Why I give: A giving story for justice from a new-ish, young-ish philanthropist
By Christina DeVries • JFCS Grants Writer
As JFCS’ Annual Campaign, Give2017, kicks off, we are sharing personal stories from people about why they give to the campaign.
I am someone who confidently self-identifies as a social justice advocate. I feel deeply committed to the idea that small groups of people truly can change the world. But I haven’t always identified as someone who gives their money to help make the changes I believe in.
I grew up in a home where giving was expected and it was part of my family culture. As an independent adult, when asked to give money to a cause or an organization, I used to feel that I’d already given enough in terms of my time. Quite honestly, I also often felt like I didn’t have enough money to give to be considered a philanthropist. Before joining JFCS, I worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Namibia. For more than two years, I worked for free. When I got home, I made a very conscious choice to work in non-profits, even if it meant making less money than I potentially could in a for-profit organization. I made this choice because I felt the greater community good was worth the personal sacrifice.
However, the same force that drove me to work in non-profits – that greater community good – has shaped the way and “why” of my giving. I choose to work at JFCS because not everyone in our community is getting what they need. I believe I have a role and a responsibility to change the inequity in our community – in each of our lives – however big or small a piece of the whole picture.
However, on bad days, I often feel overwhelmed with the idea that I’m not doing enough – even working at an organization that does quite a few things well for lots of people. There are days when I feel overwhelmed by the scope of need. I don’t have a skillset that is all encompassing to help all people.
As one person, I can only do so much. What can I do about the increased hate speech and discrimination aimed at people I care about? What about the lack of affordable housing in my gentrifying neighborhood? What can I do about the systemic racism in my community? What can I do about the children and adults who don’t have enough to eat?
On bad days, my list could go on and on. This list also made me consider that my contribution to the work of social justice, in giving my time alone, was no longer enough.
Over the past few years, a few key things happened to spur a change in how I thought about giving. Before I moved to Minneapolis, I worked at United Way supporting giving campaigns through the city of Omaha. In this experience, I saw how small, individual dollars from donors could move together into large programs to create change. I also saw how issues of hunger, access to healthcare and alleviating the burdens of poverty were just as relevant in my local community as they were in my work abroad.
Last year, I started volunteering with Headwaters Foundation for Justice. As part of their second Giving Project, I worked with a group of 15 people to fundraise and allocate dollars aimed at shifting unjust systems of power in our community. Through organizing donors at all levels of giving, we allocated grants to grassroots organizations throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul. This experience changed my life. It was no longer about the size of the gift; instead giving was an opportunity to be a part of the social justice work in a different way. Giving became a way for me to extend beyond my day-to-day work and myself.
Today, I believe one of the biggest ways to making sure everyone in our community gets what they need is wealth redistribution. The advocate in me wants to build power for all people and I view giving as an invitation to join the movement for justice. You can pick your movement, but for me it is largely racial justice and social oppressions. For me, philanthropy is resistance. I don’t believe giving is only for the rich or wealthy, nor do I believe that philanthropy is only for people who are over the age of 40 or retired. I believe we all can be philanthropists. I believe we all can use our dollars to be a part of change that is bigger than we are. I believe giving to JFCS is a way to do this.
Over the next few months, members of the development team will be sharing our stories of why we give and we want to encourage and open this up to everyone. Talking about money and all the feelings that can go along with it can be intimidating; but the good we can do together is worth it. Maybe your giving story is still evolving. Maybe you have questions about giving. Maybe you haven’t considered giving as another powerful way to support your work or our community. Maybe that will change today.
That’s why I give, what’s your story?