Who can deny this twisted version of The Golden Rule: “He who has the gold makes the rules”? I think that Karl Marx was a big idiot – no more unrealistic a system of government as communism has ever been concocted — but he did focus on one truth, which is that economic forces (i.e., money) are among the most powerful in world history.
This is my oblique way of discussing the wild world of fund-raising. If you’ve ever been involved in a non-profit organization, you know how problematic that can be. Your labor is all volunteer, you’re competing with lots of other worthwhile but cash-strapped organizations and you’re at the mercy of such variables as weather and traffic.
Fund-raising not only involves giving up your Saturdays, but it tends to require a certain moral flexibility. When I was 11 years old, our Boy Scout troop had a booth at the Strawberry Festival.
It was a curious little carnival game wherein you tried to toss (from a distance of four feet or so) a circular hoop over a pyramid-style, uh, thing. The clearance between the circumference of the thing and the diameter of the hoop was, perhaps, a half-millimeter.
It was technically possible to successfully complete the toss, but I never did it. I stood directly over the thing and tried to drop the hoop straight down, but even that didn’t work.
We did, however, take in a ton of cash from guys trying to impress their girlfriends by winning them one of those alluring pink stuffed animals that hung enticingly from the rafters of our little booth.
More recently, Marilyn and I worked for a couple of years at a fireworks booth in Garden Grove to benefit the Downtown Business Association.
Personally, I am opposed to the sale of “safe and sane” fireworks in the Big Strawberry, but I couldn’t let my scruples stand in the way of selling cheaply-made explosives to my fellow citizens.
We made a small pile of money trading in what I consider to be a dangerous luxury, but I was fine with that. How else is a non-profit going to raise cash? Merely asking for money for a good cause won’t cut it; there are millions of worthwhile charities out there, and putting lights in the trees on Main Street isn’t exactly the same as curing cancer.
These days I am a strawberry-cuttin’ son of a buck on behalf of Shakespeare Orange County, which presents classic theater each summer in the Festival Amphitheatre on Main Street in Garden Grove.
At the Strawberry Festival, we sell “strawberry royales” (I think that’s what we call them), and the concoction of berries, cake-bread, whipped cream and glaze sell like, well, hotcakes, to mix a metaphor.
I suppose, in a time of growing obesity and diabetes, I should feel guilty about working on the assembly line of a treat that’s not exactly dietetic, but I don’t. Love Shakespeare, and if someone has to go off their Jenny Craig in order to support it, I’m fine with that.
My point here — and I do have one — is that fund-raising is a difficult and challenging business. How can we provide money for worthwhile causes without forcing people to give to civic groups and charities against their will?
It’s a tough task. Clearly, the precedent is to combine some kind of guilty pleasure with community benefit.
The appearance of tip jars across the bars of every Starbucks and Subway may point the way. Few people are so rude as to walk out of a restaurant without leaving a tip, and every one who’s not a rube knows that you gotta give 15 to 20 percent of the total tab.
Let’s create a culture where you tip for community service. Enjoy a play? Leave a fiver on your way out. Appreciate your kid’s coach? Here’s a couple of bucks. I’m not trying to create a new system of bribes or “la mordita” (the little bite, so popular in some countries), but instead a practice of financial thanks.
Of course, those receiving the tips would be honor-bound to toss those little gifts into a common basket at the end of the day for the purpose of funding their causes.
It could work. It doesn’t make any less sense than spending $20 vainly trying to “win” a $4.99 stuffed rabbit at a carnival midway. I should know.