5888909251_85fa2ef4c9_o

Privilege and Perception

Living with privilege means living in a world where you – or, at least, the privileged aspects of you – are ‘normal’. It means that you can live your entire life in spaces where you don’t have to perform. You don’t have to think about how you are presenting yourself. You can simply ‘be yourself’ all the time.

What many people with privilege don’t realize is that this isn’t how things are for people without privilege. Without privilege, you need to learn to perform for different audiences. You need to think about how to ‘be gay’ around gay people, or around straight people, or around homophobic people. Similarly, you need to think about how to ‘be black’ around black people and around white people. ‘Being yourself’ means something different for people living without privilege.

But living with privilege often means believing that other people – people without privilege – live like we do, as the same version of themselves all the time.

It’s like this. When you grow up only speaking one language, and when that works for you, and when others defer to your language preference, it’s easy to believe that other people also only speak one language. This is true even if many other people are bilingual (and are often bilingual for the benefit of people just like you).

It’s easy for us to think about this in terms of gender, sexuality, race, and so on. We rarely think about it in terms of class.

But people living in poverty often need to perform differently for different audiences. When you’re poor, you need to know how to ‘be poor’ around low-income people, and how to ‘be poor’ around middle-income people. And you need to know how to pass as ‘middle class’ around some people. Life without the privilege of the middle class means, as it were, speaking more than one language. And that’s important.

It’s important because part of the case against charity is the case against poverty culture: the idea that people who are low-income don’t know how to budget, or that it’s important to plan for the future, or how to use anything other than ‘casual’ language. That’s a privilege-blinded picture of life in poverty. It imagines that there is one way of ‘being poor’ and that people who live in poverty are always ‘being poor’ in that way. It ignores the tremendous versatility of people without privilege.

Those of us who live with privilege need to open our eyes to that versatility. We need to realize that others are learning different languages for our benefit. We need to open our eyes and overcome the blinders of privilege so that we can all work together on ending privilege altogether.

6402837429_cc184a6623_o

People I Read: Emily C. Heath

In the early-ish days of blogging, it was normal to have a blogroll: a list of links to other (often more popular) blogs that the author was interested in. The blogroll would sit calmly in the sidebar and let readers browse their way to other blogs and other authors, discovering fresh ideas and insights. Now, nobody maintains a blogroll. The best hope you have of finding someone else is to follow a link in the body of a post or in a comment or in a link dump. Around here, they also show up in link posts that I share fairly frequently.

But the fact is that I kind of miss the blogroll, and I think that it’s worthwhile to share some of the blogs I read and a note one why I read them. I’ll try to put up one example every couple of weeks.

This post’s person I read is Emily C. Heath.

Rev. Heath is a progressive evangelical pastor in the United Church of Christ, a writer, and a public theologian. The easiest way to give you a picture of Heath’s biography and style is just to provide the bio on Heath’s website:

Christ-follower, displaced Southerner, binary-smasher, PhD dropout, former religious “none”, ambivert, fly-fishing enthusiast, progressive evangelical, fountain pen devotee, gender non-conformer, heavy lifter, recovery believer, Sox fan, Trinitarian, bow tie aficionado, marriage equality advocate, LEGO lover, prepster not hipster, blogger, Reformed theologian, fantasy football fanatic, 13th generation New Hampshirite, church lover, and spouse of an amazing woman.

Heath’s blog includes sermons, commentary on public events, and critiques of the mainline church – especially the United Church of Church – from the position of a progressive evangelical firmly embedded in the mainline church. As someone who was born and bred in the United Church of Christ, it’s Heath’s writings on this last topic that I find both most challenging and most enlightening. If you’re seeking a truly progressive evangelical voice that recognized both the successes and the challenges of the progressive mainline, Heath is the read for you.

Heath also has a book out, Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity.

26712711241_a6e513d9e6_o

How to Write Your Thank You Letter

One of the most powerful things that every fundraiser does is say ‘thank you’. It’s also something that a lot of organizations find difficult. There’s always the temptation to turn the thank you letter into a gift receipt, to ask for another gift, or to write about things that are more important to the letter writer than to the donor. Some organizations even forget to say ‘thank you’ altogether!

So I’m providing this short guide on how to write a thank you letter. For my examples, I’ll use the Greater Madison Animal Welfare Center, which I’m pretty confident is a fictional organization.

The Salutation

While all of your letters should be personalized, this is especially important for thank you letters. Select a salutation that fits with your organization’s voice, whether that’s formal (e.g., Dear Mr. and Mrs. Jones) or informal (e.g. Dear Jack and Jill).

Example: Dear Jack and Jill,

The First Paragraph

This may be the only part of the body of the letter that your donor reads, and that means that it has to do the heavy lifting. This paragraph should absolutely say ‘thank you’. It can also let the donor know that you know the amount of the gift and – in a general sense, what it was used for.

Example: Thank you so much for your gift of $100 to sponsor one of our kennels! Your gift is being put to work to provide a comfortable home for a dog until he finds his forever home. Thanks to you, a dog will have a warm, safe place to stay, along with good meals, medical care, companionship, and play time.

The Middle

This is a good opportunity to expand on what you wrote in the first paragraph. The most important thing here is to connect the donor to the good that her gift did. This isn’t about your budget. This isn’t about your organizational concerns. This is about the work that the donor has done by giving that gift. In other words, this is about the people you serve.

Example: Dogs like Beauregard. Beauregard is a four-year old terrier to came to us last week. He’s energetic, friendly, and gets along with everyone. We’re sure he’ll find a forever home soon. Until then, your gift is providing a wonderful temporary home for him.

The Last Paragraph

Take just a moment to say thank you one last time and let the donor know how big of an impact she had.

Example: Thank you for partnering with us through your generous gift. We, and the animals we care for, are ever grateful.

The Valediction

Yes, the part of the letter where you write ‘Sincerely,’ or ‘Yours Truly,’ has a name! It’s the valediction. Don’t sweat this too much, but make it something professional, warm, and suited to your organization. Most nonprofits might use ‘Yours’. A church might use ‘In Christ’s name’ or ‘Grace and Peace’.

Example: Warmly Yours,

The Signature

There’s a lot of debate to be had over who should sign a thank you letter. Some people say that the executive director or president of the board of directors should sign letters. Others suggest that the people who run the program the gift effects should sign the letter for that gift. There’s a case to be made for each of those, and an easy way to solve the dilemma is to have layered thank you letters (i.e.the executive director sends one thank you letter, which is followed up by a letter from a program director).

There is one hard and fast rule, though: always hand sign thank you letters. Printed signatures are not acceptable.

The Postscript

The postscript is one of the most read parts of any letter. This is a great opportunity for a call to action, as long as that call to action isn’t asking for another gift. I recommend providing donors with a way to get more information about the work that their gift is doing. This might include an invitation to view stories on your website. And don’t forget to say ‘thank you’ one more time!

Example: PS: Thank you again for your generous support. If you’d like to see more about the work your gift is doing, please visit us at madisonanimals.org/news.

That Pesky IRS Language

It’s true that our friends at the Internal Revenue Service mandates that your gift acknowledgements contains certain information. This information includes:

  • The amount of the gift or, if it’s a gift-in-kind, a description of the gift,
  • A statement about whether the donor received any goods or services in exchange for the gift, and
  • If goods or services were received by the donor, a good faith estimate of their value.

But this should not be the focus of the letter! If you’ve followed the example above, you’ve already included the amount (though you might want to include the amount and date again). So, if it’s a thank you letter for a regular gift, you just need a statement that the donor didn’t receive any goods or services in exchange for that gift. I prefer to put this in a small note at the bottom of the letter.

Example: For your tax records, and in compliance with 26 US Code§170(f)(8), this letter also serves as verification that no goods or services were given in exchange for your gift.

Conclusion

Hopefully, the template above is useful. The most important thing to remember, though, is that the thank you letter has a very simple job: to let the donor know you received the gift, to thank them for that gift, and to tell them that the gift is being put to work as they intended. If you keep that in mind – and an attitude of gratitude in your heart – writing a thank you letter shouldn’t be an arduous task.

Here’s the whole letter:

Dear Jack and Jill,

Thank you so much for your gift of $100 to sponsor one of our kennels! Your gift is being put to work to provide a comfortable home for a dog until he finds his forever home. Thanks to you, a dog will have a warm, safe place to stay, along with good meals, medical care, companionship, and play time.

Dogs like Beauregard.

Beauregard is a four-year old terrier to came to us last week. He’s energetic, friendly, and gets along with everyone. We’re sure he’ll find a forever home soon. Until then, your gift is providing a wonderful temporary home for him.

Thank you for partnering with us through your generous gift. We, and the animals we care for, are ever grateful.

Warmly Yours,

Jane Johnson
Executive Director

PS: Thank you again for your generous support. If you’d like to see more about the work your gift is doing, please visit us at madisonanimals.org/news.

Date of Gift: September 9, 2016
Amount of Gift: $100

For your tax records, and in compliance with 26 US Code§170(f)(8), this letter also serves as verification that no goods or services were given in exchange for your gift.

24851251953_78a63fa26e_o

Why I Get Nervous about Importing Ideas from the For-Profit Sector

The Obama administration recently banned ITT Technical Institute schools from accepting new students who receive federal loans or grants. Since ITT relies on that federal money for about 68% of its revenue, this could end up forcing the closure of one of the largest for-profit college chains in the country.

This is important. But to understand why it’s important, it’s useful to understand how for-profit colleges like ITT make money.

When a student takes out a student loan, that money goes from the lender – in this case, the government, to the school. For a for-profit school, every student who pays tuition is a net plus.

A good school will provide something of value to those students: a good education ending with a degree that helps those students gain employment. The good school – especially if it’s nonprofit – may even rely on its graduates having good jobs and positive feelings for the school in order to keep going. It needs the voluntary donations of its alumni.

A bad school will maximize profit by keeping the cost of having students as low as possible. It won’t provide a good education ending with a degree that helps those students gain employment. The bad school doesn’t care about the life of it students after they graduate. It made its money as soon as they paid tuition.

The best move for the bad school is to find people who are desperate for a degree, charge the highest tuition they can, and provide very little in terms of education. If the student can pay that tuition herself, the school takes her money. If she can’t, the school can steer her towards a loan; that way, the school makes the money without assuming any additional risk.

Not all for-profit schools have to be bad, of course. And not all nonprofit schools are good. But the ethos that motivates a bad for-profit school like ITT is rooted in the need for profit: maximize revenue, minimize costs. In that regard, it’s no different from other for-profit institutions. If the interests of investors and students align, it might be great. If those interests don’t align, then the students end up debt-ridden, unemployed, and living in poverty.

And that’s why I get nervous about importing ideas from the for-profit sector.

Both Steve Rothschild (in his book The Non NonProfit) and Dan Pallotta (in his popular TED Talk “The Way We Do Charity Is Dead Wrong”) advocate for the idea of nonprofit organizations generating profit for investors. In principle, there are ways to do this that provide financial resources to nonprofits while generating profit for investors. Rothschild provides some examples that look promising.

But we need to be incredibly careful with ideas like this. When someone makes a donation to a nonprofit, his interests are aligned with the interests of the people the nonprofit serves. For example, when I make a donation to my alma mater, I’m doing that because I want students to receive a good education; the students also want to receive a good education. Our interests are aligned.

If I invest in my school with the goal of making a profit, however, my interests don’t necessarily align with those of the students. If providing lower quality services to the students generates more profit, my interests would be met without meeting the interests of the students. And that’s what happens with institutions like ITT.

I’m not saying we can never ever take inspiration from the for-profit sector. Maybe social impact bonds or human capital performance bonds have potential. But stories like this – where we see the for-profit sector taking advantage of low-income people in order to make a profit, in accordance with the most basic motives of the for-profit sector – should make us skeptical of claims that the for-profit sector has something to offer.

After all, it’s a truism to say that the point of the for-profit sector is not to do good, it’s to generate profit.

6402837429_cc184a6623_o

People I Read: Rachel Held Evans

In the early-ish days of blogging, it was normal to have a blogroll: a list of links to other (often more popular) blogs that the author was interested in. The blogroll would sit calmly in the sidebar and let readers browse their way to other blogs and other authors, discovering fresh ideas and insights. Now, nobody maintains a blogroll. The best hope you have of finding someone else is to follow a link in the body of a post or in a comment or in a link dump. Around here, they also show up in link posts that I share fairly frequently.

But the fact is that I kind of miss the blogroll, and I think that it’s worthwhile to share some of the blogs I read and a note one why I read them. I’ll try to put up one example every couple of weeks.

This post’s person I read is Rachel Held Evans.

Because of course I read Rachel Held Evans. Held Evans is a popular progressive evangelical author, memoirist, and speaker. Much of her work focuses on her own (sometimes complicated) faith journey and the role of women in the church. It is, of course, impossible to capture everything that she touches on here, and I recommend not only reading her most recent posts, but taking a stroll through the archives. She provides an accessible and compassionate view on theological and pastoral issues that are often fraught with tension.

She’s also written three books:

28746055895_8e7a4dd506_o

Varieties of Giving

Not all giving is the same. Not every gift means the same things, takes the same form, or has the same motivation. An anonymous cash gift to a homeless shelter, for example, is different from a gift of stock to an elite university in exchange for the university’s business school being named after the donor; and both of those are different from a gift to a family member at Christmas. There are varieties of giving. And the differences between those varieties matter.

Here, for example, are three different – and major – forms of giving.

Patronage was the dominant form of giving in ancient Greece and Rome, based in an ongoing relationship of reciprocal exchange between two parties – sometimes people, sometimes communities – of unequal power. The more powerful person (the patron) would give things like protection, housing, land, loans, political appointments, and even cash handouts to the less powerful person (the client). The client would respond in kind by providing his patron with visits, votes, gratitude, and loyalty. At the core of this relationship lay three simple aspects of the broader social imaginary: an acceptance of social and economic hierarchy, an ethic of reciprocal exchange, and an obsession with the worthiness of the recipients of gifts. While no longer a major form of giving, patronage continues as a force in some parts of the nonprofit sector.

Charity was the dominant form of giving in ancient Judaism and early Christianity. This is what we think of when we think of giving to a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, or even a person on the street. In many ways, charity takes an approach that is opposed to patronage: it’s rooted in divine command, directed specifically towards the poor, and unconcerned with the ‘worthiness’ of the recipient. In fact, charity is much more concerned about the worthiness of the donor: it is a way for the donor to fix herself by helping others.

Philanthropy is often imagined as a classical form of giving – the word itself has Greek roots – but it’s a relatively recent development and the dominant form of giving in the modern world. It’s the kind of giving that we see in towering figures like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and, more recently, billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. It’s also the kind of giving that many of us who are not billionaires participate in when we give to foundations and large nonprofit organizations. Bearing certain similarities to patronage, it’s based in the concentration of wealth, the institutionalization of giving, and the idea of reforming society.

Why does this matter? Because how we give reflects how we think about wealth, poverty, justice, compassion, and event the structure of the cosmic order. It reflects how we think about organizing life. The person who gives out of a sense of a divine preferential option for the poor is doing something very different from the person who gives out of the hope of public recognition and honor. They are shaping the world very differently.

And that has real consequences for both the people giving and the people receiving.

Pin It on Pinterest