Setting Money Free! (with a low-stakes Giving Party)

by Rachel Adler, RG Member
Every few months, I’ll make up a batch of my famous caramel corn and invite the Philly chapter of Resource Generation to my house for an hour or so on a weekday evening.  A few of them will show up, and we’ll sit on the couch and catch up for a while.  Then we’ll pull out our computers and our wallets, and for a while the only sound will be the typing of our credit card numbers and the cha-ching of our credit card balances rising.
FullSizeRenderI know what you’re thinking.  But no, we’re not shopping for our matching RG Philly chapter bejeweled and money-spangled jumpsuits.  Actually, this is a casual low-stakes giving party, and we’re clicking send on donations or loans.  We’re moving money in ways that are small, low-stakes, meaningful, casual, and to be honest, pretty fun.

I started moving money every month, usually about $300, pretty soon after I joined Resource Generation.  In contrast to annual giving, monthly giving allows me to be flexible and responsive with decisions about where to move money.

Here’s the process I usually use: over the course of the month, I keep a short running list of organizations and people who are asking their communities for money, whether they are local or far away.  At the end of the month, I research the entities on the list and, at a casual low-stakes giving party, divvy up my set-aside money to them.  Sometimes, when I want to give a bigger amount to one place I’ll use two months of my giving allotment instead of one.

How do I choose where to move money? I look to resources like RG’s social justice philanthropy values as a guide and rely on my local RG community to help me learn and grow as a donor and activist. I have made several donations to Bread & Roses Community Fund in Philly, which then funds local organizing through community decision-making processes.  

And I am also guided by questions that I’ve developed throughout the years, like: is this an effort led by poor or working-class people? Is it for racial and economic justice?  Does it challenge police brutality and the criminalization of poor and working-class people and people of color?  Does this repair a financial damage created by my wealth accumulation? Is this a public service (like a bicycle co-op or radio station) that I use and that I’d like to support financially? Is this someone I know?  Will this money help create or affirm community?  Is this an acute need, like an emergency bail fund, or a long term strategy, like a community arts initiative?  These questions keep me focused on the world that I am working towards – a world where resources flow abundantly to places that need them, with no strings attached.

The low-stakes giving concept is simple and fun, but my relationship to wealth–and to giving–isn’t simple.  I believe “giving” is a loaded term.  To give something, you have to own it first.  But I’m learning to see my inherited wealth as something I do not own.  It is money that I have not earned, that I do not need in order to survive, and that in many ways has come to me through a long and winding history of capitalist exploitation.  If you see it this way, that the money is not mine, it feels uncomfortable or even inappropriate for me to be the one deciding where it goes. But I’m not letting this freeze me into inaction; instead, I am actively moving money out of my possession now. I don’t have to be perfect to move money ways that are meaningful to myself and to others.

I originally chose $300 to give monthly because it’s pretty close to the amount of interest that my trust fund generates each month, so I can withdraw that amount without really affecting the fund.  I’m not going to leave that fund untouched forever, of course, but for now, as I draw up plans for what to do with it, building a practice of monthly money-moving helps me constantly engage with what it means to move money.  It’s room to observe how it feels to move money out of my holdings, to see what kind of effects it has, and to build up criteria for where and when and how I can move money.  I am gradually increasing the scale, so that the money-moving turns from low-stakes to higher stakes as the numbers get larger.

And this process is not just practice – even though $300 feels small compared to the wealth that I will inherit, it’s still real money and has a real effect. In the past few years I have joyfully supported bail funds, independent media, community arts, migrant justice, anarchist spaces, and fundraisers for legal, funeral, and medical expenses.  I move money to people and places around my city and around the country.  I also pay monthly membership dues to RG because it organizes me to meaningfully engage with my class background, and to redistribute the wealth I have access to for racial and economic justice.

In a world where wealthy people are afraid to part with money, it feels important to create spaces where moving money is a celebratory and communal act.  In a world where wealthy people hoard wealth because they believe it’s theirs, it is a joy to set money free, to usher it from private holdings directly to people and places that will use it for their survival, resilience, and flourishing.  At casual giving parties, we get to do this together. We ask each other questions about the decisions we’re making, or we just sit companionably on the couch, munching on popcorn and figuring out new ways to set money free.

Rachel is a young person with wealth and a member of the Philadelphia chapter of Resource Generation.