Friday, June 28, 2013

How I do my giving lately

Most of you all know, I'm on a pretty tight "budget". I have to even put the word budget in quotes because, in all honesty, I'm lucky enough to be in the position not to have a ton of bills to pay, and most of my money goes towards non-essential things.  (This is because I have made certain other compromises and continue to live with my parents, although I am not sure that is the best situation for any of us, but it's where I am right now.  When I tried to figure out the finances of living on my own, my social security check did not cover rent, let alone food, transportation, or utilities, and so: here we are.) 

Anyways, the majority of my money goes towards some longer term goals - for example, I put a specific fraction of my monthly check away towards Christmas, so that when December rolls around I am able to buy presents for family members, and I have also been saving for a new camera for about five years, and now I'm considering switching to a smart phone, so there's another goal to fund.

And then I've got the regular budgeted costs of smaller things like Netflix & the Internet - one of which I consider essential, and the other which is a big help when you have a lot of flare days, like I do - and things like prescriptions (which are covered under my Mass Health and only cost $3-ish a piece, thankfully, but when you're taking 20 prescriptions, it still adds up) and vitamins (which are ridiculously expensive) and then everyday essentials like soap and shoes and sweaters - I'm not extravagant by any means, but it adds up.

But something that's important to me is charitable giving, and so I make sure that that money is budgeted first - even before my Christmas cash - and I used to just pick a random charity (that I'd investigated, of course) and write a check every month, and that was that.  But lately I've been spending my charitable funds (I love the way that sounds, as if I have unlimited funds to give out, when in reality, some months it is less than $50) in ways that I think are more engaging and interesting, and I'd love to share a couple of them with you.

First off, I still write a check every month: I have 12 top charities, and each of them gets the same amount of my money, once a year. Picking 12 charities that deserve my support was hard, because there's about 12 million - but these are causes that mean a lot to me, (like the local chapter of the CFIDS association, or the Walnut Street Center, where my uncle, who had Down Syndrome, worked & was cared for, for the majority of his life) and I feel great knowing that (even though it's not a lot), I'm helping them as much as I can.

Secondly, I use Kiva, or Donors Choose, the microlending & public school funding sites, respectively, to help fund different projects across the country & the world - Through Kiva I've loaned over $100 in 4 countries, and sponsored four different women in their endeavors to better their lives and their communities.  On Donors Choose, I've helped fund 27 books for a classroom that needed them; markers, white boards & crayons for a kindergarten class in a local school, and musical instruments & art classes in after-school programs across the country.  All things that I think are vital, and that I can give my portion to help, and know that others will contribute as well. So far, I have not been disappointed.  (Another note: Kiva usually has a match program, so try to sign up when they're doing that - like if you put in $25 it counts as $50.  Also they have groups, and I highly endorse the Nerdfighters Kiva group as both active and awesome.)

Thirdly, I'm funding a lot of independent projects through Indiegogo & Kickstarter.  I will freely admit that I, ardent Marshmallow that I am, helped to fund the Veronica Mars movie.  I don't really count that as charity, although I suppose you could make an argument for artistic endeavors and patron-ism, which is basically where I'm going with the rest of this paragraph, but I'm not sure that a studio sure-to-be-blockbuster film really counts as an 'independent project', so that's an iffy one.  What's not iffy are the millions of amazing projects listed on the two sites that need backers ASAP.  The things that I like best about these sites are the wealth and diversity of campaigns that need funding - there's literally something for everybody.  Whether you're interested in the environment, art, food, social justice-inspired science fiction literature, technology and intersectional feminism, or, say, a documentary about CFS/ME, which (as you might guess) has special import to me:

there's always something worth funding.  My problem is always wanting to fund too many things, as opposed to not finding something worth supporting. Another great thing is that the projects are always changing - with 1 month windows, there's always something new to explore: I have recently funded, for example, a 50-state adventure/poster project; a poetry picture book on manners; the aforementioned documentary & feature film; and a Star Wars convention in England for people with disabilities. (Jealous!)

Just as an extra bonus, most of the Kickstarters & Indiegogo projects have rewards, so you're not only doing good & helping fund some excellent ideas, you get to participate & be included in the end product as well, which is both inspiring and addictive. In my opinion, one of  the ways Kickstarter has a slight advantage over Indiegogo is the "remind me" button, which will tell you when a  Kickstarter campaign is almost over, so you can check to see if it's fully funded. Say I don't have the money for two campaigns at the beginning of the month, and Kickstarter reminds me at the end of the month that project 2 is still looking for backers, so that I have another chance to contribute, which is nice. 

So that's my formula for charitable giving lately - 1 part known & trusted charity, 1 part microfinancing loan, 1 part patron of the arts, sciences, technology or social justice: Oh and 1 (teeny tiny) part pocket money to people who ask.  I can't pass up panhandlers, no matter how it makes other people's eyes roll when I give them cash: I don't care what they're spending it on (of course I'd rather they didn't spend it "injecting drugs into their eyeballs", as my sister once put it,) because I figure there's very little keeping me off the streets, and I can't imagine how hard it must be to have to ask for money all day, to be (mostly) ignored or spoken rudely too, to know people think less of you. So, I try to keep a couple of dollars free, expressly for this purpose, even though it makes my mother sigh each time I take the money out of the glove compartment and roll down the window, it always makes me feel better.

All parts things that are important to me, and things that I'm so glad I'm able to support. How do you guys manage your charitable giving, and have you supported anything super fantastical lately that you'd like to share?

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