Choosing who to give money to is hard. I’ve been faced with a lot of people asking for it recently. I’ve found myself reevaluating how I donate.


I’d love to list people I know currently collecting for these. I don’t have an easily accessible list. Off the top of my head, I’ve had requests for cancer, Leukemia, AIDS, MS, autism, specific types of cancer, and animal shelters. These have been tied to rides, triathlons, runs, walks, and one polar bear plunge.

I’ll donate to any one person once during a given year. How much I donate, I am ashamed to say, depends on the following three factors:

  1. the associated organization;
  2. what resources i have immediately available;
  3. how much I like the person asking.

By “how much I like the person,” I generally actually mean how close I am to them when we do interact, how great I think they are, or how frequently I see them. This is overridden by the first two points. What I have immediately available is the biggest factor. I try to make my default for these things $50, but that gets lowered when there are, say, five requests at once. Earlier in the year I gave $17 to a person who I think is one of the best people I know, just because of everything else happening.

Donating to activity fundraisers is primarily about supporting people in my life. It is also about how hard it is to ask people for money. Seriously, I hate it. Every year I think about not doing the Bike-A-Thon because I really hate asking people for money. It’s also disheartening to try: reaching out to your network only to not make your goals (or minimums) is something I am familiar with. I try to keep other people from experiencing that.

Personal Projects: Supported

A “supported” personal project is one through an organization, or in association with an organization. If you are trying to raise money so you can go with a group to visit orphanages in Siberia, I’ll probably help you out a bit.

Personal Projects: Unsupported

I actually basically never give to these. There are personal projects like “help me finish my film,” and personal projects like “I am going to Siberia on my own to visit orphanages and do film making workshops with the kids there.” In the former case, I respect your project and I think it’s super cool that you’re doing it, however you never ask me to be an investor. You ask me to “donate.” Donations, to me, are about helping and making a difference beyond the individual carrying out the task. Ask for the latter group, see below.

Individuals In Need

There have been a few occasions where I’ve given cash to individuals in need. None of these have ended up with the person actually following through on their need. I have also seen this happen with every unsupported personal project for a good cause that I have donated to. Maybe I just have bad taste in who I am helping. I am willing to directly pay your water bill. I am not willing to give you cash to cover your utilities in a general sense. I feel bad saying this, because I do believe that each case is an individual case, but they’ve all just been such disasters, I don’t do this anymore.

Charities, 501(c)s

These are actually similar to activities. During annual or semi-annual fundraising drives, I’ll give to an organization if a friend asks me to, or if I really believe in a cause. That being said, it’s coming up on membership renewal time for me. My EFF membership expires in October. Right now, I think they’re pretty relevant.


At Software Freedom Day this year, I was zoning out in a conversation that had drifted into Colin McGinn. McGinn, the person I was talking with explained, was a Oxford published philosopher. He studied disgust and wrote a book and was worth checking out. He had also been fired for sending a grad student e-mails saying he thought about her while masturbating. He was going to really destroy the school, because he had a great case against them imroperly firing him. He studied disgust. The student was his grad student. She knew what she was getting herself into, the person said.

I wondered how long I had to nod and say “yeah, okay,” before they would leave me alone, or at least change the topic to something I didn’t think was both offensive and actually wrong. I wondered if I could somehow redirect the conversation. I looked over at DR, and wondered if he could save me from the conversation.

That was when I also saw all the other people at the table. SFD this year was inspiring in the minority representation: “non-dudes” in all shades of developer, journalist, activist, interested person, and partner. I saw ladies who had come up to me after my talk and thanked me for being honest about having difficulty with understanding software and technical issues. One man came up to me and noticed the subtle mentions of sexism I’ve encountered. He thanked me for mentioning it, even when I didn’t want it to be the focus of my talk.

What that man did was not okay., I said.

A few further sentences were exchanged, I was told that I couldn’t talk about things reasonably. I said that such behaviors were sexual harassment and an abuse of a power dynamic. I was told that this was just a topic of discussion and interesting to think about. I said that assuming it is okay for someone to be sexually harassed, to harass someone, because they “ought to know it could happen in context,” is what we call “blaming the victim.”

I was told that I wasn’t ready to have a reasonable, calm conversation about a topic worth thinking about.

I’ve been thinking about this since then. It’s one of those thoughts where I’m not really sure where it’s going or what I ought to (or want to) do with it. I’m really disgusted that I could have this conversation at an event about something as great as the ideals of freedom, transparency, collaboration, and openess. What’s even worse is that I had to have this conversation after having another one where I told somewhat that it was never appropriate to make rape jokes.

These stories aren’t novel, and they’ve been shared in variation so many times across the internet. What do we do with that?