When it comes to donating, no amount should be too small

Last month I wrote about doing the “30 Days project” with my best friend, Candice, in which we each did one new thing every day in September. I’m pleased to say that we both achieved this lofty goal.

The best thing about the project is that I was inspired. I did a lot of things I’ve always wanted to do but never got around to doing. And I did a lot of things that were so awesome, I want to keep doing them.

One thing I did that falls under both categories is making an investment through Kiva.org, a website where people can lend money to entrepreneurs in developing countries who need funding to help grow their small businesses.

These aren’t big loans — they’re called microloans. The average request on Kiva is $382. And lenders don’t have to shell out big bucks, either — you can start as low as $25.

For my Kiva investment, I decided to give to a woman named Mery in Bolivia who needed $350 to buy seasonal clothing for her store in La Paz. Her bio on the Kiva website described her as a new working mom, which spoke to me. Within 24 hours, her loan was fully funded.

Making a microloan to Mery reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about for a few years. What about microloans in the Jewish community? Or rather, microdonations?

I’ve felt for a long time that the Jewish community should actively target 20- and 30-somethings for small, regular donations that will jibe with our current reality. We need to be thinking of ways to engage my generation, for whom furloughs and funemployment and outsourcing are standard fare, in new paradigms of giving.

I know several people my age who regularly donate money to causes. But I know a lot more, myself included, who donate rarely, or never.

Of course, there will always be those who’d rather spend their little disposable income on themselves. And there are people for whom even giving small amounts of money is a hardship.

But I think there’s a sizeable middle ground: people like me, who would be more likely to give small amounts if we were told that our donation would make a difference.

And, to go a step further, if we were given concrete examples of how our money would be put to work, and not just be absorbed into an amorphous “general fund” made up of millions of dollars, for which $10 seems like a drop in a huge bucket.

For starters, I think we need to do more to encourage, and especially not to discourage, small donations. I’ll never forget telling someone over the phone on Super Sunday that I would make an $18 donation, to which he replied, “Is that all?”

That hurt. An $18 donation for one person can be a bigger deal than an $18 million donation is for another. We need to be cognizant of that, and not insult even the smallest gift.

I also think we need to be more specific about what donations will do. For example, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano website says that for every dollar donated, the food bank can provide three meals. That makes me feel great about giving $10 — I know it translates into 30 meals for people in need. It helps me feel that my small contribution will really help.

Another possibility is encouraging small recurring donations. Giving $120 might seem difficult when you have to do it all at once. But giving $10 a month? That’s not as much of a hit.

Or what about instituting a system like Kiva’s for Jewish agencies (just without the loan/payback element)? Agencies can put forth a proposal for a very specific need, and ask for a certain amount of money — say, hundreds or a few thousand, nothing too daunting. Donors can go to a website, contribute what they can, and track how close the agency is getting to its goal.

What will our future look like? To me, the future is a million $10 bills instead of one $10 million check. Maybe my ideas are a bit pie-in-the-sky. But I know others must be talking about this. I’d love to be a part of the conversation.

Rachel Leibold
is a copy editor at j. She can be reached at [email protected].