by Carolyn A. Parker, AEU Ethical Action Team Leader and member of Ethical Society of Austin
Giving is one of what I call the Four Modes of Ethical Action. (The other three are Living, Serving, and Educating.) As a mode of ethical action, I think of giving as a year-long, all-season activity. Indeed, I wonder how there can be just one “season of giving” for Ethical Humanists?
Now, I know that we have just passed through a period in which we receive more than the usual number of pleas for donations, more than the usual pressure from advertisers to buy (more than we need), more than the usual cultural signs and symbols that tell us that the Winter Solstice period is the time of year that literally means giving. The thing is, we have four seasons on this planet, thanks to the axial tilt, and the need for giving (as opposed to the impetus for giving) is present in all four of them.
Please be assured that I am not trying to start a War on the Season of Giving. The winter holidays and festivities are fun, build community, give us a break from the mundane. I am not even hinting that we should change our responses to end-of-year fundraising. Non-profit organizations and commercial enterprises alike depend on the added income from that “season” of giving and buying-to-give to keep themselves running for the rest of the year. I did give as generously as I could when the American Ethical Union’s annual campaign letter arrived. I even gave in to the appeal of Elsa and her sister, Anna, for the four-year-old princess in my family (environmentally appropriate gift-wrapping).
What I am suggesting, however, is that, for 2020, we look at our ethical action programs that involve giving as the mode of action and assess the “season” when the need for our gifts is greater.
- Food banks may receive a glut of canned goods around Thanksgiving, but have nearly empty shelves in the summer, when more children are at home during the day and no longer receiving meals at school.
- Women’s shelters do have extra needs around a drinking holiday, but we have several in the US (think Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day).
- The homeless are particularly vulnerable in the cold winter months, yes, but climate change is giving us longer and hotter summers.
Consider working with our partner organizations to determine when their needs are highest and think about aiming our giving at those times of greater need. Even a small gift will have a big impact when it comes at a time of high need.
Axial tilt is constant and unceasing (for the next 2 billion years or so). For now, seasons continue to come and go, but the need for our gifts often remains throughout the year. So I am also suggesting that we consider ways to make our giving similarly constant. Consider re-evaluating your giving program(s) to make them more sustaining.
- I have, for example, been making a monthly donation to the Ethical Society of Austin through my credit union. Now, instead of an annual gift, I have decided to do the same for AEU. Just like every other non-profit organization, the AEU needs to plan its programs based on expected income. More importantly, perhaps, with smaller amounts donated each month, AEU will actually end up getting a bit more than I am likely to feel like I can afford in one lump sum at the end of the year.
- The Austin Society has a basket for food bank donations. The basket and the “Feed Me” donation container (for cash donations) are set out each week—all year—to remind our members of the constant need in the 21-county area that our food bank serves. This is not a change, but we are working on improving our management of the giving program so that we can increase our contributions this year.
- We are also strengthening our relationship with Austin Humanists at Work for their monthly distribution of health and safety items for homeless persons in our area. One small change we are making for 2020 is to shift our regular Board meetings to a different Sunday so that our Board members can also go to the early morning distribution with AHW without having their day extended by yet another event.
Giving is an important form of ethical action. We have cultural and economic pressures to consider the end of the year as a “season of giving,” but the need for our gifts—whether they are money or time or goods—is year around. In planning for 2020, try to consider all four seasons and look for even small changes that can make your (and your Society’s) giving more sustaining for those we are trying to help. Try to find ways to increase the impact of your giving regardless of the amount you give.