Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Culture of Donating (Or Not)

Donations are cool but they don't need to be big
piles of cash to be effective. 
I've got work to do - writing - but this is on my mind so out it goes.

America is a donating culture nowadays, especially in the wake of a disaster. The folks in Joplin, Missouri, and the victims of Hurricane Sandy especially understand that. So do a lot of other people. We look at the news (or the weather or sports or whatever) and our hearts break when we see people in pain. Our instinct is to hug them and tell them it'll all be okay. Well the majority of people share that instinct, I'm generalizing to get the point across. We like to donate things.

On NPR recently there was a story about the unnecessary and often overwhelming things that become problematic in the wake of a tragedy. Too many teddy bears, not enough money. Piles and piles of clothes that create storage problems and not enough money to pay the folks or buy what's really needed. An enterprising group decided that encouraging those who want to help but don't want to send money per se ought to check out a web store and buy things there that will go to immediately filling desperate needs. This is a great idea.

But how often do we support things that enlighten us? I mean, back in the old days we used to subscribe to magazines and join book clubs and things like that to find material that informed or enlightened or entertained. Now there's the Internet and way too many options to choose from. If you're of a certain age you remember that packet of stickers from Publisher's Clearing House. I know some who loved those little stamps with a mighty desire to put them all over EVERYthing. (Not me. Nope.)

Last week I decided I was going to let a couple of magazine subscriptions go because I wasn't reading them as they came in. This made me a little sad because it meant that there were a few less items for the USPS to deliver to the house and I want the Postal Service to continue as it has, though that's a subject for another time. But now I have a few dollars that I'm not sending to a publisher to send magazines, so what am I going to do with it?

First, I'm going to support one website that I'm getting a lot of enlightenment from, lots of insights into what I want to do with my life. I've sent them the equivalent of a year's subscription to one of the magazines I just dropped.

This made me think: If everyone who reads a website 'subscribed' for only a dollar a month, the websites would likely be improved just a little bit. The authors could spend that much more time on their labor of love. It's a minimal investment on my part, but if 100 people did it, the author would be beholden to investors/readers, and might do better work out of some sense of obligation. Or not.

Second, I've still got that renewal money I wasn't going to give to another publisher so I'll decide which website deserves my support. If they have a tip jar or a PayPal link where I can send them a few bucks, I'll do it. It's nice to know that someone appreciates your work and is willing to pay something for it. In this day and age of the Internet, it's time for micropayments to really matter. It's up to us as readers to decide how much.

I would recommend that if every listener to every local NPR station just sent in $5 a year, the pledge weeks would probably be a lot shorter. Maybe $10. For an entire year, folks. They say every dollar counts and I believe that.

When it comes time and you think you want to send something to help someone out, think about all the things you take for granted and what you don't pay for on a daily basis. Think about the things you read for free that a dollar a month would be good for. You might help someone get health insurance or eat or be able to put gas in his car to get out of the way of a killer superstorm.

This argument is rambling and way all over the place. What I want you to take away is that a dollar a month for every person who reads a particular website isn't too much to ask.

Is it?