Patronage and Aid

I am, in the parlance of the virtual realms, an easy mark.

Over the course of the past year I have handed over more cash than I care to mention in support of Kickstarters, Patreons, political campaigns, charitable causes, mutual aid, and other calls for crowdfunding. It doesn’t take much to entice my interest or stir my sympathies, and I do my best to support those causes and projects I believe in.

That being said, that patronage begins to weigh more heavily on me as the year draws to a close. It’s not an entirely material thing, though domestic economics certainly bear on my decisions. Them What Lives Beneath the River know that I have plenty of standing subscriptions to services I seldom use and memberships I rarely inquire after. I’m bleeding money as we speak. My decisions, at least in part, are predicated on a desire to spread the wealth around, so each fall I take stock of how much I’ve spent and where it went. In the following year I’ll try to point my resources in a different direction.

And then we have my idiosyncrasies. So, so many idiosyncrasies.

I’m no expert, but here are a few tips I think I can responsibly offer when it comes to hitting up the interwebz for a bit of financial assistance.

  1. Build on desire, not fear. When it comes to money, I know that fear is a powerful motivator. Just about every political campaign I’ve ever donated to is pretty energetic when it comes to fearmongering, particularly in the mailings that follow hot on the heels of initial donations. But–and this is true of artistic projects and mutual aid as well–I have an easier time supporting or promoting a good thing than trying to prevent a bad thing from happening, and that’s doubly true when I know that preventing the bad thing hinges on contingencies in which I have no part. Tell me you’re a few bucks short of acquiring a new computer with which you can write or make art and I’m apt to donate; tell me you need a few dollars to acquire a new computer or you might never make art again, and I’m apt to pass you by. I think/hope it’s not some essential defect of character that drives such decisions, but (given the limits of my personal economy) I’d rather contribute to bringing good things into the world if I can.
  2. Make giving simple. Here’s a real (all too real) observation from three recent fundraising campaigns, two for 2023 projects and one to meet immediate needs. Easy mark though I might be, that easiness comes with a catch: it’s driven by impulse, not by logical processing. If I see a cause I’d like to support, I like to click and donate/patronize. That’s it. But in the three cases I mention indirectly above I literally couldn’t find the links to the fundraiser itself, at least not in the thread that drew my attention to the calls for patronage/aid. To be clear, it’s not malicious omission on my part. I don’t log off from my computer in a huff and wail “I would have donated to your cause if you’d only made it eeaaaasy,” and then pat myself on the back for my generosity of spirit. It’s always along the lines of “Mental note: look for that fundraiser tomorrow.” Trusting in my incidental memory, alas, is generally a losing bet, and in the flood of posts and tweets the odds that I’ll find my way back to a cause are pretty small. (And to be doubly clear, it’s worth noting that the usual search engines are of precious little help, even when you hunt for very particular things–algorithms and engine optimization mean I will get plenty of comparable causes instead of the one I seek.)
  3. Motivate donation. This too, alas, feels like a failing in me, but I kind of need the why behind a call for giving. I actually have a line item in my wee budget for such things, and (though I’ll refill those coffers if a windfall comes my way) that means I sometimes have to choose from several good causes. A simple, seasonable reason is almost always all it takes for me to click the link. I’ve read more than a few calls (usually in an attempt to meet an ongoing need) in which the writer is understandably exasperated and tired of asking for donations. They’ll write “Looks like we won’t meet our goal/deadline; you know what to do.” As above, though, asking a prospective donor to hunt down your why, when any given afternoon will confront them with a dozen comparable calls, is apt to mean they click a different link just because it requires less processing power to do so.
  4. Differentiate and discriminate. One of my social media friends posts several calls for mutual aid per day, all for good, if miscellaneous causes. For that reason, I’ve more than once missed out on their own calls, lost as they were in a wash of information that all looks about the same to my speed-skimming eyes. The same holds true for folks with projects in the offing, who naturally want to be supportive of their peers. They’ll post a link to their own Kickstarter/Patreon, and doing so will put them in mind of promoting their friends and colleagues. That is, I think, positive human policy, but it can cause me to scroll on by in the midst of my skimming. As above, this is more habit than malice on my part. I try not to feed my addiction to social media overmuch, and that leads to some terribly casual reading habits.
  5. Spread the wealth. This post is getting a little on the sprawling side, so I thought I’d try to close out by squeezing three bits of advice together. The first derives from the fact that it’s October, the best of all possible months, which means that I’ve got I’ve got a few calls for donations from places that circle the academic calendar and a few dozen more from horror projects. As above, I have a finite budget for such things, so only a few of those can get my support. Calendrical pragmatics stand in the way, so it’s not a bad idea to seek support in odd months if you can. By the holidays, despite the giving spirit, many folk will be tapped out. The second derives from the difference between calls of general use and localized value. A request for funds that will support a virtual student magazine will always get my attention; a request for funds that will support a reading series in Texarkana probably won’t. I have a pretty good attitude about Texas, but this feels like it falls into the greatest amount of good to the greatest number of critters category (and my calculations would certainly change if it’s made clear that the reading series would be broadcast to a wide audience). Finally, when it comes to tiers and rewards, I think it’s wise to distribute thoughtfully. If you need to raise a bajillion dollars, having a ten-dollar tier that gets you the critical thing (a digital issue or digital version of a game, for instance) strikes me as a problematic proposition. I think in those cases a blank give-what-you-will entry field will serve the cause better. And I think when it comes to stretch goals the folk who were already able and inclined to support a cause will snatch up the best, limited-edition perks straight away. Larding the lower and middle tiers with things cash-strapped would-be donors might like can make it more appealing to get on board. The rewards are seldom the point, but as an added enticement they can tilt the scales and maybe get a bit of extra buy-in as a personal splurge. It’s not a bad thing to send a donor away with that good feeling–and a nice reminder to think about giving again a little ways down the road.

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