Tiffany B. Brown

On charity and privilege

This is something I wrestle with when I do things like volunteer with St. Bernard Project and the like. Be cognizant that you are:

  • not eliminating jobs by doing work for free;
  • seeing the folks you are helping as people who are capable and possess agency;
  • not falling into established narratives that no longer reflect the current situation or that rely on long-standing stereotypes; and
  • helping people as directly as possible and not just throwing money at organizations. Where and how does the organization spend it once it gets it?

This, of course, is related to the Kony 2012 project by Invisible Children, (view Tweets), which aims to raise awareness and contact influencers to pressure the U.S. to get Joseph Koney and the Lord’s Resistance Army out of Uganda … except, um, that Kony isn’t in Uganda anymore.

There’s also the troubling fact that Invisible Children’s mission is mostly to tell stories and raise money to tell more stories. Think about that. Is the work they’re doing really leading to substantive change? Is the story they’re telling actually an accurate narrative about what’s happening in Uganda?

More about the Kony 2012 controversy

3 Responses to “On charity and privilege”

  1. MyFreeWeb says:

    oh wait, Kony 2012 wants me to message Rush Limbaugh and Mitt Romney?!?!

  2. Gsetser says:

    Fundamentally I believe in self-efficacy — helping to put people in a place where they have the ability and confidence to take themselves wherever they need to or want to go.

    Time and again it has been proven that when you educate women, you educate families and raise the standard of living in the cultures those educated women touch. So, personally, I lean toward organizations that help women and girls learn to direct their own lives and inform the futures of their families. That doesn’t mean I don’t think men can translate a helping hand into boosting the well-being of their families. I do. But the money and energy that helps women simply reaches further.

    That said, I think the goal of every non-profit should be to put itself out of business by putting the people it helps into a position where they can control and define their own lives. Every non-profit enterprise should have an expiration date just so it doesn’t evolve into something that simply propagates itself.

    Having limited means, I keep my routine contributions close to home.

    A successful culture, to me, is one that treats its weakest members with kindness and dignity. That generally includes children, the elderly and those who cannot care for themselves. Most cultures, including our own in the U.S., fail miserably.

    Oh, and I contribute to animal shelters because my four-legged friends have contributed so much joy to my life. That’s probably self-indulgent.

    Oddly, in the limited actual fund-raising I’ve done I discovered early on that those with the least tend to give the most. They simply understand the need, I guess. Perhaps when people have a lot or have never truly wanted for anything they no longer understand those in need? I don’t get that.

  3. Anonymous says:

    “That said, I think the goal of every non-profit should be to put itself out of business by putting the people it helps into a position where they can control and define their own lives.”

    Absolutely! And the best organizations do just this. 

    “Oddly, in the limited actual fund-raising I’ve done I discovered early on that those with the least tend to give the most. They simply understand the need, I guess.”

    I think that’s accurate. More specifically, I think those with the least are more like *to* need and contribute for reasons that are somewhat self-interested. Plus when you earn more, you spend more. I feel just as broke as I did 10 years ago, despite earning almost three times as much. You become stingier in some ways because you’re trying to preserve your privilege. It’s weird. You’d think it would be the opposite, but no.