The Shadows of Fundraising Culture

People who have only lived in the United States may not quite as aware of this but fundraising is especially pervasive in the culture here. Calls for donations through your social circle, through celebrities, etc. are frequent and seem a part of everyday life. Fundraising drives for every perceivable cause and organizations exist. In recent years crowdfunding platforms made this even easier for everyday folk.

I was raised about half the time abroad. There were charities. As students there was widespread expectation to spend some time volunteering. And there were occasional news about celebrities donating to certain charities. But that was about it. There was no fundraising for schools or arts or pretty much any organization. And especially no individual efforts for economic hardship and medical bills. As individuals without much wealth of note we rarely came across any calls for donation.

After returning to the United States as an adult and noticing this difference I had a vague wondering about it. At times I thought it is something to admire. That it is because America is a first world country and noblesse oblige is alive and well in its wealthy. And look at how everyone is taking initiative over their fate! At other times I had a vague sense of discomfort and fatigue. Perhaps even a sense of guilt since I can’t possibly donate to all the worthy causes that cross my path. And how do you even gauge which are more worthy?

And now with a pandemic upon us, all these vague wonderings about this culture so heavily dependent upon donations suddenly came into sharper focus. Fundraising of every stripe was common before and now it is everywhere. For the health workers, and first responders, medical equipment, protective gear, food for impacted families and children, education initiatives, domestic abuse, service industry workers and others who are out of work, the list goes on and on. And of course personal GoFundMe’s for medical expenses or funeral costs, etc.

What could possibly be wrong with this culture of philanthropy where we all demonstrate how we care with our money and bring attention to this fact?

For starters, who are you asking all this of? Much of the population has been impacted in one way or another. Many literally don’t have enough money to maintain their lives. Others do not have the time or energy to sift through all these causes that compete for attention and money.

Weren’t we already paying anywhere from 10 to 37% in taxes so that our country and state would take care of most of this for us? Isn’t that what experts should be doing? Allocating all those resources in the best possible way?

Depending on our social networks and fame, fundraising introduces a new unfairness of who gets help. How well connected are you and who do you know? How much awareness is there for your problem?

Even before Covid-19 medical costs were the largest category on GoFundMe, which surprised the founders as they had envisioned funding for ideas and dreams among other things.

Individual fundraising efforts serve an important function. But it should be just a few things here and there where the system wasn’t able to fill a need. Human systems aren’t perfect even when we strive to be and we can expect there will always be little pockets that we forget about.

But our systems should not be relying on these. I wonder if those in the United States have become so used to this culture that we no longer question it. Passing off these widespread systemic shortcomings as an external cost that the populace will take care of through the goodness of their hearts.

If we are all doing our part in maintaining each of our lives and those that depend on us and pay our taxes, that should be enough with few exceptions. Even celebrities shouldn’t have to signal that they care so often with calls to charity if most resources were allocated fairly. Then we can all just focus on doing our actual jobs and living our lives better.

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