now. I could explain my anger over everything that led us to this point, or I could talk about how I’m worried about a Biden administration being more of the same. I’m not going to, because you’re all very tired, and because you don’t need me to, since smarter and better people are making these points and you should read those people’s work. Of course I will never ever say no to someone who wants to learn more about any of these things from me, specifically (especially since I love talking), but I’d much rather direct you to the experts and amplify their voices instead. There’s no valid authority in me to seize this moment and yell “my voice is what’s necessary” other than like, the human condition and needing attention and validation to survive. However, in These Times, at this point, there’s one thing I do feel like I can write about.

I can tell you how to give away your money.

And if you’re like me and have any cash to spare (like your stimulus check), you absolutely should be giving away some money. Let me use this post to encourage you to let that giving look a little different.

(sidebar, you’re probably all thinking “hey, is she just writing this to talk about how great she is for donating money? what a conceited ass

  1. yep, I am literally the most selfless person who has ever lived, I donated my own heart recently, I’m legally dead
  2. it is also true that I am also very much a conceited ass who loves the sound of her own voice/keyboard clicking but in fairness to me and like 2a. I blog which is a self-centered activity in and of itself so yes I knew this and so did you
  3. I’m enormously aware of this sounding like “Trumpet Voluntary” for my own generosity, but believe me when I say I am not nearly as generous as I could be, and also I’m hoping the helpfulness of this post outweighs the amount you’ll hate me at the end of it for being a self-righteous jerkwad)


There’s a very good chance you’ve already participated in some form of charity in your life time, whether it was buying Girl Scout cookies from your coworker, or dropping off cans at a food bank, or giving money to a friend running a marathon on behalf of a health organization. You rock. No, seriously! You gave your time or money or effort or concern when it wasn’t required and that’s great. I was a Girl Scout; I know those boxes cost like a million dollars for six cookies and I appreciated every sale.

However, there’s an equally good chance you haven’t expanded your thoughts on what charity/donating/helping means, especially if I am any kind of benchmark. I didn’t know most of this until recently, and I got taught by people much better than me, and I’m really just trying to make it straightforward when you think about how to help people. Notice how I said “recently” and not any specific amount of time? I did that on purpose because I’m embarrassed about that timeline! I’m also apparently self-flagellating this whole post. Sorry, and please forgive me. I’m still not the right person to say this, but if I reach someone it was worth it to be a grandstanding punk.

I’ve got some tenets for giving here that are basic in theory but complicated in application, and I genuinely appreciate your time in reading them.

Give what is needed

Cash. It’s cash. It’s always cash. Unless an organization or individual says “hi, yes, that specific thing is a thing we want” just give them money. Like, okay, yes, not always, but kinda always, yeah. Wow, I am exceptional at words.

Food banks can make your dollar stretch farther than you can because of their arrangements with food suppliers. They can buy what is depleted, and they don’t have to worry about negotiating transport of what you decided to donate. That huge pyramid of cans looks good and feels good and seems in every way more substantial than writing a check or entering your credit card info online, but it probably isn’t doing the most good. Write the check; put in your card number.

This can apply to any place that takes donations of physical goods. For example, there are organizations that send reading materials to people in prison, and they’re frequently the best way to get items into prisons because they are very familiar with the regulations and they have an existing relationship that will keep donations and mail from getting rejected. Books through Bars is my local one, but there are plenty across the country. And they don’t need your discarded gross paperbacks that aren’t even good. They ask for new donations, and the imprisoned people who get them deserve new and good books, including ones you have to buy to be able to donate. They need GED prep books, and you’ll need to buy those new.

Books through Bars describes their standards as “please do not donate a book to us that you would not gift to a loved one,” and that about sums it up. Your donation is supposed to show love, so make sure it does.

Give what you can

You’ll see a lot of famous people on your social media post receipts of a hundred, two hundred, a thousand dollars that they donated to a cause you believe in. You have ten dollars. What’s the point.

NOPE. Ten dollars from you is ten dollars that the organization or individual did not have previously. It’s not going to buy a house, but it might buy a meal, or a prescription. Twenty might buy diapers. Thirty might buy someone’s overdue water bill. This is straight out of Jesus’ mouth, widow-with-two-coins basic stuff. There is no such thing as a donation that is too small to matter. And if you’re donating online, if you’ve got a small donation and can cover the transaction fee, do that. It’s a really small but really easy way to stretch your donation. Plus, if people see what you donated and they were also in the “my $5/$10/$25 cannot possibly help” group, they’ll be inspired to contribute too.

Give without assumption, judgment, or what’s been “earned”

If you are a millennial or regularly eat at restaurants (used to regularly eat at restaurants? phrase this as if we are not mid-pandemic, I guess?) with a millennial, you’ll definitely notice that even the worst possible service still results in an 18-20% tip from that millennial. A server would have to hit me in the face and eat my dinner in front of me while laughing about how I did my makeup (yeah my eyebrows are weird today okay I GET IT) to not get this amount and I’d still probably leave 15%.

Yep, tipping in the States is odd and usually bad and should be revamped, but today, right now, your server is earning their money through your not being a jerk. Is your bill fifteen dollars total? Tip ten. Are you on like a fancy night out that you do twice a year? Discuss with your partner and plan to eat and drink 90 dollars and tip 50. Is it close to the winter holidays? Tip big. Is it a slow weeknight and your server is just with your table? Tip big. Doing carside pickup for food? Tip big. Delivery? Tip enormously in 2020 and 2021, at least, especially if using an app that takes some from each delivery worker. Don’t assess whether they’ve “earned it,” just tip them like their livelihood depends on it because it does.

And the concept of ignoring what is “earned” goes for personal behavior too. Say there’s a family drowning under medical bills and they are mostly paying for their own groceries but they each have an older iPhone so you say to yourself “they could definitely pay for their food if they got rid of the iPhones” and you walk away without giving. Plus, healthcare should be free, why should I pay an insurance company?

Sure, but getting rid of that extra $30 a month payment doesn’t get bills paid, or enough food purchased to feed everyone, and to say that those in poverty don’t deserve anything nice (to say nothing of the fact that it’s nearly impossible to get or keep work without a functional smartphone these days) doesn’t absolve you of the absolute necessity it is to get money to them.

And in line with that, my next point is

Give without strings

I think my favorite comment about this concept is the probably-apocryphal quote from a young white male professional who gives a twenty to a homeless man and gets chastised, because the man is “just going to spend it on drugs,” and the young guy replies “who cares, that’s what I was going to spend it on.”

Treat whatever you’re giving as not yours any longer. You have handed off property or funds, and it is no longer owned by you and you cannot control its use. Yes, someone busking or panhandling might turn down your offer of a sandwich and ask for cash. Give them cash.

Don’t do the “if they were really homeless they wouldn’t turn down food” thing, because that’s not true. Maybe they have food, or aren’t hungry at the time. Maybe they need tampons, or maybe they need socks. And maybe it’s going to drugs, sure. But even then, give them cash. Anyone that deep in addiction will find a way to get drugs, and that way will be less healthy and more dangerous than paying for them.

And you can argue that if they were really needy, they’d have food stamps, or rent assistance, or disability checks, or help from the VA, or Medicaid. And maybe they have that, but it’s insufficient (because those payments are insufficient across the board). Maybe they had them but the government cut the program. Maybe they’re in line for housing vouchers through Section 8 and they’re scheduled to get them in 15 years. Maybe they did something against the rules of the program and lost it. Or maybe they don’t have the time, energy, or ability to jump through every single hoop they have to in order to get an offensively small amount of money.

And maybe this person you’re helping, whether homeless or disabled or sick or incarcerated or unemployed, maybe they suck! They might really suck. They might have been a horrible parent. They might have stolen from a friend. They might have cheated on their spouse. They might have committed a crime. But their poverty is a separate issue from that, and punishing them for a transgression by leaving them in poverty is both cruel and ineffective.

It took me a while to get “give without strings” through my head and into my heart. And then the next section came in and was like “now that you’ve done the basics, it’s time for the advanced class.” So here we see –

Give directly

Literally hand people cash. This gets a little more indirect with covid-19, but it still has the same principles. In non-pandemic times, hand them bills. In pandemic times, Venmo them cash. Give to a mutual aid fund or a bail fund and have them give it directly to people. Look on GoFundMe and give to a random one. Check the Twitter feed of people like Shea Serrano, look at the replies, and pick a person’s Cashapp to give to.

This has been the scariest part for me, but I’ve been doing it steadily for a bit now. Mostly through Twitter, but a bit in person as well, and it’s involved me just straight up Venmo-ing or Paypal-ing people money, or handing them cash. Yes, without “vetting” them. Yes, without knowing them. Yes, without requiring proof.

No one rich is on Twitter or Instagram or the street or the food pantry line asking for help. They just aren’t. That goes for the person in the “nice” car in line at the food bank – no rich person is waiting 4 hours for food. That goes for the person asking for cash from a smart phone: no one rich is dependent on internet strangers for paying their medical or school bills. That goes for the entire economy of informally asking for funds – people ask because they’re in need. And, frankly, it’s January 2021. If you don’t believe that people are in need right now, the cave you live in must have incredible soundproofing.

“What if you get scammed?” Well, honestly, to start, that’s on them and their heart, but even more honestly I don’t give a shit. Anyone trying to “scam” me out of $20 needs it more than I do, full stop, so they can have it. And the only “scams” I’ve seen so far in direct aid have been things like “this person said they have 4 kids but they only have 1” so it’s slightly less tragic. Just people trying to sound desperate enough to deserve the kindness of strangers.

Am I too na├»ve and stupid to live? Yeah, probably, and maybe some of my money has gone places I didn’t expect. But I know that it went to someone who was happy to receive it, at the very least, and at the most I know I’ve helped pay off utilities bills and get people out of pretrial detention and gotten prisoners prep books and covered a copay and got someone inside for a night. And I’m happy to help you start to do it, too.

Donate your money with abandon and recklessness. Donate your money uncarefully. Donate with the love you’d hope to see reflected back at you. People are in such pain, and you can help relieve that pain, directly. So go do it. You got this.

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