Fundraising in the Context of a Gift Economy

My friend Jonatan Spejlborg is currently raising funds for the artist residency and school he and his colleagues are creating. Specifically, they need to raise money in order to build the house where participants will live, work, and create. I offered a gift contribution earlier today, and I invite you to do the same.

You can view the Kickstarter campaign as well as make your gift contribution directly on the site:

This occasion also gave me reason to pause and reflect upon how one could do honest, direct fundraising in the context of a gift economy. The dangers evident in most styles of fundraising are either that one approaches potential gift-givers out of a spirit of apology (as if one were harming these others simply by asking them for help), or else one feels bound to participate in the genre of hustling (using these others, uncaringly, as a means for your own ends). In Manners and Mores (2013), I call this dilemma, more generally, the Freelancer’s Dilemma, and I believe it runs rampant these days.

I don’t believe that either path has to be taken, and I think a gift economy worksheet could give us a way out: could provide us with a more decent, considered, and humane way of seeing to each other by seeing each other.

Here’s my first attempt:

Section I. Preliminaries: Caring About What Matters Most

After presenting the idea to the potential gift-giver(s) with a view to getting him/her/them to understand why this matters and whether they care enough about it, one would then ask Q1 and Q2.

Q1. The Question of Significance. Can you see why completing this [house, project, school, entity, etc.] would contribute significantly to what matters most?

Q2. The Question of Caring. If you can see that this [idea, thing, etc.] contributes to what matters most, do you care enough about this [house, project, school, entity, etc.] to help bring it into being?

Remark: One may see that this project matters but not care enough that he help bring it being. Only if it matters and if he cares that he help make it possible would one invite him to continue onto Q3-5 below.

Section II. Cultivating Just Generosity

Q3. The Question of Generosity. How much would you be able to give in order to [e.g., help build this house, create this school, etc.]?

Q4. The Question of Burden. If you were to give this much, would it prove to be a financial burden for you, making it difficult, if not impossible, for you to care about what matters most? If it would, then let’s return to Q3 and try out a different answer. If it wouldn’t, then lovely: we’ve arrived at ‘just generosity.’ You’re offering just enough to me and to us without its calling into question your own way of life.

Section III. Coming to Wholeheartedness

We’d now need to figure out whether you can offer this amount with a Yes! in your heart or only with a pause, with some doubt and hesitation.

Q5. The Question of Wholehearted Assent. Could you give [say amount kindly, clearly, directly] out of a sense of praise for what you care about?

Remark: According to Aristotle, we only praise what is admirable. To praise someone is not just to value this person highly but also, and implicitly, to care that he persist in his excellent way of being. Suppose, then, that the gift-giver could give this much out of wholeheartedness. Then you’d say: ‘Thank you. I accept your gift wholeheartedly.’

If you wish to use the worksheet, it’d be kind to give the author credit: Andrew James Taggart

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