Tuesday, June 17

Sustainable Fund Raising

In my real life, I'm active in a vibrant, urban church. In fact, I'm on both the Fundraising Committee and the Board. This after a decade of doing youth and young adult ministry. One of the things I am wrestling with now is how I can do a better job of integrating my concerns about climate change and peak oil into my work at the church.

My concerns are very much influenced by my faith. I think climate change and peak oil have the potential to cause massive human suffering, and therefore I have a responsibility to do what I can to avoid that. I believe that a benevolent and powerful deity exists, but I know that throughout history God has often not prevented human made or natural catastrophes. The Black Plague and the Potato Famine come to mind. In Bible college I developed a passion for the writings of the minor prophets, and over and over again they cry out to the people for the sin of being overweight while others starve. I think we're in a situation where the people who have the money have all the options and the people who don't are going to live or die based on how we spend it.

Okay. So that's the long and short of how an evangelical Christian can get really motivated by Global Warming. What does it mean in practical terms? Well, it means that I can influence a building other than my home. Buildings are estimated to contribute 48% of the CO2 produced on a daily basis, and commercial buildings constitute 17% of that. So everything I do for my home, I should be eager to also do for my church home. That includes paying for CFL and LED lighting and leading a project to change bulbs and continuing to look like a stick in the mud when I resist replacing our swamp coolers with AC.

It means that I can be a voice for less car-dependent congregational life. Home study groups can draw neighbors together instead of asking everyone to drive into church for every event. E-mail lists can allow for planning to happen outside of meetings. Providing secure, supervised bike storage can encourage more bike riding. And planning for public transportation and ride sharing would allow more people to engage those options (and perhaps encourage the bus system to run more buses on Sunday...)

And then there's fund raising. Fund raising is an essential element of most urban churches, just as it is of most school districts. As much as we grooved on the idea of "paying it forward" for a couple of years, we've lost the sense that by investing real money in our communities we are actually paying ourselves forward. We forget we benefit when we have strong schools even when we don't have kids going to them. Our churches compete with our shopping and for many of us, what church we go to and whether we go at all is subject to whims. So the idea of setting a significant chunk of my money aside for something that other people are getting more benefit from than I am is totally foreign.

Fund raising is designed to get organizations enough to survive on by providing you some other good or service you need or want. It puts these organizations back in the mall, obviously arguing for those dollars. So, how do we do that sustainably? At my church, we look for the following opportunities:

  • Events that bring people together. One thing we do is for the summer months we have a barbecue after church on the lawn. We encourage people to buy lunch from us and stick around to have conversations.
  • Re-sell items. We don't have a thrift shop, and I don't think we could get one to fly, but we have two events where we ask people to donate sell-able goods and then throw an event to sell them off.
  • Sell services. We have a service auction where we auction off service donations ranging from haircuts to hotel stays.
  • Events that showcase talents. We have enough musical and performance talent in our church to do concerts to raise money.
  • Events that turn time into money. We have a contract with the local sports arena to staff a booth during season games. It works out to about minimum wage for the folks working, but the church gets the money and the stadium gets a booth full of folks who normally get paid more than minimum wage.
  • Sell value-added items. A few years ago we gave up on the chocolate and wrapping paper sales. On the food side of things, there are many people in our congregation living with diabetes and heart disease. We knew the pool of people who could buy candy in good conscience was much smaller than the pool of people who wanted to give money. We also ran the numbers and hated the margins we were looking at. A $1 candy bar might net fifty cents for the church, but the time and the guilt associated really eroded that. We found a nursery that would sell us plants at wholesale, so we pot them up and get them ready and have a plant sale. We've also designed an attractive necklace we can make from items we buy direct from the cottage industries that make them and sell them, making 90% profit, as long as the labor is donated.
This is our stab at fund raising that supports our community in a holistic way.

Personally, I am urging us to look at some of the following as well:
  • Waste-free events. We don't have a dishwasher or a working kitchen, so this is a little tough right now. But I think it's a good goal to work for.
  • Using our property for power generation. Our buildings are mostly empty during work hours, which would allow us to upload solar and/or wind-generated electricity to the grid during peak use and download it during off hours.
  • Selling home improvement items. I'd love to see us sell compact fluorescents as a fund raiser. I can't find a way to get our cost below what Home Depot sells them for when the local utility is doing their specials though.
  • E-waste collection. One stream is to collect usable items and sell them to a re-seller. This is recent mobile phones and items like that. The other stream is things like CRTs. I think this would take an 'angel' to establish a bounty program. For every CRT donated, the organization gets a couple bucks and the recycling fee is covered.
  • Low carbon fast. I think it would be interesting to get a Sunday School class or whole church to fast beef or most meat for a month and to make a donation to the church for every pound of meat avoided. Perhaps during Lent... Could also work for household improvements. Avoid using lights after 9 pm for a month and give .25 cents to the church for every kilowatt hour saved.
  • Swap-o-Rama-Rama. An event where people come and re-make used items for their own use. Extra items could possibly be sold as a fund raiser.
  • Honey-Do list. Keep a list of personal errands at the church. People who put something on the list add what kind of help they want and how much they're willing to donate for it. People who do the work go and see what's needed. Helps turn talent and time into cash.

Wednesday, June 11

Hooray! Lemonade!

Thanks to The Joy of Cooking, I have finally, actually made lemonade at home.

I grew up with the powdered or frozen concentrate kind, and I've found myself buying bottled lemonade, or the kind in a carton, over the last few years. This was frustrating, because my tastebuds tell me it's basically a simple drink, and I've been using more fresh citrus in my cooking.

But my experiements with mixing fine-ground sugar, citrus, and water have been pretty sketchy so far.

Well, tonight while making dinner, I ran across a bag of frozen cranberries my partner and I purchased last fall when we decided to try making our own cranberry lemonade. Curious, I pulled my trusty Joy of Cooking off the shelf.

In the Joy of Cooking version, there are two steps. The first is to make sugar syrup. This is the step I've always tried to weasel around. But we were cooking anyway. So I put the cup of water and two cups of sugar in a pan. A few minutes later, the sugar was completely disolved, and dinner was ready. So I put the cranberries in, turned the temp down and put the lid on, and sat down at the table.

When we were done eating, the cranberries were putting off a lovely sweet/tart aroma. I poured the syrup through a strainer into a bowl.

To turn this into lemonade, I put half a cup of water into a glass. I added two spoons of syrup, and a spoon of lemon juice.

It was terrific! And so simple I feel foolish for settling for sugar and artificial flavors for so long. ;-) Well, that's the name of this project. Try it and figure out whether it makes life simpler and better or not.

Friday, June 6

Ya win some, ya lose some

Two big pieces of news this week, as far as I'm concerned. The first is that it seems the SUV is finally starting to go the way of the tail fin. That's a win.

And then Senate Republicans blocked passage of the first, very tentative, US bill to address global warming. Their argument was that the bill would eliminate jobs and raise gas prices... which seems painfully short-sighted to me.

When it comes to Climate Change, we have two options. We can either adapt now in an effort to prevent the worst or we can adjust to the changing climate by doing more of the same -- more air conditioners for hot weather, more pesticides to make up for soil loss, more habitat destruction for growing more feed stock. But progressively, climate change (and peak oil) will make us change our ways and we'll end up exactly back in the place we're talking about going right now. It's the choice between gorging between Thanksgiving and Easter then signing up for two boot camp classes and Spinning just before swimsuit season starts, or eating moderately and walking 10,000 steps a day all year long. They both end up in the same place, but the second compounds all the delayed self-restraint and turns it into suffering.

Many jobs as we know them may go away. But manufacturing will be re-localized, bringing those jobs back to our neighborhoods. Oil prices will increase, but we will be re-creating neighborhoods so that food, work, and good schools will be in walking distance. If the economy slows down but we each have everything we need, plus more free time, isn't that a net benefit?

Most frustrating to me is that Senator John McCain, who's home state -- Arizona -- gets enough sunshine to power the entire US with existing solar technologies (if only we would upgrade the infrastructure and invest in building the capacity), didn't vote on the bill because it did not contain enough incentives for nuclear-generated power.

Tuesday, June 3

More than a consumer

This week the elements of the stew that is my thoughts contain these: Reaction to reading the books Littleheathens and Affluenza, a good friend of mine calling me a hippie -- a few times, and starting to read Simple Prosperity, a follow-up book to Affluenza, written by one of the Affluenza writers and local guy David Wann.

I don't mind getting called a hippie. Some of my favorite people in my childhood were the "hippies" my parents hung out with. I think I knew even then that there were different kinds of hippies. And that the make your own clothes/eat out of the garden/be kind aesthetic was shared by hippies and non-hippies. My folks never got into the drugs/drinking/mind-blowing side of it all... they were always more engaged by the build-it-yourself and a hands-off government strains.

Likewise, our great-depression neighbors and our Mennonite neighbors, and our Hawaiian neighbors were never hippies per se, but part of my "hippie" ethic comes from thinking about how Mrs. Harvey would use this, or remembering her massive garden, or weaving rugs and playing cards with the Mennonites.

And still, in the middle of all that richness, the thing I wanted was money. I was the kid with the get-rich-quick schemes, who was out on the sidewalk during the house tour selling lemonade.

The argument of Affluenza is that there's an epidemic disease loose in our culture (and world) that affects our brains so that money, and buying things, becomes the most important thing. We start to think of ourselves as consumers rather than citizens.

I started the book Friday evening, and by Saturday, I was interested in trying to spend a day observing when I was in consumer mode and when I was in citizen mode. I grabbed one of my roommates and we took the recycling to the yard and headed in to the Farmer's market. I bought a couple things I need for the week, then we sat down on the grass with lunch. We sketched and talked about the tuba/accordion duo playing in the distance and after an hour or so, walked a few blocks over and visited the surplus store and a used book store.

I did manage to have some conversations I wouldn't have been open to in the past -- I asked the duo if they could play "The Ma-nah-ma-nah Song"... which they didn't know, but they did do a very playful rendition of the Sesame Street theme. And I found someone who could help me fix a brake cable on my bike. And I talked about my "cool mattress" idea for summer sleeping with a guy who sells the hammocks he makes at a kiosk in the plaza. I think in those ways, I was a citizen -- open to new experiences with people. But I also saw myself defaulting to consumer behaviors. "Oh that's cute, I want one." "Oh I don't have any thing to do -- let's go shopping." "Oh I have this thing I've been thinking about. Let's see if we can find one."

That exercise has extended into the week. I'm fighting the urge to go buy CDs. I'm not listening to CDs at work or in the car, and only rarely at home. I do love my NPR station and the music they play is plenty. But I keep trying to "own" the things I enjoy. As if "owning" them would make the experience of enjoying them last forever. (Baca Beyond is currently delighting my ears.)

So, I have affluenza. And I think I've had it since childhood.

The next wave of thinking is that here we are now, with Colin over at No Impact Man and a hundred other voices in the public square calling for real change in our lives. Ten years ago we had Elaine St. James and "Living the Simple Life." 20 years ago we had Your Money or Your Life. 30 years ago we had Diet for a New America. Is it really taking this long to build up a head of steam? Or are these waves and each time a wave hits, do more of us escape the boat?

Okay, I can't afford to worry about what everyone else is doing. I have to work on my sphere of control (40% energy savings last month over May of last year!), and my spheres of influence (a sit-down dinner last night, with Zombie Fluxx from Looney Labs, with both of my roommates).

And this is where Simple Prosperity comes in. It's argument is that once you know you've caught affluenza, one way you get well is to value the non-financial wealth you have. Social ties, for example. Getting into a flow state with your hobbies and your life outside of them.

I expect to comment further as I read more, but one more story. In high school, I was assigned an essay on "What makes me happy." As part of the course work around that, we learned that Aristotle said you couldn't truly know if you were happy until you had a worthy life to look back on. Wann includes the whole quote in his book:

Happiness consists of a blend of moderation, gentleness, modesty, friendlieness, and self-expression.
I can live with that definition. ;-)

Unbox Videos


NotSoBigLiving is the story of a woman inspired by Sarah Susanka, Bill McKibben, Airstreams, Tumbleweed houses, Mennonites, Jimmy Carter, hippies, survivalists, Anasazi, Pema Chodron and Joko Beck, Scott Peck, Buckminster Fuller, and Al Gore to see what she can do to reduce her carbon footprint in her mid-80's suburban townhome. Strategies include roommates, alternative travel, organic eating, planting a victory garden, mindfulness, and a belly full of laughter.