Monday, May 12, 2008
Can you spare a dime?
This afternoon, as I was walking from my office to our local office supply store, I ran into an organizer for a grassroots environmental non-profit agency who tried to get me to donate money to his organization. He was armed with a 3-ring binder with pictures, facts, and a place to sign my name and address. At first, he looked hesitant to say anything to me at all, but I made eye contact with him and he said, "Do you have sixty seconds for the environment?" or something like that. I started off by telling him that I, too, work for an environmental non-profit, and I asked him if he'd ever heard of us. He said no, and asked me to tell him about what we do. I am still pretty bad at this, as I've had my job for less than 6 months, and unfortunately I think I did a mediocre job at best. Then I asked him to tell me what his group did and he began to explain it to me. I could see at least one point (a legislative matter) on which the two groups disagree in philosophy. But, putting that aside, it was clear that we both agree that the environment needs attention and money. And yet, I have had enough financial problems in my life from impulse spending, that I am just not able to spend money impulsively anymore. I just can't do it. The thing is, he wasn't just looking for me to sign up for his mailing list. He wasn't looking for moral support. He was definitely looking for a donation. It was clear that his paycheck was dependent on my contribution. It was obvious that he was frustrated. And, I felt bad for him. Living in San Francisco, I am asked for money by homeless people who are clearly in serious need multiple times every day. And, not as often, I am stopped on the street by representatives of various non-profit organizations doing important work looking for a donation. Each one of these encounters leaves me feeling terribly guilty, but I haven't found a way to overcome my aversion to spending money impulsively. I often end up feeling angry at the organization for asking me for money in such a way and for subsequently making me feel like a schmuck for not donating anything. The other day as I was walking, some guy asked me, "Would you like to volunteer to help with the AIDS walk?" Why do I find this so unnerving? I might want to help with the AIDS walk. I might want to give money to an environmental non-profit or to save an endangered species, but I'm not prepared to commit my time or money at a moment's notice while walking down the street. I admit, I need to spend more time thinking about where I want to give my money and/or services. Maybe my sense of guilt is related to the fact that I don't feel like I give enough money to organizations that need it. There are so many to choose from. But, it would be easier to respond to someone asking me for money if I could say, "I give money to XYZ shelter on ABC St. Why don't you go there for a meal?" or "I give $XXX dollars a year to the ASPCA and that's about all I can afford to donate." Or, something. Something would be good.