Money vs. time: talking from the other side of my mouth

An article in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune trumpets the city’s success on a Website called DonorsChoose.org, where teachers and students post projects for which they need funding (e.g. new microscopes, a trip to the model U.N.) and individuals send checks to cover those specific expenses.  The story quotes the site’s creator, a New York social studies teacher: "I don’t know if it’s because the Chicago education community is tight-knit or if word travels fast, but we’ve had a lot of interest in Chicago."  Maybe it’s just that Chicago school funding is exceptionally poor.  The whole town’s in a triumphal mood because the Bears are going to the Super Bowl, but surely it’s not a matter of pride that the city stands at the head of a national line to beg private money for schools whose efforts are supposed to be supported by the public.

Interesting observation at the end of the article that people who give money through the site feel more like volunteers than like donors, because they really know what’s happening with their money.  Volunteers do indeed know better than non-volunteer donors what their chosen charity is doing; but the real distinction between volunteers and donors isn’t level of information–it’s level of commitment.  Unless you’re prepared to make space in your busy schedule to serve others, you’ll never grasp the lives they lead. 

If DonorsChoose.org manages through its micro approach to make concrete otherwise abstract appeals for school funding, that’s terrific.  But let’s not confuse someone who funds a specific project with a volunteer.  Donors buy microscopes; volunteers show up in classrooms to demonstrate how they work. 

Why does it matter, Madame Cranky?  Because just as time isn’t money, money isn’t time.  Pretending that it is devalues volunteers, of whom we don’t have enough, and their work, of which we always have too much. 

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