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Labor & Economy

Counting on the Kindness of Strangers




I raise money for LAANE, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. Asking other people for money isn’t something most people are comfortable with, but I do it every day because it’s the way I serve, how I heal the world. It’s the thing I can do, and I couldn’t look into the faces of people struggling in my community and say, “Sorry, it felt weird to ask for a check.” But I often wonder, “Who gives and why?”

A lot depends on knowing the answer to that question, and the truth is we don’t always have one. We know that people give because they are asked. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. But we get turned down a lot even when we do ask. Sometimes our cause just doesn’t resonate with the donor, and that’s okay. But sometimes – a lot of the time, most of the time – a donor is a donor because they have some spark in them that demands they give back. We have donors who seem compelled as a condition of their being to give back, to serve their community — to heal the world.

What lit that spark?

I wish we knew. We’d run around with a match if we did.

I grew up in a family that, for a time, depended on public assistance for survival. I understand what it means to be poor deep in my soul. “Sometimes,” says  my friend Janice Shiffler, “you have empathy, and sometimes you have to be empathied upside the head.” I know folks who seem more inclined to give because they, too, were once in need, whether they were sick or hurt or hungry – these are the people who get empathied upside the head.

In other words, we’ve been there.

But we have donors, many donors, who grew up in privilege, who have never had any obvious need, and yet they give with the same sense of purpose. They carry that empathy in them regardless. “To whom much is given . . .” as the saying goes.

Yet having means is not the same as having motivation. Many have means and no inclination to become significant donors. They might give here and there when it’s socially advantageous, but the spark of charity has not been lit. What makes the difference?

I wish we knew.

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