Insipid musings about money

I’m currently working as a Campaign Fellow in the same non-profit that I worked for before going to Guadeloupe–United Way. A Campaign Fellow is a nice name for a Development Assistant during the busiest time of the year. It’s been interesting to see the inner-workings of a development department. The role of this department, which truly serves as the backbone of any good non-profit, has never been demystified for me. I always knew, as a loyal non-profitist, that money for programming had to come from somewhere, but I didn’t really think too much about where those dollars were really being brought in from.

Now, upon being in the development world for only a month, I have realized the intricate tightrope balancing act that people asking for money, for very worthy causes, must walk. A line that separates the work we do from the people that make that work happen…in a sense, a development office operates as the modern day middle-man for the people, animals, and habitats in our communities; and those looking for a compelling reason to give the money they feel as though they need or are called to give back.

I realize this may sound a little cynical, a risk my opinions always seem to take, but I also know that many people working in development have to talk about programs they know very little about. They simply report on what is happening, the numbers that sound compelling, and the reason why a donor should care. Then, comes the ask. Just $20 per paycheck could mean that a child doesn’t go hungry for a full year. If you give $1000 a year you can be part of this philanthropic group of people that can make a difference together. If you give $10,000 or more, you are among the elite of our givers and you will get special recognition, bragging rights, and you will feel even better about yourself. I need to qualify all of this by saying that I am extremely grateful for the job I do have, albeit temporary. I am also grateful for the organization I work for and it’s goal and its intentions. Lastly, I am eternally grateful for those people who give, even the richest among us. I just have big questions about money and how our society handles itself when this subject comes up.

Why, you might ask, am I writing about this on a blog post? Well, I think that money is something that we don’t really talk about as a society. In fact, it is considered taboo to talk about how much we make, what we have spent our money on, and what we would like to do with our money. I find this a bit odd since as a society we are always talking about how cheap or how expensive things are. What gives? These days, however, all I have been thinking about and hearing about is money. As I ask potential and long-term givers to the UWBA and other non-profit organizations world-wide, I realize that we all have something to contribute.

For me, it has been my time, my energy, my heart. Ever since graduating college I’ve tried to support communities in need, because that is where I felt I could be most of service in this life. Always working at connecting: working with migrant workers and their children connecting them to education services; homeless youth and their support systems connecting them to basic needs, education and employment opportunities; English Language Learners and their families connecting them with a new culture and language; disconnected youth and connecting them to meaningful employment…now I connect donors to their current and future donations.

This last job of connecting has been a difficult one because I have deep-seated stereotypes about people that are well-off, rich, the bourgeoisie, etc. These people could be strangers, neighbors, or even friends. As I was talking to my roommate about this the other day I realized it comes from a place of not knowing. I grew up in a middle-class home with all the modern-day comforts of the time. I was never lacking in anything except for watching TV (because my parents didn’t believe in the value of TV) and buying new “cool” clothes (because my sister and brother and I always got hand-me-downs, clothes my mom made, or clothes from thrift stores). (Interestingly enough, the things that I thought I lacked then, I have incorporated into my life now: no TV, and predominantly second-hand clothing 🙂 For most of my at-home years my parents worked with impoverished communities so I got to know what poverty looked like from day one. As a child, Mennonite values were also instilled in our family. This meant that living simply was a virtue. In fact, one could argue that in any Christian tradition, wealthy people are seen as pariahs that need to rethink how they are amassing riches on earth before eternal life is even available. For instance, in the New Testament Jesus explains to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” This, among many other of Jesus’ teachings were part of the doctrine that I was expected to believe, so why would I have known any better?

Now, I don’t really know what to think. Nothing is cut and dry, I have come to realize. At the same time, we know that studies have shown, that wealthy people are not as happy as those who simply have enough or are living comfortably. We also know that as a society the rich in our country aren’t really looked upon that fondly, even though, oddly enough, we all want to be richer.

But how do we know when we are rich enough and how can we stop ourselves when we live in a society that is meritocratic?

Tonight there is a town hall in the city I live in of Berkeley, to raise the minimum wage to $19 an hour. This would be a gradual increase over the course of the next five years. This is great! There needs to be a minimum wage that is a livable wage, but on the other side of the coin, what is too much? Is there a ceiling? A maximum wage? Or is the sky the limit?

I want to sign-off this post by giving you all some statistics that I like to give during speeches I make. A while back I posted a report on my Facebook page that United Ways of California had put out depicting the reality of poverty in the state. After adjusting for the cost of living based on the number of people in a given household, county, ages of children, the report found that 1 in 3 Californians were living in poverty. This isn’t the poverty line that the federal government defines. In fact, the federal government says that for a family of four with two adults and two children, poverty is anything at or below $23,850. In San Francisco there are 1 in four households living in poverty defined by a real-cost of living metric. In reality, a family of four with two adults, one preschooler and one school-age child would require four full-time minimum wage jobs at the 2015 rate of $11.05. This spring, the minimum wage went up to $15 an hour and was a huge step in the right direction, but it still isn’t enough to cover the $79,092 that is the self-sufficiency standard in San Francisco for that same family of four. In other counties around the Bay, the realities are just as stark.

Added to this, I’m sure you all read earlier this year that by 2016 the wealthiest 1% is expected to own more than 50% of the world’s wealth. What do you all think? The gap between rich and poor continues to widen, so what are we noticing that helps? How is this relevant in our current political climate?