All you have to do is ask: On fundraising for A Beautiful Refuge

The women of A Beautiful Refuge.

The women of A Beautiful Refuge.

I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I'm just now getting around to putting together thank-you gifts for the donors who helped support A Beautiful Refuge. I wrote emails of course, but I'm still a firm believer in hand written notes and other tokens of appreciation. Better late than never, right?

A little backstory: In February of this year, I and five other bloggers from the Ethical Blogger's NetworkDanielle, Ashlee, Cassandra, Holly, and Christy – joined forces with Hannah of Life Style Justice to launch launch A Beautiful Refuge, a social enterprise based out of the Philippines. The artisans, all women in need of sustainable employment, create screen printed items like t-shirts, banners, pillows and tote bags designed by the founding team. ABR directly benefits Safe Refuge, a non-profit organization that provides maternal care, educational opportunities, emergency shelter, and supportive housing for women who have been victims of human trafficking. You can read more about the company (and order their beautiful products) here.

I'm proud to be a part of this project, and I'm not quite sure why I didn't post about it back when we were fundraising. But have a sneaking suspicion it had something to do with my discomfort with asking for money.

When I was a kid, I loathed fundraising campaigns. Every time my school launched a magazine drive or bake sale, I sat in the back of the kickoff assembly rolling my eyes. I hated the pageantry of it all the competition, the hustling, the idea that you were a better student if you could talk more family members into buying your crappy holiday wrapping paper. It all seemed like such a sham.

To complicate things, my own family didn't have much disposable income growing up. Nor did we have a network of well-to-do friends interested in supporting such things. This isn't to say that we never gave; I remember putting together care packages for the homeless, and leaving baskets of food for members of our church who we knew were struggling (we even found a basket on our own doorstep when my dad lost his job). But it was the early nineties in working class Southern California, and unemployment was high. The general attitude towards fundraising campaigns was one of extreme skepticism.

As I struggled financially in college and throughout my early twenties, I still bristled when people asked me for donations. I crossed the street or averted my eyes whenever I spotted a GreenPeace canvasser, mumbling excuses like, "I already support this other thing and think about the environment someti– ...ok bye."

My reaction was immature, of course. I could have given up a small portion of my income to help a worthy organization... I just didn't want to. Things like pour-over coffee, the new Belle and Sebastian album, a consignment Marc Jacobs dress these were my little comforts. Even if they were funded by student loans, they made me feel a little more in control of my life, a little less austere. I wasn't about to trade them for a monthly donation, and I deeply resented being guilt-tripped for not giving up the few luxuries I had.

So when I finally started making a real, livable income, I threw my money around with glee. Whatchu need, UNICEF? You got it. Fifteen dollars a month to support Planned Parenthood? Heck, that's pocket change. It felt so good to do good, to make giving a regular part of my life, that I almost let it go to my head. You might say I almost felt like better person now that I had cash to give...

Which leads me to the fact that I still have hangups about money. About giving it (what are my real motivations? Am I trying to buy my way out of the guilt I feel about my privilege?). About asking for it (am I asking someone to make a sacrifice they're not comfortable with? Will they feel bad if they can't afford it?). And, frankly, about having it at all at a time when so many people in my community are suffering.

I could write an essay about the deeper roots of my chrometophobia (or save it for the therapist's chair). But will say that it's getting better. And that's due, in part, to my experience fundraising for A Beautiful Refuge. 

Hannah shows the staff how to use the screenprinting equipment

Hannah shows the staff how to use the screenprinting equipment

The Power of Asking

I rewrote the Facebook post eight times. I sat in front of an email to my coworkers for half an hour before hitting send. I was terrified of how I might come across. Was it tacky to ask coworkers for money? Will my friends and family think I'm judging them if they don't decide to donate? Is it weird that Safe Refuge has a religious affiliation even though I don't go to church?

Finally, I just went for it. And within two months, I reached 184% of my fundraising goal.

I was astounded by the generosity of my social network. Family, friends, coworkers of different ages and income levels all rallied together to give what they could. Many wrote heartfelt messages along with their donations. Others emailed me privately to tell me how cool they thought the project was. I was shocked, and deeply touched.

Watching so many people in my community donate also helped me become more comfortable with my own place on the so-called economic ladder. Having a higher income doesn't make me part of something evil. I'm not sitting around with other Silicon Valley elites spouting neoliberal drivel, claiming that poverty could be solved with just a little more "individual responsibility." No – the people I work with and surround myself with don't think like that. They're in a position to give and so they do. It's that simple.

Months later, A Beautiful Refuge is thriving. And my little community had a part in that.

And it's all because I threw aside my insecurities and found the courage to ask. After all, we can't change the world alone.

A Beautiful Refuge headquarters in Manila.

A Beautiful Refuge headquarters in Manila.