Real money magic: volunteering

“I would never volunteer,” remarked the grandmother of a friend of mine. “Why give it away if you can get paid for it?”

That’s the quintessential problem with money: once it’s introduced into a society, the temptation is to quantify everything. The insistence of that grandmother to have all her time be measured in dollars comes from the same state of mind that spawned the idea that human lives can be bought and sold. The same magic that allows money to bring good things into people’s lives can be used to reduce every human interaction to a number.

I don’t think it’s fair to blame money for this desire we have to see all things through the lens it offers. We are malleable mortal beings, and encounters with spirit always carry with them the possibility of the profound. Some spirits, like that of opium, I steer away from because those encounters are incredibly dangerous for humans. Other spirits, like air, I must engage with lest I die. Money carries with is some of both perils, tempting us to frame our world as profit statements and deliverables.

Not everything of value can be priced, and not everything that can be, should be. It’s a human failing to use too much of a good thing, whether it’s money, sugar, heroin, sex, or curling; humans seldom pursue any form of pleasure in moderation.

I don’t have much time to volunteer, but I’m glad to do what I can. Lately that’s been helping to steer a local nonprofit farm that’s got a heavy emphasis on feeding hungry people. Due to how the systems are structured, I don’t have direct contact with the people getting fresh produce to supplement the crap they’re stuck eating because they live in a food desert. I can’t even take a tax deduction for the time I spend, but that’s not the point. People are getting fed. Children are learning where food comes from. I am meeting people in my community I didn’t know lived here, and strengthening my ties to my home.

The benefits of volunteering may not be easily quantified, but they are incredibly valuable, both to the volunteer (although the research doesn’t confirm causation, there’s definitely a relationship) and to anyone who is a recipient of those efforts. I don’t think I would have been able to convince that granny of this truth, but truth it is.

What is difficult for Grandma Worksforpay and many who live in capitalist societies to grasp is the value proposition of the anything that cannot be quantified or, more specifically, priced. That is not their fault; one does not expect the fish to notice the water. In The Soul of Money, author Lynne Twist begins with the tale of Chumpi Washikiat, member of an Amazonian tribe called the Achuar. Washikiat’s people didn’t use money, weren’t familiar with the concept of money, and got along just fine without money. Historically, that dynamic has not gone well: land conscription, resource exploitation, and slavery are common results of early contact between monetary and non-monetary peoples. The Achuar were trying to get ahead of the curve, learning about money before money mowed them down. Writes Twist:

“When the Achuar are in their rain forest home they are prosperous and have everything they need, and have been so for centuries, even millennia. One step out of the rain forest into our world and they can’t eat, find shelter, or live for any length of time without money. Money is not an option; it is a requirement.”

Plenty of people — albeit not necessarily readers of my humble blog — would nod their heads sagely as they read that passage, perhaps sympathetic to the simple savage trying to make his way in the civilized world. I see a different message, as did Twist herself, that within “civilization” it’s difficult to imagine life without money, perhaps as difficult it is to imagine how one thinks before learning language. In Debt: the First 5,000 Years, David Graeber frequently returns to the amount language which is couched in monetary terms, showing as “owing” someone because of a small gesture, such as letting the other person merge a car onto the freeway. Even those of us who are cognizant of money, or try to be, think in those terms frequently throughout the day. I’m tempted to call it a “startling” or “alarming” frequency, but it’s no more alarming that the rising water temperature around that proverbial toad, about to be boiled alive.

There is a Jewish tradition of anonymity in charity, baked into Maimonides’ eight levels of giving. I believe that’s intended to separate doing good things from the quantity of money involved, to some extent, but I’m not sure how effective it is. The person who gives will always know how much they give, even if they don’t know to whom they actually gave it. Granted, this system prevents the one from lording it over the other, and that’s an important acknowledgement of our fundamentally jerky nature, but I believe the ideal extension would be giving which is so anonymous that the donor isn’t even aware that the money is gone.

However, that’s another discussion. This post is about volunteering. (Focus, man!) This post is about giving time in lieu of money. Here’s a few things I’ve done in recent years, for which I have not even gotten a t-shirt for compensation:

  • collected food for a local food bank
  • volunteered reorganizing all the canned goods at said food bank (side note: food banks tend to be full of crap no one wants to eat, which for me includes canned olives and hog’s feet. Pro tip: it’s nice to know that something you’re not eating isn’t going to waste, but please consider buying an extra box or can of something you would eat, just to mix it up a bit)
  • sitting on the board of a farm which has a substantial food justice mission (and if readers are sensing a trend, they may not be incorrect)
  • growing a mustache to raise money for cancer research
  • taking care of kids while their parents attended a political caucus
  • picked up trash that magically accumulates over the winter in my college town

Whatever the skills, whatever the time availability, there’s a volunteer opportunity for that. Some of my neighbors organize the library book fair each year. A friend of mine knits caps for premature babies. My mother delighted in her time at a local thrift shop, the proceeds from which supported a sliding-scale mental health clinic. The opportunities are without end, and the need is great.

Coming back to that grandmother I once knew who would never have volunteered, well, more’s the pity, because I am richer for the time I have given away than ever I could be from the time I spend for pay.

Real money magic is part of a wider project, Thrifty Pagan Writings.  If you think this stuff is utterly amazing, please convince me to start a Patreon account.

It’s okay, Pagans, take that charitable tax deduction

I had someone tell me that e did not believe that writing off charitable giving on the ol’ tax return is a particularly moral thing to do.  The argument, as I understood it, is that it makes the donation less sincere if you’re going to get some of it back.

I see things differently.

I said, "Duck!"Money acquires characteristics based on how it’s used.  I prefer using money that has been given freely away for most of my money work.  It’s got an aura of selflessness about it that can’t be found elsewhere.  There are other ways to acquire it, but duck.

Not all of the money that I give away goes to formal institutions that can provide the paper trail I need to deduct those donations on my tax return.  Some of it goes to people I meet on the street, or gets dropped in a collection box, or is otherwise untraceable, unprovable, inauditable.  There’s a Jewish belief that this sort of anonymous charity is one of the highest forms, and I don’t doubt that divorcing oneself from the credit carries some value of its own.

One curious detail about the discussion I had about tax deductions is the fact that my conversation partner doesn’t subscribe to the concept of anonymous giving, saying that it is not in keeping with eir understanding of Hellenic polytheism.  If you’re making an offering, don’t be shy about it!  That’s fine, but to then go on to say that it’s disingenuous to acknowledge the gift to the government seems almost like a return to anonymity, at least in my eyes.

Where I see the value in keeping track of my giving is in two main ways:

  • First, I have more money.  That means I have more money to give, if I get what’s effectively a rebate when I do it.
  • Second, I know what I gave last year.  Budgeting is important to make sure you’ve got money at the end of the month instead of the other way around, and the records also help me see if I’m giving more (which I’d prefer) year over year, or less.

Particularly if your tradition encourages public offerings to the gods, deems gifts to the poor as valid offerings, and sees abundance as some kind of flow, deducting the donations is a good idea.  Lucky me, my tradition has all three of those aspects.


I’m going to put it out there:  I suck at hospitality.  Even for a modern person, I am not the ideal.  I barely remember to bring a gift when I’m staying at someone’s house, or wine to offer with dinner.  I don’t like unexpected guests, and sometimes even dread the expected ones, or at least I do in anticipation.  Xenia, the relationship between host and guest, is not exemplified by my behavior.  In that way, I’m probably a bad Hellenist.

2015-09-28 15.26.44Yesterday, we had a shabby visitor.  He first tried to jump into my wife’s car as she left for work, then made an impression on each other person in the household as they went outside.  Our first impression, mostly from body language, was that this old cat was female, and extremely friendly.  She would go to any human she noticed, and was particularly interested in coming through the door into the house.  She made an impression on the two cats who sometimes go out; the adventurous boy regarded her with suspicion, and the cautious girl, our senior queen, was miffed that this interloper had taken her favorite place underneath the bushes, and refused to go outside at all.

This cat had large mats of ungroomed fur, drooled enough to make it obvious there were problems with her teeth, has a ring of displaced fur where a collar had been, and we later discovered she’s been declawed.  It was obvious that she was an inside cat, used to human company, and that she couldn’t survive long without help.  Whether she had been separated from her humans by accident or design, we couldn’t tell.  What we could tell was her incredible affection, particularly a desire to crawl into any lap that held still long enough.

2015-09-28 15.04.55Her reluctance to eat dry food — unadulterated kitty crack, terrible for them but universally accepted — proved to me that this girl had some mouth problems.  We gave her wet food, and left the porch open overnight.  I don’t think she went in except when someone was there, at least until it started raining.  I was set on bringing her to the SPCA, but a small voice encouraged me to call our vet instead.  That was a good move, as they have an animals-in-crisis fund, and agreed to check her out and provide some treatment in return for a donation to the fund.

We learned that we were wrong about her gender, and I started switching to “he,” although my sense is that this cat is transgender or intersex, so another pronoun entirely might be more appropriate.  His age could not be determined, because the infection in his mouth is bad, so bad that it was the only fuss he made to keep hands away from there.  This from a cat that allows people to pet his fur-mats, and walked into a cat carrier simply because I put it down in front of him with the door open.  It must really hurt in there.  The vet dosed him with antibiotics, dewormer, flea prevention (he didn’t seem to have any, which says something), and a rabies shot.

After talking to my wife, and confirming that we cannot afford another cat, we agreed to have this guy tested for FIV and feline leukemia, because if he has either of those, he’s a danger to our animals and has to be brought to the no-kill shelter.  If those come back negative, we might take him in anyway, even though we’re not sure how we will pay the $400-500 it will cost to get his mouth back into shape.  I’ve started a GoFundMe campaign and the kitty launched his own Tumblr, and the outpouring of support has been truly heartwarming.

At that point, my wife turned to me and said, “He doesn’t have only one eye, but don’t the gods disguise themselves to test hospitality?”  I’m no Heathen, but I understood perfectly.  Perhaps there is hope for me embracing xenia, after all.

If he stays, I may name him Somebody, as a subtle homage to the far-traveling Odysseus.

Fundraising frustration

I was thrilled to write yesterday’s story on how Pagans raise money using the cool tools available nowadays.  However, one possible fundraising branch continues to frustrate me, that of government employee giving programs.

One of my several income streams derives from working within a state campaign, which gives me enough inside knowledge to write about it, but there’s no good place to find links to all of these programs.  Even the link I provided is a couple of years out of date, and while some of those links may actually be valid, they may only be active during the application period, and there’s no simple way to discover those windows.

While it’s not something I can likely get done quickly, I’m putting “make and maintain a list of government charity campaign sites” on my own list of things to do.

Charitable deductions

My ongoing exploration of Pagans and money has found an intriguing void surrounding the question of charity.  Specifically, there appears to be a dearth of Pagan non-profits which aren’t organized as churches.

Is there a Pagan way to let money go?

This isn’t to say that Pagans aren’t charitable.  There is no question that some Pagans give to charity.  But for a number of reasons, there isn’t a place where a Pagan can go to answer the question, “Where can I donate money or time to support the Pagan community?  Some of the reasons I have come up with based on my observations and interactions include:

  • Diversity.  Paganism is a much wider umbrella term than Christianity, or even Abrahamic.  Many of us are fiercely independent and resist the idea of believing together.  The label itself is controversial inside the community, as well as without,  Try applying it to a practitioner of a Native American, Hellenic, or Germanic religion and the individual may agree, or be very offended.  The word is also a flash point for some fundamentalists, which leads to the next reason, which is . . . 
  • Paranoia.  For good or ill, Pagans are extremely suspicious of strangers, particularly ones they meet online.  The Wiccan concept of “perfect love and perfect trust” doesn’t apply, nor does the Hellenic concept of xenia, and while I’m not familiar with most other traditions, I suspect whatever they teach about human kindness is similarly ignored in the face of the unknown.  Pagan charities probably use code words to avoid the ire of angry outsiders, and those who know about such organizations guard the knowledge as if it were a blood-sworn coven secret, rather than a publicly registered 501(c)3 which could receive more donations if it got more publicity.
  • Scarcity.  I also think that many Pagans are crushed by the scarcity mindset.  I don’t know a lot of truly wealthy Pagans, and the churches I’m familiar with don’t exactly have the bottomless coffers that build huge temples.  But a lack of money alone doesn’t prevent charity from happening; I work in the non-profit sector and it’s widely agreed that those with the least often give the most.  But take a look at money magic and you’ll see there’s a wide variety of spells and writings about drawing money into your life . . . but how much work has been done on how to spend money with intent?  Too much fear of having nothing makes it more difficult to let money go.
  • Non-religious alternatives.  Environmental causes, human rights organizations, and foundations for the betterment of mankind are abundant.  There are plenty of worthy organizations that Pagans may donate to in order to further their beliefs.  It could be that it’s easier to give to those groups than try to create the Pagan answer to the Salvation Army, given the first two reasons I articulated.
There are plenty of legally-recognized Pagan churches in the United States and elsewhere, and that’s an appropriate place to tithe, if one is so inclined.  But if one wishes to donate to a cause which is specifically Pagan, but not a particular tradition, the list of Pagan charities is still pretty darned small.

Where are the charities?

An online search for Pagan charities doesn’t yield much.  Many Pagans choose to contribute to organizations that resonate with them, be it agencies that defend the environment, improve human living conditions, or promote equality for women in all aspects of society.  Lists of Pagan charities tend to be short and out-of-date for that reason.

There are many possible reasons for a lack of specifically Pagan charities, or the difficulty in identifying them as such.

  • Pagan religions don’t always call themselves that.  
  • Organized churches may be doing charitable work under those auspices, rather than forming independent organizations (think Roman Catholic Church vs. Salvation Army).  
  • Unlike other umbrella terms, such as Islam and Christianity, Paganism encompasses an array of theologies which, at its extremes, have so little to do with each other that there’s little impetus to work together.
Those are just some guesses.  Is there a need for Pagan-specific charities, or would it dilute the field in a time when non-profits are already struggling?
I believe that spending with intent is an important part of living with intent.  To that end, I’d like to raise the bar and promote more Pagan charities.

What Pagan charities do you know of?