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Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

The Cacophony of Need on GoFundMe

Last month I visited GoFundMe’s website to donate to the campaigns for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s families. After I finished that task, GoFundMe showed me an array of other people’s fundraisers. I clicked through to look at a few of them, perhaps voyeuristically. One representative campaign is seeking ten thousand dollars for a father without health insurance. He needs a knee surgery, so he can go back to his construction job and keep paying child support.

A panhandler whose sign says, "Will accept verbal abuse for spare change." Photo by Morgan.
Photo by Morgan.

Crowdfunding has certainly been critiqued before as a woefully inadequate way for society to address its collective ills. People have to rely on connections and charisma in order to obtain medical care or be able to pay their rent. Encountering these campaigns puts each of us in the position of arbiter — how do we decide to dole out our dollars? And how do we cope with the unceasing cacophony of sheer need?

Every time I skim through my Tumblr dashboard, another queer youth is being kicked out of their house and needs to cover the gap in support. On Twitter there’s a bail fund for every urban protest. Occasionally my Facebook friends ask for help affording vet bills.

Navigating this cyberscape is akin to walking along a busy city street and turning away from all the panhandlers because you can’t choose among them. Or handing out change based on arbitrary factors — from each according to their bank balance, to each according to their ability to look cheerful while playing the tambourine.

The crowdfunded version of charity requires far more emotional labor from all the participants than institutional charity. My monthly commitments to standard charities are easy — the sums disappear every month and the receipts show up in my inbox.

People who start campaigns on GoFundMe and similar platforms have to perform their suffering compellingly or face fundraising failure. Those of us who have money to donate, even if it’s only a little, are thrust into judging which supplicants are eligible for a less miserable existence.

Nothing indicates the rise of the precariat quite like scrolling through thumbnails on GoFundMe, wishing you had enough money to pay for everyone’s knee surgery.

How Much I Donate to Charity

I’ve updated my personal budget since the last time I shared it. One of my goals in tweaking how I allocate money was to donate more to charity. My specific intent was to financially support causes that I care about deeply. Now I’m sharing the organizations I picked, and my rationale for each, because I think my choices might be interesting to other people. Despite Thanksgiving’s brutal colonialist origins, it’s a time when we reflect on our own good fortune, which is a great prompt to redistribute some personal economic luck.

Charitable giving is a hard thing to write about without coming across as self-congratulatory, but rest assured that I don’t think that I’m ~saving the world~ or even doing enough. I’m still only donating $110 total per month, which is roughly 3.6% of my after-tax income. [Edit: I did the math wrong — it actually added up to $135.] The church traditionally reaped a tithe of 10%, so I can at least double my contributions. I may choose to add other nonprofits to my roster, or I may increase the amounts I give to the organizations I’ve already chosen.

So here’s the lineup of monthly donations:

  • $25 for the American Civil Liberties Union. I’m not especially patriotic, but I do care about constitutional rights, and the ACLU fights the big, tricky, important cases in court.
  • $15 for Bay Area Legal Aid. If you’re forced to navigate the courts without money — or the education and cultural capital necessary to fight successfully — it’s the same as having no opportunity to seek justice at all.
  • $25 for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Being able to share information without structural or systemic fetters is crucial, and the EFF advocates for things like encryption that governments seem incapable of understanding.
  • $50 for Planned Parenthood. Medical agency is important! I’ve always had access to birth control and the like through my health insurance, but not everyone does.
  • $10 for the Saint James Infirmary. This is definitely an amount I should increase, especially since they just got booted from their space in San Francisco. Healthcare and harm-reduction led by sex workers for other sex workers = yes.
  • $10 for The Marshall Project. The prison-industrial complex is abominable and we need vigorous reporting to keep the industry in check and inform the public of the heinous treatment prisoners endure.

Considering these additions:

  • Compass Family Services doesn’t provide an option for donating monthly, which is my preferred format, but I might give them a lump sum in the future.
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center carries out potent anti-hate activism and has a long history of enraging racists.

Any suggestions? I’m particular interested in helping homeless people and prisoners, since those are the most resource- and power-deprived demographics. Comment below, hit me up on Twitter, or email me.

Update: I now also give $23 to the Tor Project every month, for the same reason that I support the EFF.

Planned Monthly Spending

A Mirror of Competing Beauties of the Green Houses by Katsukawa Shunshō (Japan, 1726-1792) and Kitao Shigemasa (Japan, 1739-1820) via Wikimedia.
Half of A Mirror of Competing Beauties of the Green Houses by Katsukawa Shunshō (1726-1792) and Kitao Shigemasa (1739-1820) via Wikimedia.

I want to share my new personal budget. My salary recently jumped $25k — I graduated from $30k per year with no benefits to $55k per year with insurance and other benefits. This triggered the necessity of re-budgeting, in a wonderful way! Having more money is great.

You can check out the spreadsheet, but I’m probably going to adjust that over time, so here’s how I’m currently breaking things down in terms of approximate monthly costs:

  • Rent and utilities: $750 (I live in Richmond, CA; soon will be sharing a one-bedroom apartment with my boyfriend)
  • Car insurance: $84
  • Health and dental insurance: $300 (I elected to stay on my parents’ plan and receive a monthly credit from my employer)
  • Food: $200
  • Cell phone: $52
  • Netflix: $10
  • Internet: $17
  • Planned Parenthood donation: $10 (tax-deductible)
  • Saint James Infirmary donation: $10 (tax-deductible)
  • Stratechery membership: $10
  • Longreads: $5
  • The Marshall Project donation: $10 (tax-deductible)
  • Latterly: $2.67
  • Gimlet Media: $5
  • Instapaper: $2.50
  • BigCartel: $9.99
  • Vanguard Roth IRA: $460

Total cost: $1,938.16. Since I’m drawing $4,583 monthly (approximately $3,070 after taxes) there’s about ~$1,000 of room for me to give more to charity, spend more on media, and save more! Woohoo. I’ll have to figure that out. At the moment I particularly want to focus on charity — I’d like to increase my donations to Planned Parenthood and the Saint James Infirmary, but PayPal doesn’t offer any immediately obvious way to do this. I’m also considering Compass Family Services.

Frivolous possibilities: The Economist for $13.33/month and Stack Magazines for $8.30/month.

money to burn - illustration
Illustration by Michael Statham.

Edit: I posted an update, and then an article about why I choose to be financially transparent.

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