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Monday, April 30, 2012

Opposite Day

Yesterday. I was having a conversation with a 7th grader from the East Coast about Benevolent and something she said really struck me. She said that what she thought was cool about Benevolent was that the people who needed support got to say what they needed and actively seek it out. From her perspective, this is like flipping giving on its head – rather than givers giving to nonprofits who then figure out what their clients and communities need, Benevolent offers a platform for those with needs to seek out support, with the nonprofits as their background supporters

It was an interesting lens on our work and made me think about a couple of things that came to light last week – both instances in which the funds that had been raised for someone’s need wound up being spent slightly differently than had been thought originally.

Jenny requested help with car repairs, 
but wound up needing a new used car.
Al thought he'd need a tuxedo to work 
as a banquet waiter. As it turned out, 
the required uniform was different.

In the first instance, Jenny had requested support to repair her car so that she could get herself and her sister to and from work, her kids to and from school, and her sister to and from chemo and dialysis. As it turned out, the car she had been driving broke down completely, so she plans to use the funds raised through Benevolent to help buy a new used car.

In the second instance, Al, who had sought support to purchase a tux-like uniform for work as a banquet waiter, wound up getting the job and found out that the uniform he would need was not a tuxedo – it was somewhat different. So when Al and Eva – his caseworker – went shopping for the uniform Al needed, they had the latitude to get what was required.

What this speaks to is the level of control that we’re trying to provide for those who have needs met through the Benevolent site. To us, it’s all about agency:
  • Personal Agency: The awareness that one is initiating, executing, and controlling one's own volitional actions in the world.

In so many instances, those living in low-income circumstances have little or no agency in the determination of how they receive support. On the Benevolent site, we try to be all about agency and dignity – respecting the self-determination intrinsic to any person’s success.

So perhaps my 7th grade friend was right. Maybe we are turning giving on its head. I strongly believe in the power of philanthropy and active benevolence in all its forms – giving, voting, speaking up for ourselves and others, advocating, and acting to change circumstances.  Benevolent fits in as a sort of “opposite-day” form of delivering support – a form in which those who need something hold the reins.

- megan kashner, founder & ceo