From a Strike to a Home Run: A Thank You (and also a nudge, but just a little one)

Today, like most days, our site has been up and running, including its tremendous archive; probably serving around 20,000 users by the end of the day. All of our direct services are live: our message boards, SMS service and live online chat. Myself and some of the volunteers are in the middle of creating new content, like one of our in-depth articles or advice columns. The daily and collective creative brainstorming, problem-solving, observing and reflecting that goes on behind the scenes amongst our staff and volunteers, and together with our users, can and will happen today. We are doing today just what we did yesterday, with no change.

That's because we did not have to strike. We did not have to slow or shut down any essential part of what we do. And that's because we now have the minimum funds we need in order to pay for them. That might well be because of you.

Thanks to a couple thousand generous people who themselves donated, did what they could to get the word out and find us help, or both; people who clearly who care deeply about sex ed and who have given us support for the way we do it? Because of them -- and maybe they're you -- we did not have to strike today, as we thought, feared, we would. Our users have all the services, supports and information we always make available to them available today because of a couple thousand of you.

In fact, not only did we reach our minimum need, a generous anonymous donor offered a $10,000 match we were able to meet additionally, so we now have more than just the minimum we need to operate.

That's still not a lot, and is still a small budget for an organization that serves at our big level. However, that's a financial position we have never been in, not in all of our fifteen years, many years where we went without even the minimum. That's a really, really big deal.

We direly needed more support. You gave that to us. We have a lot of people to thank, including a few folks who really stepped it up big to do what they could to help, so figure this is the first of more thank-yous to come. We are now out of the woods (well, I live in the woods, so I'm not; I'm talking figuratively here). We and our users are so grateful and glad to have each of you in our corner, whether you gave five bucks or five hundred, a few minutes of your time or hours.

In order to stay out of the woods, that support does have to continue to stay at this level, and ideally, just gradually increase over time. We need support and funding not just when we are at the end of our rope, hanging on for dear life yelling for rescue, but in a way that we don't ever have to wind up there. Thankfully, many of the new supporters, and most of our old-timers, have pledged recurring support, which already starts us with a big leg-up on making our funding better sustained.

As I said last month -- and Elizabeth Wood spoke about very well here -- this is also so not just our problem. If you know of any other grassroots, indie organizations that work in this field, especially providing services to marginalized populations of any kind, at least one, if not all, is struggling and often barely holding on in just the same way.

Good work in sexuality is widely needed and widely used, but woefully unsupported and underfunded. Initiatives, projects or organizations lauded as inventive and valuable by those who benefit from them, the kind of work we need most, are usually the ones least funded, and thus, the most likely to come, and shine so bright, but burn out and fade away fast. The cultural fear and stigmatization of sexuality deeply impacts all of us whose work this is, even those whose work is not only about sexuality, as well as impacting the people. Too, giving-as-shopping models -- like Kickstarter, or even auctions or other events where donors get things for themselves -- are problematic in a lot of ways, but all the more when projects and orgs with the most need don't have money or labor to make or set up "stuff" to give because they don't even have enough money to keep providing the services people are supposed to be giving for. Shiny stuff, whatever the sort, is already funded a'plenty in a capitalist world: actual human service, for people in real need? Not so much. Charity is giving to someone who isn't you, where someone else "gets." In a whole lot of ways, that's clearly becoming more and more obscured, and that is hella trouble for grassroots human-service organizations like ours.

If we want places and groups like Scarleteen, or like no-fee or sliding-scale sexual health centers and clinics, abortion funding organizations, youth shelters and advocacy groups, sexuality rights organizations and more to have any chance of surviving over time, growing, and having the kind of meta, positive impact on people's lives and our world we truly could? Then we really have to change all of those factors and more, and sustained, committed support, in all the ways, plays a mighty big part.

Now that I'll be seeing a little raise myself -- nothing close to what I should be being given my job and years of experience, but hey: I love my work, I love my organization, and I am pleased as punch about any increase that gets me to a living wage -- one way I'd put out there for you to consider doing that is a way I've done it myself before and can now do a bit more.

That's this:

  1. Pick 3-5 active, independent organizations or projects that do not have million+ dollar budgets, who clearly work their butts off to provide services people need and value, and which are near and dear to your heart. Organizations or projects where they truly need the money, any money. (We'd love to be on that list, by the way.)
  2. Figure out an amount you could comfortably give to all the things charity in a month, every month: maybe it's $20, maybe $100, maybe even $1,000 or more, that'll obviously depend on your own means.
  3. Divide that monthly amount by the number of groups you picked.  So, if it's $50 a month and you picked five places to give, that's $10 a month you will now commit to each.
  4. Set up an automated a monthly recurring donation of that amount with each of those groups. That way you do not have to remember or be reminded. That way, that project or organization is getting a donor -- that's you, you awesome philanthropist, you! -- they know they can count on for ongoing, not just one-time, support. That's also you making yourself one less person they have to try and find or keep bringing back, spending money and time doing that rather than spending money and time doing the actual service work they want support for.
  5. Become an instant rockstar as far as people like us are concerned. We lift our lighters to you (Freebird!).

My own list like that today is: The Abortion Support Network, the Native Youth Sexual Health Network, YouthCare/The Orion Center, the Chicago Women's Health Center, the Youth Law Center, and the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance. Maybe your list includes those groups, maybe not, but those are mine if you want some ideas. Today, if I wasn't already a monthly donor, or at this amount, I'm setting myself up to give each of those groups $10 a month, recurring. I'm elated and consider it a privilege to have a little more wiggle room to do that; to support people and work I value and respect, and help them help with issues and needs that are so important to me. I know, all too well, the work is challenging, the general nonsupport feels terrible, and financially sustaining is often really damn hard. I want to pitch in in the ways that I can.

Maybe $10 a month sounds skimpy to you. It doesn't to me. I know, from being on the other end of this every day, that's not skimpy: even just that level of donation, especially on a recurring basis, has so much value.&It has value because in just a year, that's a really generous donation. In a few? It's usually much more than anyone giving one-time ever will. It also has value because seeing a regular flow of sustained support provides both better financial stability and a real sense of community; the constant struggle we live with when we do anything like this kind of work, in this way, is a lot easier to live with when you see people who have shown you that they are, like you are, committed to your work.

It's perhaps time or effort you have to give, not dollars. That's also a valuable donation, and you can do it the same way: just figure out what you have to spend, divvy it up as needed, commit to giving it every month and follow through. That doesn't have to even be a formal volunteering gig. For example, we have had people who clearly volunteered themselves, all on their own, sometimes over many years, to just using their mouths and their media to get the word out there about us and suggest others support us. That, too, is no small donation.

And all those ways of helping to sustain us, or others similarly, are more than just support. That's for-real solidarity.

Whether we're talking support and advocacy for labor with a capital L , for an arena like sexuality, or for the people in need of these services, or all of the above, that kind of solidarity, of unified commitment to pitch in in your way that supports someone else pitching in in theirs, is the stuff that can really change both the smaller and the bigger picture here. Solidarity like we had so many people show us in the last two months can help an organization like Scarleteen sustain itself. It supports our workers -- financially and emotionally -- the users we serve, and our capacity to serve them.

Support and solidarity like that, spread out further than one project or organization, and sustained over time, also has the capacity to do bigger things: like put everyone working in and around the field of sexuality in a far less untenable cultural and financial position; like radically improving sex ed and the availability of quality, relevant sex and sexual health information to everyone. Hell, it can even help to take some cogs out of the grassroots-crushing wheel of the Nonprofit Industrial Complex, so everyone gets more likely to have all kinds of groups and programs to help them based on their own expressed needs and realities, not on the wants or agenda of a government or corporation. I could go on about this forever, but mixing socialism and a thank you letter turns out to be harder than it looks, especially when you're jetlagged, so I'll let Patti Smith sum up.

I'm really looking forward to the rest of the year. I look forward to continuing the work we already do, knowing we can go on doing it now, and still based on what the people we serve directly tell and show us they want and need, with the freedom of remaining independent so that's never a maybe. I'm looking forward to being in a position where less needs be sacrificed to do that, and am really looking forward to developing some of the new ideas we've had and been aching to start working on, but have been too strapped trying to sustain the bare basics to pursue. We, and I, have every glad intention of using the new support we've been given to its fullest potential.

I thank all of you, everyone who works at or is served by Scarleteen thanks you, for your solidarity, support and the many drums banged so loudly on our behalf. You've helped Scarleteen, and all the people that are part of it, big-time. If you haven't gotten in on that yet and want to via financial support, you can do that right here. If you have other kinds of help to offer, we are always happy to hear from you and always appreciate all kinds of help!

But I also thank you because -- especially if you can spread this same kind of commitment of support to other grassroots mavericks out there, even just a little bit -- I do think it has the capacity to foster bigger positive change far beyond us, probably even some things I can't visualize yet, but which I know, without doubt, could only be good and make good.

- Heather Corinna, Founder and Director, Scarleteen