Had a really lovely day…

Had a really lovely day yesterday. I wrote in the morning (yay!) and then made brunch. Lakshmi and Nilofer and Sujata came by for yoga on our rooftop deck, which was lovely, and then Purvi joined us all for brunch. We had crepes with fillings: curry-rubbed grilled salmon, grilled tomato, mango-apple chutney, coriander chutney, sauteed spinach with apricot, fresh banana, lemon and sugar, and an assortment of jams. Nummy. (And all constructed out of what was randomly left-over in my fridge; crepes are marvellous for that. :-)

Great long conversation about family and relationships and politics -- then Purvi peeled off and the rest of us went to McShane's Exchange, a consignment store where I found a gorgeous J. Crew dress (pale blue with white embroidery in an Indian-style pattern) for $14, a triumphant purchase. Then we split decadent appetizers (baked goat cheese, guacamole, fried calamari, sweet potato fries) and an apple crisp at a nearby cafe, sitting at an outdoor table and talking more about politics, more specifically the ethics of earning more money than you need, and how you can fairly manage that. Also what the best use of charitable giving money really is -- tricky questions. Wonderful sharp-witted and compassionate company for discussing the problems. Lakshmi and Sujata are younger than Nilofer and I, and not yet in a position to be giving away money, but they're already thinking ahead towards the time when they will be, which I certainly wasn't five or ten years ago!

Kev and I aren't rich, or even comfortably well-off by many Americans' (somewhat insane) standards, but if we don't have kids, we make plenty for just ourselves right now, and our relatives look like they're going to be generally in reasonable shape. So it's interesting thinking about what happens if the book sells well (miraculously), or if he or I gets a raise, etc. and so on. Can we justify spending more money on a house than we already have? Do we start giving money away in lump sums? Do we do what Nilofer does, and tithe 10% of our total income to various charities? Do we save it and set up a foundation or a trust? If we do give it away, is it better to give it to small neighborhood programs or is it more effective to throw the money at some politician you believe in, helping them get elected?

I tend towards grass-roots work myself, mostly because that's what I can get enthusiastic about, where I can see concrete results. But that doesn't mean it's actually the most effective work. And sometimes, it can be so frustrating -- another of our big panelists just cancelled for Kriti (Bapsi Sidhwa), and okay, it's just a little arts festival, it's not a big save-the-world kind of thing, but it's still disappointing, to pour your energy into a non-profit activity, to feel like you're making good progress and then have to take a step back. It's how it goes, I know, but still.

One task for today -- e-mail a bunch of other authors and find someone to take her place. Also, write.

Those of you who do give away money to charity -- how do you decide how to give?

9 thoughts on “Had a really lovely day…”

  1. For me, it mostly involves hearing good things about an organization that’s working on one of my pet issues, and therefore deciding to send them some money. I haven’t specifically aimed for 10% of my income, but it’s worked out that way recently. I donate more or less money in a given year depending on how important the organization’s work is to me and how much good stuff I hear about them, and on what my cash flow is like when it’s end-of-year donations time. I always ask organizations to send me only one request for money a year; I get really annoyed when my donation results in monthly urgent requests for more money for various emergency situations, ’cause each donation is as much as I’m prepared to give to that organization that year.

    My last entry about donations probably gives a pretty good sense of the kinds of organizations I’m interested in: civil liberties, health and poverty issues (especially in the third world, especially for women), education issues, etc. I prefer respected organizations with a long track record. A mix of local and international.

    There are some well-known organizations that never quite clicked for me (Amnesty International springs to mind); and I get new requests from organizations that got my name from someone’s mailing list on a regular basis, most of which I ignore because I’m pretty much maxed out on donations.

    Ideally I prefer organizations that help people to help themselves (like microloan programs), but in practice I’m not as focused on that as I’d theoretically like.

  2. i’m so sad that i just heard about your book and you already toured chicago like 12 times and i had no idea! i’ll be at the bookstore tomorrow ready to purchase it…
    anyway… kriti sound really interesting! i’ll have to make sure i attend. i’m a south east asian from bangladesh.
    no real words of wisdom about the charity thing, but i suppose you just go with what feels right. when i heard about the situation in darfur, i did what i could. i spread the word by buying a bunch of those annoying little rubber bracelets and giving them out to random people. in the end, when people asked what the bracelet is about i would say “it’s to raise awareness about the genocide in darfur” and basically get a blank stare in return.
    but again, you just have to go with your gut on the charity thing. there are too many organizations and too many causes. i usually find myself looking for the ones that are more often than not neglected for whatever reason but still champion a cause of importance to me. most often these are charities that cater to minorities and the organizations don’t often have the benefit of receiving funding from affluent white people or businesses.

  3. i don’t give money. i have foud that if you give money it gets misused (maybe its because i live in sri lanka)

    give your time, your effort, whatever. i tell people that i am willing to travel anytime anywhere (ahh the joys of not having a job) to give of myself for something i believe in.

    i guess i find it more satisfying to actually DO something rather than throwing money at a problem and hoping that it goes away.


  4. Like Jed, I’m always annoyed/discouraged when I give to an organization and then they start flooding me with requests for more money. Mainly I’m annoyed because I feel my donation is being wasted on postage asking me for more donations, plus they’re using a lot of unnecessary paper.

    A lot of my charitable giving goes to animal organizations — usually local (plus I volunteer once a week with a cat rescue group), but also to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah, because I think they’re incredibly dedicated. I also give money to my undergrad institution, which perhaps isn’t the wisest choice as it’s essentially a school for middle-class-to-rich kids (although they do offer financial packages that don’t have to be paid back to lower income students).

    Oh, and Clarion West!

    I feel like we’re also running our own private cat rescue group in our home! One of our babies is having surgery today; by the time he’s through the recovery, we will have spent $2000 to $2300 on him in three weeks’ time. That’s going to put a real crimp in charitable giving for the foreseeable future.

  5. Oh, and I also tend to react to emergency situations — like tsunami relief. But I always have an uneasy feeling wondering if the money is getting to where it needs to be.

  6. I’m regularly bewildered by people who are in good two-earner and no-kids households who don’t think they’re “comfortably well-off”. When the median income for a family of four is 43K, and I would guess that your household income is twice that, and you have no day-care costs, no added housing for kids, no education costs for children… more than 84K puts you in the top 20% of the US, more than 100K in the top 14%, more than 114K in the top 10% and more than 150K in the top 5%. So, even though you’re not hitting that top 5% in straight income, if you factor in the lack of children, it’s probably comparable.

    What does “comfortably well-off” mean, if not what you’re earning now?

  7. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Well, as I said, it seems plenty comfortable to me. But I have the impression is doesn’t to most of my peers, or my parents and their peers, and those were the people I referred to. I can’t say I really understand what they base their expectations on.

    I think some of it is the ability to survive an extended period of not working, though, which we would have trouble with. I think financial planners say you should have enough saved that you could not work for two years?

  8. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    It’s also a little misleading to do straight comparisons of income across the U.S., since you should really compare housing prices and other cost-of-living expenses as well.

    If we had our same incomes and lived in Utah, we’d clearly be past comfortably-well-off and into wealthy, since a third of what our condo costs would buy a very nice house. With two academics, it’s pretty difficult to both find jobs anywhere other than a big city, so those two-incomes don’t go nearly as far as they otherwise might.

    We’re just lucky we found jobs in Chicago; if we were in the Bay Area or New York on our current incomes we’d be back to living in a studio apartment, which I assure you, isn’t comfortable. 🙂

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