No, I Will Not Donate To Your Crowdfunding Campaign

A manifesto for a new century

sorry, friends

I have a lot of friends. That’s not a humblebrag, it’s a regular brag. I’m grateful for them, and I love them deeply. They have supported me time and again with dinner and drinks, with rides to the airport and celebrations, with shoulders to cry on and by obsessing with me over meaningless problems. They work out with me and meditate with me and make art with me and read my shitty first drafts. But I’m not going to give them any more of my money.

Every so often, a friend of mine posts a crowdfunding ask on Facebook. They’re making movies, or they need to pay vet bills, or they have to have surgery, or they want to go on a honeymoon. I respect their need for extra dollars. I’ve been there: I have student loans myself. And it’s not that I don’t understand their need, which I believe is a real one. It’s just that I don’t think they deserve my money.

I recently started a job that pays me a living wage, by which I mean to say just under 50k, after many years of working just to stay afloat. I was broke — though never poor — for a long time. I realized I had good fortune in the form of family support and friend support, in knowing that people I love had the capacity to give me money if I ever was desperate enough to ask. I’m lucky that I never had to.

I work for a nonprofit organization that makes therapeutic activity books for kids in crisis. When I say kids in crisis, what I mean is often, but of course not always, kids in poverty. Some of the kids we serve attend schools where 100% of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Where there is no support system. Where generations of poverty have led to adults who can not get their children to school because they do not own cars. I am talking about children who come to school hungry, where the City Year staff who help us out also give the kids cereal to munch on while they’re making art.

Instead of giving to my friends, who have homes, who have things, who can afford to take out loans and have a little debt, I give to kids to make their lives just a bit easier.

As far as I know, a very very very narrow subset of my friend group has ever lived in a situation like this. By this I mean maybe one or two people. Because I have enjoyed a life of enormous privilege, most of my friends are people who went to college. Many have also been to graduate school. Very few went to public schools in major cities. I can think of two off the top of my head.

The fact that my friends didn’t have shitty childhoods does not erase their needs. It is not on me to decide what need looks like for other people. Need is individual, and we must determine it alone.

However, the children at these schools have daily struggles that are deeply difficult for me to comprehend even when I am in the room with them, when they walk in with growling stomachs and unkempt hair. And while I can’t evaluate other peoples’ need, I can decide where my own disposable income goes.

Instead of giving to my friends, who have homes, who have things, and who can afford, almost across the board, to take out loans and have a little debt, I give to kids like these by way of nonprofit organizations that make their lives just a little bit easier. Art with Heart offers healing, necessary books to them at no cost. Communities in Schools helps them make it through the day by offering support that their own schools can’t, like supplies, snacks, and rides to and from school. There are free or low-cost counseling services for children who need someone to validate their feelings and understand the circumstances of their lives, and tutoring that these students often need to help extricate themselves from the cycle of poverty.

I worry that when we only give to our friends, even if our friends are raising money for their own charitable interests, we are taking mobility out of the hands of these children. I worry that when I help pay for someone’s dog’s surgery, I’m complicit in that cycle of poverty. I worry that it makes me think I’m donating money to a good cause, when in fact that adjective might be mistaken. It is a cause, yes, but is it the right cause? Is it the place where my dollars will truly do the most good? I don’t think so, not anymore.

I’d do almost anything for my friends, and they know it. And as far as their farms and bills and inventions are concerned, I’m happy to send them all the love in the world — but not money.

Erica Sklar is the communications specialist at Art with Heart, and her work can be found, among other places, at the Master’s Review, TheNewerYork, and Best of the Net 2014. She tweets @erica_sklar.

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