Sunday, June 29, 2008

PenaltyFee for ChariTee

I've recently put the wheels in motion to start a new little business sideline, "TreadMate Kate" (Kate = me). While it's certainly not a charitable venture, there are a couple of elements of giving back wrapped into the plan. One is that I'm only charging half the market rate for the service, which is along the lines of personal training, because after conquering near-morbid obesity, I sincerely want to help others begin that fight and stay the course. The second is more relevant to this blog: the cancellation fee.

I suck at being a hardass about things like late arrivals and last-minute cancellations, but it's essential for the service I'm offering. I know the gamut of seemingly valid excuses we make to ourselves and to others for not squeezing in a little exercise, so it is absolutely essential to the service that I enforce a policy. Well, what better way to make it more palatable than to earmark $5 of each fee (which runs from $10 to the whole enchilada) for charity?

Then there's the matter of choosing a charity. I didn't want one that was too big or too small, or that might not have wide appeal. So for the moment, I'm going with one of my stand-bys, Kiva. No, not because I can claw back the money one day - but I can send my truant clients a link to the microloan recipient's information so that they can see what some of their thrown-away money is accomplishing. It may even encourage then to become a lender.

Now how's that for a win-win-win situation?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Locally v. Globally

Inspired by a recent comment from Chris F....

I'm not a big fan of giving within my community. My "community" is New York City, and it has always felt to me like everyone is working a scam of some sort, no matter what the context. Also, I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey, where it seems every town councilor in charge of the recreation program embezzled huge chunks of their funding. Then there was grandma, giving her local church thousands for the roof fund, the mortgage fund, the new organ fund - and then they had the sanctimonious balls to reject my aunt's request to be married there because at 46, she wouldn't be producing new Catholics to fill the pews. Oh, and let's throw in that she's mentally retarded and wouldn't have been able to safely raise children anyway. When it comes to local giving, the one thing I have always stepped up for has been blood donation in the name of someone ill or recently deceased - unfortunately, I had to give that up a few years back when the phleboto-nurses warned me that my veins were difficult and I should save them for my own future medical needs.

But the main reason I give outside of the USA rather than within: what passes for poverty here is wildly rich and stable by the standards of more than half the world. So I indulge in "economic triage", targeting those teetering on the edge. From my cushy vantage point, those that have less than nothing are living proof of the human spirit and the indomitable will to survive in the face of hardship beyond my comprehension. It's why I've put off travel to Africa for so long - fear of staring mortal poverty in the eye and feeling utterly helpless, guilty, overwhelmed, ashamed. So with my tentative plans to go there early next year, that part of the world has featured prominently in my Adventures in Giving. It would feature more in my Kiva lending as well except that so many of the loans for African applicants are in Nigeria, and I still hold it against them for fleecing me out of $35 in their scholarship scam in the 1980s.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Yay, Rosario!

Rosario Coronado is a cheesemaker in Nicaragua. I like cheese. I'd probably like Nicaragua. So on that basis, I contributed to her Kiva loan request back in February and she just paid it off yesterday. That gives her a better repayment record than anyone in my FAMILY (three loans outstanding with the Bank of Big Sister, one of them for nearly 5 years). I immediately reloaned the $25 chunk to Delfina, an herbal medicine maker in Ayacucho, Peru.

I have a strange relationship with Peru. I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in 2006 and saw a particularly bitter form of poverty. I dropped change out of my pocket, and old ladies swarmed to pick it up and run away with it. I dealt with 12-year-old stall vendors who pouted and sneered at my attempts to bargain (I hate doing that, but for god's sake they were charging more than the airport for something half as nice!). I had a shoeshine boy inflate the price of his unwanted services by a factor of 25 (I agreed to a factor of 15 and still felt fleeced). I gave money to a few beggar kids - 30 cents, which had the buying power of $1 there - who bitched me out for not giving them more, until I threatened to take the coins back. The camp porters while on the trek had to stand guard over us at night because the locals would steal our shoes or worse if no one was watching. I do not like bargaining with people who sleep one layer above dirt, but I also don't like having them laugh at another stupid American for paying a week of their wages for a piece of pottery. I felt like shit for being shoved into a position where I resented and deplored the seriously poor, thanks to the palpable, unabashed disdain of said poor.

As such, I have no interest in returning to their country. I won't even consider pan-South American tours that include Peru. However, I will help from a distance and hope that I'm lending to people who don't secretly despise the source of their funding. What can I say? I think it's disgusting that the descendants of one of the greatest empires of the New World have been brought so low. So to Delfina the Medicine Maker and Estela the Grain Seller (due to complete her loan in a couple of weeks) - you go, girls!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mixed 'Motions, Part 2

Shame on me for not blogging for 2 weeks. Shame on me for sitting on my little pile of money to donate, paralyzed by what you could call an excessive angst about getting it wrong.

I'm a big fan of Crunchy Chicken's blog even though I'm not an eco-warrior type, and I felt awful reading about how she'd been duped by an online donation site (registered as a non-profit, to boot) and lost about 1/3 of the money she had raised for a cancer charity. Being an athiest, I can only hope that what goes around comes around. Anyway, my point is that it's just too easy, despite one's best efforts, to find yourself on the wrong side of a scam.

I understand that one of the more popular theories of how to make your donations count is to contribute to one charity. But I view this as a portfolio, so the risk is spread. It really would break my heart to find that a charity I'd given all my donor dollars to was mismanaged, had financial irregularities, etc. But if it's "only" 1/5 of the money I give away, there'd be some comfort in still having 4/5 out there doing what it's supposed to be doing.

And still, that trip to Mexico is weighing on me, as are those heartbreaking reports from Burma. It's really important to me to know that the money and help are getting to the people who really need it, not just the people who are convenient.

I registered for email newsletters from the Nepalese Youth Opportunities Foundation, and got both automated and personal confirmation emails very quickly. Their big campaign to rescue children from bonded servitude is timed for the January labor-contracting "events", so I've got funds earmarked for them in November. I think there's a semi-commitment to keep funding the rescued child until they're out of school, so I won't go nuts with that one. I am, however, tempted to bump up plans to go to Nepal so I can maybe meet the retired Californian lawyer who started all this...she's in her 80s now, who knows how much longer she'll be able to keep up her half-year in Nepal, half-year in the US travel habit. I'll bet she's cool as hell.

Speaking of travel habits, I've started giving thought to my next big trip, planned for November. An interesting dichotomy has arisen: most of the countries I'm considering are not ones I wish to support on a charitable basis. Specifically, I'm thinking India - rather than work on the dire poverty that the majority of their population lives in, their government spends money on a nuclear weapons program in a big ol' pissing contest with Pakistan. Why should I pick up their foolish slack and appease their obligations, what kind of lesson does that teach? And the other one is Egypt - as someone who was living in NYC on 9/11 and watched the towers tumble live and in the streets, I can't forgive the widely-televised glee they demonstrated in the aftermath. I've been putting that destination off for years because I can't reconcile my interest in their ancient culture with my abhorrence of their contemporary one. Wouldn't that make me a hypocrite?

Sigh. I should just cut a check to Doctors Without Borders and call it a day, right?