Friday, August 12, 2011

Beggars Can't Be...Writers?

by Ramona DeFelice Long

It happened twice in two days.

First was a cute little girl outside the Acme. As soon as I spotted her, I swerved sharply to the left and headed for the carts. I did a 180 with my basket but the little minx snuck up behind me.

She rattled a can covered in crayon drawings and said, “Can you donate to my cheerleading camp?”

I know, I know. It’s better to shake a pom-pom than join a flash mob. But it irked me that behind the kid sat Dad, yakking on his cell phone while his daughter accosted strangers for money.  She didn’t offer to wash my car or make me a balloon animal. She just held out the can.

I politely declined--and was rewarded with a look of outrage. Get used to it, I wanted to tell her. In real life, you don’t get stuff just by asking.

The next day, it happened at the drug store. Two adorable little boys, again with the decorated can.

“Soccer camp! We’re going to soccer camp! Can you help us out?”

A watchful Mom watched as I said, “Sorry, boys, not today.” This was a bit misleading, as it implied I’d donate on another day. Not gonna happen. But Mom gave me a smile, which was compounded by the boys’ “Thank you, anyway, ma’am, and have a nice day!” and I was hit with a guilt blast. If they had cried, or called me a name, I’d have felt less like an evil troll. But noooo,  Soccer Boys had to be adorable AND polite.


Call me Ramona Grumpy-Pants, but I can’t bring myself to encourage kids out begging . It’s not because anti-cheerleading/soccer camp. It’s because I think it sends a bad message. Offer me some overpriced wrapping paper. Dangle a box of Thin Mints in front of me. Then we might do business. Set up a lemonade stand, and I’ll empty out my wallet.

But just because you ask? Sorry.

So what does that have to do with writing? Not long ago, I read a blog post. It was a helpful post, and I was ready to show my support by commenting or sharing or following, but then I noticed the Donate button at the bottom.

Donate? To a blogger? There are professional bloggers, but those folks earn income through advertising or subscribers. Not by the casual reader. And not by clicking a direct link to your PayPal account.

Understand, I like free money as much as the next guy. I’ve been the lucky recipient of state fellowships and professional organization grants.  I write posts that--hopefully--aid writers. Doing so cuts into my earning time. As a matter of fact, I’m losing money right now. (Whoosh! There went five dollars.)

Some writers advocate never working for free. Ever. I think this is nonsense. Parents are expected to volunteer at their kids’ schools, and I think the same applies to writers. We have an obligation to give back to the writing community. I’ve done free workshops at schools and book fairs. I mentored a teen book group for two years--I even provided pizza, on my nickel. The last few months, I’ve been facilitating Free Writes at the public library. (Wheee, a tenner just whizzed by!)

Am I special? Not at all. Every writer reading this can come up with their own list of freebies.

However…do I edit for free? Nope. Editing is my primary skill, my income-generator. That I hold near and dear, and I charge for it.

Where does that leave something like blogging? Sometimes my posts are rambling nonsense. (That sentence was worth, what? A nickel? A quarter, tops?) But there are times I share concrete how-to information that, in theory, I could sell. Instead, I post it here, or on my personal blog, or elsewhere where it can be read without charge. I choose to give it away, maybe to promote myself, maybe to hone my writing skills, maybe to make you all like me. I’m not going to ask to be paid for what I choose to do. It feels too much like holding out a can in front of the grocery store.

Am I being grumpy? Is requesting a donation savvy and smart? Am I the only one who finds a DONATE button a bit…distasteful?

What is your opinion? Is requesting a donation online the latest, greatest, literary cash cow, and I am missing out?


Joyce Tremel said...

I'm with you, Ramona. It's tacky times three. Or maybe ten. Blogs are SOCIAL networking. You don't take a donation can to networking events you attend in person, so don't put one on a blog. You don't build up an audience by asking for money.

The only time my kids were allowed to sell anything was when they were in the high school choir. (They sold the best hoagies!) The proceeds went into personal choir accounts for each student to finance the annual trip to a choir competition.

A lot of the schools around here are charging activities fees now, which I think is a great idea. Our taxes shouldn't pay for extra-curricular activities.

Annette said...

Oh, Ramona, I sooo hear you about those kids with the cans. Money is too tight and there are too many good charities in need of it to clunk some quarters into a random can. Okay, so I have been knows to drop some cash into the open instrument case of the homeless guy playing incredibly beautiful music on the street, but I figure he's working for it the best way he can.

Now, volunteering is another matter entirely. Goodness knows I've had to train myself to say "no" from time to time just so I can get some writing done. I so appreciate the time and wisdom other writers have offered to me.

Including you, Ramona.

Ramona said...

Joyce, my family did band, Scouts, soccer, lacrosse, swimming, Math League, etc., etc. By high school, we were doing buy-outs because I couldn't stand bothering our neighbors anymore, and you can only hit up Grandma so many times before she starts to protest. :)

After I wrote this, I remembered what I'm doing this weekend: a 30-year-old Delaware tradition called 2nd Saturday Poets. Each month, local writers are invited as featured readers. I'm up tomorrow. Why do I bring this up? Because at 2nd Saturday, the tradition is to pass a basket for donations, which are given to the reader. Erk!

Ramona said...

Annette, I am well aware that you are volunteer extraordinaire, and that saying NO is hard for you. Be strong!

If I have ever been helpful to you, that makes my day!

clpauwels said...

Right on, Ramona! I give by doing - volunteer hours, picking up the stray litter that floats down Main Street, and yes, always buying from a child-run lemonade stand or supporting the occasional busker, not dropping money into cans so kids' sense of entitlement is reinforced.

As for donating on blogs, I'm with Joyce. This is supposedly social networking, not online fundraising. The push to 'monetize' (even dislike the word!) everything in sight has become obnoxious.

Yes, I'd like to earn something from my writing, but my blog is sharing of myself, an exercise in my craft, and a way to connect - not fill the bank account.

Maryann said...

I'm more likely to put spare change into a can or canister at a restauant checkout than I am to give money to someone holding out a can for "Soccer Camp". And I donate regularly to the causes I feel close to...animal charities, cancer research, etc. This might sound harsh, but what parents are teaching their kids by having them approach strangers with a can labeled "Cheerleading" or "Band Camp" is scary: 1) Talk to strangers 2) Expect life to hand you things because you ask for them 3) Make no effort in order to achieve the things you want...see #2 4) When you grow up, teach your children to ask others for help rather than you because you don't want to be bothered. 5) Spend money you don't have (ie get a loan you don't plan to pay back or use a credit card instead of saving for that thing you want).6) Expect other people to bail you out of sticky situations- always.

I think it really comes down to this: do you get something in return for your donation? I don't mean cookies, cake or popcorn necessarily, but something that you can use. Someone's expertise, knowledge shared, a task made easier, an animal saved or a life spared are all worthy, often not tangible, but still a good thing.

Kate Gallison said...

I would never do it myself, but, you know what? I could use the money.

Gina said...

Every discussion needs a dissident, and I guess I must be it for this one. I don't see anything wrong with passing around spare change to worthy or maybe not-so-worthy causes. I don't think throwing a few quarters into someone's band camp canister will scar the kid for life. At one point in my past, I was homeless and poor enough to have to ask strangers for money to survive; now I give freely to pretty much anyone who asks. I know, it gets me dirty looks downtown from passersby who thinks my twenty cents or so is going to encourage someone to keep living under a bridge, but I don't care. I've given homeless people my spare gloves, too. So what? If I don't need a little bit of money - or anything else, for that matter - why should I be the charity police by choosing not to share? Lighten up, people! We're all in this together and maybe that's the lesson those kids are learning - that we help each other. [And yes, I have my favorite charities that get more than my pocket change, and I donate time and work, participating in (among other things) charity walks and even a few Habitat for Humanity house buildings.]

Ramona said...

CPat and Maryann, I think writers are a very benevolent bunch. We give to one another, and when asked to donate a story to a charitable cause (like the anthologies benefiting Haiti and Japan), it feels like an honor to do so.

The entitlement attitude...yes. It's a problem. Not every young person (or older person, for that matter) suffers from it, but it's not like they're holding out a can to feed starving children in Somalia. If you choose to send your kid to camp, be prepared to pony up and pay for it.

Ramona said...

Gina, you big troublemaker....

Dissenting opinions are always good. I don't think anyone here is uncharitable, but I think we're differentiating between needs and wants. But now I know who to hit up. ;)

We're all focusing on the kids with the cans. How would you feel about the Working Stiffs blog putting a donate button at the bottom?

Karen in Ohio said...

Gina, there's a pretty big difference between giving money to a homeless person who may need it just to have part of a meal, and giving money to a suburban kid who just wants to do something fun. And whose parents could probably afford to pay for it themselves, if they rearranged priorities a bit.

We raised three kids. I HATED sending them out to knock on the neighbors' doors, even though the neighbors' kids knocked on ours plenty of times. My preference was to make them earn the money somehow, and thereby learn a valuable lesson on how to get money later in life. And they did: they earned enough to go to Space Camp, to China, to Italy, and to London, without having to beg on the streets. Thank goodness.

Karen in Ohio said...

Ramona, to answer your question: I'm slightly offended by it. Well, maybe that's too strong a word. It's off-putting. I get that life is an expensive proposition, but I've had a website before, starting in the mid-90's, and offered a lot of content in exchange for, hopefully, the purchase of my books and newsletters. That's the trade-off, as I see it.

The perception of value has changed these days; there's too much free stuff on the Web to expect people to pay for your nugget of wisdom that could be had elsewhere for nothing. It's a sad truth.

Ramona said...

Gina's comment has left me thinking how negative I sound in this post. It does annoy me when I am accosted by kids asking for money for their activities. Despite that, I feel guilty for NOT giving to them. Maybe I am justifying myself for not lightening up, as Gina puts it, and tossing a few coins their way?

Hmm. Must think more on this.

I'm still a NO on the Donate button on blogs, and holding firm....

Jenna said...

I tend to avoid the kids with the cans, too. Or more accurately, the kids with the buckets. Here, they'll stake out a four-way stop, half a team of them, coaches and all, and when you stop - which you have to do; there are stop signs - they shove their bucket up to your window.

I agree, there's a big difference between giving to someone who needs it and someone whose parents could probably afford to pay for it on their own. Hell, I have to pay for MY kids' arts camp and band camp, because MY kids aren't out on the street corners begging other people to pay for it for them. The middle and high school here has an annual fruit sale that helps a lot of the kids pay for their own annual band trip, and they also have other fundraisers. I don't see anything wrong with coming up with creative ways to raise the money - bake sale, chili supper, car wash - but surely there's something they can do other than just ask?

I know which blogger you're talking about, Ramona. I read her blog too, and I don't donate either. Can't see my way clear to do it. But I'll buy a book!

Gina said...

I guess I wonder how you all know those kids' parents can afford to foot the bills themselves. Or are you assuming wealthy parents routinely send their little ones into the street with cans to develop an entitlement mentality? [Don't get me started on "entitlements." That is not a bad word and, yes, I do feel that I'm "entitled" to social security and medicare when the time comes.] Maybe it's the schools and their activities that establish the fund-raising method, and the kids (and parents) don't have any choice in the matter.

Sorry for the rant. This post just hit a sore point.

Ramona said...

Gina, first, I'm wholly in agreement about social security and medicare being earned, and anyone who tries to make someone feels guilty about that gets a virtual slap.

If this hit a sore point, in a way I am sorry, and in a way I am not. I think it's good to know what other people are thinking.

I think, with myself and perhaps some other parents here, we've run into some resentment issues. If I could not afford to pay for it, I didn't sign up my kids for an activity. They missed out on some things we couldn't afford, but so did I when I was a kid. So, yeah, when I see parents sitting and talking on their phones while their kids ask ME to pay for their activities, I don't like it. Your point about us not knowing if parents can afford those activities, well, they don't know either if I have enough money to buy enough groceries to feed my family, do they?

I also think there is an element of emotional blackmail involved. I'm a nice person, and yes, it's tough to walk the gauntlet past a cute kid and say no. And I think the parents sitting off to the side know that perfectly well. It didn't bug me much with the little girl, because she seemed obnoxious, but the soccer boys--that was hard. I said so.

I also notice, again, that people are much more interested in talking about the kids than the blog donate button. Maybe that was a dud topic.

Patg said...

Wow, am I with you on this Ramona. I've noticed that some sites that will do ads for writers all have donation boxes. And some writers have mentioned they get reviewed faster if a donation has been made.
We don't have any 'can shakers' here, though cookie sales are allowed. Our stores have those boxes that appear when you swipe your card for payment asking if you want to donate to a cause. If you say 'no' then when you are wrung up, the clerk asks if you want to round up to the nearest dollar as a donation.
I generally get caught on that last one.