Tuesday, September 11, 2012

On Giving

This Friday is my birthday! Because of that, I've been thinking a lot lately about giving. How do you, personally, decide when and where to give? What organizations get your time and stuff and money and why?
Alice and the White Rabbit at the 50th Street subway stop. Wikipedia tells me this is part of
"Liliana Porter's Alice, The Way Out, a series of mosaics installed during renovations in 1994." 

Here's what and how and when I give. The regular caveats apply - this is all about me. I am not advocating or condemning any choices, just talking about the ones I've made.

Regular Donations of Clothes and Housewares: 
West Side Campaign Against Hunger.  This is a local organization that provides a food pantry, a soup kitchen, and a room full of dedicated counselors offering social services. Their food pantry has become a model for others because it allows its patrons to choose their own food - they call it the supermarket system. It's respectful and it allows people to make the choices that are right for their current situation. I donate stuff for their "shopping" table where anyone using their services can select five items to take home with their groceries. The things I donate are often unpacked onto the table, selected, and gone by the time I have filled out the donation form. Men's clothing is always especially welcome here.

Regular Donations of Time: 
Learning Ally, formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. Between semesters, I sign up for regular volunteer sessions at my local studio. At each session I am assigned a book and then go into a booth and record myself reading it aloud for two hours. Later, it gets turned into an audiobook for use by Learning Ally members. I have read little bits of an Ethics textbook, a Firefighting manual, the AKC Breed book, Dune continuation novels, and more varied things than I can even think of right now. I have also read various literature and writing textbooks useful to my actual career and a bunch of fiction that I later purchased. An acquaintance once called this the reverse of Wikipedia: instead of a general overview of a subject I look up, I get a two-hour intense read of a subject I have not chosen. It is the opposite of skimming; it is plunging. It's awesome. Also, I've gotten better at reading aloud.

Annual donations of money:
New York Public Library. I am a Friend of the Library, and dudes let me tell you, the library is a friend to me. It loans me books. It introduces me to nice people with similar interests. It invites me to events that I enjoy. It lets me use its bathroom and hang out in its air conditioning. It sets clear boundaries about how I can treat it and its belongings. It is the best.

Planned Parenthood. They need my money, and they shouldn't. I long wistfully for a year when I do not feel it necessary to donate to them.

Annual Donation of Books:
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. As I mentioned in a previous post, after our annual bookswap, we donate all the leftovers to Housing Works, a New York City organization that offers support and advocacy for people who are homeless and living with AIDS.

Irregular donations: 
I often give donations in people's names for holidays and special occasions. I have donated to the ASPCA, Doctors Without Borders, City Harvest, The American Indian College Fund, the Carl Brandon Society, and many others in honor of friends and loved ones.

Oxfam America is, I think, my favorite for this because they have a robust "symbolic gift" system that allows me to target various recipients' interests. Pay for student lunches in honor of my mom? Why, yes. Package kids' books in honor of a literacy advocate colleague? Absolutely. Etc.

Lately I've been stymied by a few issues:
1. I have a friend who has some monthly donations set up, which seems smart, but I don't actually have a good understanding of how that benefits an organization more than an annual gift might. I will read more about that and find out if it is right for me.

2. After doing some reading, I have decided that funding microlending is not the kind of giving I'd like to do. I'm not going to provide any links, since I think that's really just a personal choice.

3. The stymie-est: I browsed the City of New York Parks and Recreation website recently and couldn't find a way to just make a donation/become a member without sponsoring a bench. I am not at that level, folks. Am I just not seeing the correct link? It is a mystery.

EDIT: Mystery solved! Hannah has, in the comments, revealed the correct link, which is this. She also has good points about donating time vs. money and about how organizations plan, so you should really just read her comment below.


  1. The last time I got (very pushily) asked for money by the ACLU, they said the monthly gift allows them to plan - "ok, we're getting X dollars in recurring gifts this year" whereas the annual gift isn't something they can plan to be getting (since you might not do it the next year).

    You can donate to the CityParks foundation: https://www.cityparksfoundation.org/ways-to-give/donate/ or directly to Central Park (http://www.centralparknyc.org/donate/) And as I read the "Adopt a park" plan, you can give whatever you can afford (http://www.nycgovparks.org/opportunities/support). But I think in general what the parks want most is your time... I spent an afternoon raking leaves last year, it was pretty fun, and neat to look out over the field when we were done and say "Hey! No more dead leaves!"