Feeling Bad about Giving Away Money

I spent the morning serving with three other Northfielders on a panel convened by the area United Way to allocate some of the UW’s 2010 campaign funds. The community campaign was fairly successful, though it didn’t reach its half-million dollar goal. (Full disclosure: each fall, I help run the Carleton campaign, which last year raised a record-setting total of $80,276 on 237 pledges and gifts.) Our panel reviewed applications from four organizations focused on early-childhood education and development. All four organizations submitted excellent applications, and – it almost goes without saying – all four were immensely deserving of United Way grants for every cent they requested.

Unfortunately, we could not fund any of the applicants at the full level. There simply isn’t enough money to go around. This isn’t news – or rather it’s the main focus of news these days: budget cutting, deficits, “austerity,” and all that. While I was disappointed to be unable to help fund the community organizations at 100% of their requests (hell, even 75%!), I was also troubled by three interrelated facts.

First, many of these organizations’ needs are so great now because state and federal funding is declining or even disappearing. Second, many of these organizations’ needs are ludicrously tiny relative to the resources we use on campus – much less the relatively large sums used by public entities (city, state, and federal governments) or, worst of all, are outright wasted by bloated private enterprises. Third and worst, many of these organizations are serving the most vulnerable people in America – and doing it with a bit of money and a ton of effort.

It’s infuriating that our obscenely rich country is so goddamn terrible at providing its citizens with what they need to survive, much less to thrive.

2 thoughts on “Feeling Bad about Giving Away Money”

  1. I know. I just joined the “adult board” of the Key (Northfield Union of Youth), which gets much of its funding from the United Way, and there was hand-wringing at the first meeting I attended over the situation. The Key is very important for our son Peter; it’s given him his first real taste of being active in a community, of community service, of a world where people don’t just bowl alone. It provides a positive environment for so many 12-to-20 year olds in town. I really appreciate the support United Way has given it in the past. It’s high on the list of things I’ll endow when I become the next J.K. Rowling!:-)

  2. Our inability to provide adequate early childhood services is particularly upsetting because of the way disparities at that age persist.

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