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The Economy Of Caring

Could the exploding popularity of crowdfunding signal a larger shift in the way we handle our money in relation to the communities around us?

Our resident expert on financial health, Hillary Augustine, introduces her new money-oriented column for The Fold by reflecting on the ways that crowdfunding has shifted our economy and culture. We're thrilled to have her here to help us usher in our new space.

Money

It is a holiday. Traffic is minimal. Green lights are aligned. Parking is free.

I find myself grateful for a life without navigational static – at least for today.

Big city. Early morning. Vacant streets. Nice and calm.

My friend and I walk through the emergency room to the trauma hospital. We pass through security and navigate to the 7th floor. Care and urgency are palpable as ambulances ebb and flow from multiple distances orbiting the traumatic, vibrational pull of this hospital. Doctors, nurses, security, numerous staff, white coats, blue scrubs, and the man who empties the trash plot their daily course like ants with pre-determined tracks and job responsibilities.

I am here to see friends. Friends I've been loosely connected to throughout the years. Inner circle? No. But, close mutual connections, yes.

As we enter the hospital room, I am reminded how life serves up spontaneous opportunities to care. I am visiting two patients, husband and wife, both recently in a traumatic car accident. I awkwardly hug the man – trying not to hurt anything on his already tender body as I wait for his wife to return from yet another scan representing one of many, many medical procedures she's already endured.

Tim and Cote Soerens were on a long-anticipated vacation in Mexico for only days when they were hit head-on by a drunk driver. Emergency surgeries were performed there, and then they were airlifted to the United States (and home to their two young boys) for further surgeries and recovery. In the midst of this, a crowdfunding campaign began as unexpected medical expenses mounted. 

Now, in the hospital room, an awkward, kind, compassionate dance is in full swing, as strangers meet family members and friends meet neighbors. Community connection and conversations orbit around circumstances that everyone desperately wants to be different. In essence, we wish something else would have brought us together. But this is the present reality. Our present reality. 

This is what I call an Economy of Caring. 

I think of economy as the careful management of resources. So here, in this hospital room and in the midst of this story, I am seeing many manifestations of "resources" appear. First, there's presence: my friend and I visit, among many others. There's service and other acts of kindness: people give a smile, a hug, prayers, words, flowers, meals, child care, dog care and a variety of other blessings. And then, of course, there's money. This particular couple are bolstered through crowdfunding, and family, friends and strangers have donated to their unexpected and unanticipated cause.

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Expectations and motivations in these kinds of a caring-based monetary exchanges are complex. Money can be given with a karmic vibe. "Hey, we are one. If I'm ever in need, people will help me, because we are universally interconnected. I'll pay it forward." Or, money can be given with the more direct but unspoken exchange, "You'll pay me back someday if I need it." Or, "This is what the money is intended for." Between the karmic vibe, the payback, and even the intentionally funded model, there are many expectations (often unspoken) swirling in between. Sometimes, as givers, we don't even realize what expectations we have attached to our donations at first. 

This Economy of Caring is simply not as straightforward as the "old" versions of economic donations. It's much simpler and cleaner to give institutionally. There's a tax write-off, because more times than not, the IRS offers an official stamp of approval. Further, when money flows through an institution, the giver often can't judge the receiver, because where the money goes is often hidden, behind a veil, unknown. And even if the receiver is known, that awareness has been cultivated through branded stories (via the church, nonprofit, etc.) with a more sanitized human experience.

Crowdfunding, which is taking its rightful place on the organic scene of life, changes all of this. And that's intriguing.

In crowdfunding, the receiver is known. Often, their lives are more exposed because they are going through a tragedy, and a friend or family member is raising money on their behalf. So, expectations, motivations, intentions – both clear and subconscious – show up in a whole new way. The charitable middleman is gone. Giver and receiver are nearly, if not literally, face-to-face and heart-to-heart.

Here's what my friend Amy Pennington says after a crowdfunding campaign called Rise Above launched on her behalf.

"A few years ago when I started actually having some financial surplus (after about five years of working for myself) I decided I would give back. I felt rich with a few hundred dollars in my pocket. The way I decided to do that was anytime any of you posted a fundraiser for a new business or a friend in need (through Kickstarter or gofundme), I donated. Sometimes I had $5 to spare. Sometimes I had $50. It wasn't up to ME to decide if the THING the money was going toward was worth it. I just figured it's your friend, you posted it, that was worth it to me. An easy way technology allowed me to say...'hey, I got you.'

So with that story, I'm "Rising Above" the social stigma attached to the concept of charity because I actually don't subscribe to it, as much as I've been told and taught otherwise. If you'd like to help grease our wheels and won't be pissed when I post a picture from a Hawaiian beach in October, I say thank you in advance. Thank you for buttering the bread. And if you don't, I say thank you in advance. Thank you for seeing your boundary and honoring it."

This form of funding and giving, this Economy of Caring, is face-to-face and heart-to-heart...even if virtual. Amy's words invite the giver to ask, “Why am I giving? Really? Do I have expectations attached to my giving? Am I funding Amy on a beach, drink in hand, soaking up the sun, loving life?! Or, will I be pissed if this or that happens because I thought I was funding her struggle?”

The lines get blurry between giver/receiver and receiver/giver. An Economy of Caring invites fluidity, openness and introspection. With no organization making the funding decisions, the giver/receiver are invited into a far more intimate partnership. Amy was the giver. Now, she is the receiver. And, many days, she is both – giving and receiving. A beautiful infinity loop occurs. Flexible. Vast. Reciprocal. Giving. Receiving. And, caring in the midst of it all.

So, if you (as the giver) feel more raw, more judgmental and more moody, with supplemental waves of excitement, confusion, hope and dismay, congratulations! You are in a monetary exchange that energetically mirrors the receiver's journey and the human process. Your invitation is to go deeper into your personal values, motivations, fears and hopes as they relates to person-to-person generosity. You are living in the in-between space where institutions normally reside and do the work for you. They take your donation. They take any funky emotions and expectations you've attached to your giving. They tell you what you funded. And, you get a tax deduction. No deep internal work.

But crowdfunding and the Economy of Caring invite you to feel the real story of direct trade and direct monetary exchange. They call you to name your expectations, intentionally, and then release the results.

Faces, life stories and communities of strangers, families, neighbors and friends converge in the crowdfunding model (and sometimes in a hospital), representing the raw and transformational reality of helping one another. This IS the economy of caring. I hope you'll join it.

As Cote Soerens says, "I think this is a huge reminder we are loved. Which is something sometimes we doubt, right?"

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