Minnesotans, older women define year-end giving

In this season of giving — and shopping and spending — year-end appeals stuff my mailbox and e-mail in-box from nonprofit organizations and political causes that are making a difference, that deserve my donation.

Their creative approaches both amuse and annoy me:

  • Governor Tim Walz’s dog, Scout, sent an appeal to “keep Minnesota blue,” which I took to be a program for clean water, but it turned out to be a fundraising campaign for the governor’s One Minnesota initiative. Since Scout is a rescue pup — a cause dear to my heart — I hung onto the e-mail for consideration. (Plus an earlier message from Walz’s finance director shamed me into seeing that I had contributed nothing in 2019.)
  • The one I will ignore, though the subject line grabbed me, is Jane Fonda’s appeal to support the re-election campaign of Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey. Given that I had to Google who he was, I decided to keep my dollars local.
  • Prairie’s Edge Humane Society in Northfield, Minnesota, where I adopted my sons’ childhood dogs, Skip and Lucy, prepared a letter to Santa from a different animal every day for its “12 Days of Giving.” Because I appreciate the opportunity to donate supplies as well as money and am touched by the animals’ stories (including an obese dog named Root Beer abandoned last summer at age 7 and now nursed back to better health), I plan to give something.

This time of year, “we work harder to share stories that resonate with the majority of our donors,” says Mary McKeown, president and CEO of Keystone Community Services in St. Paul, whose food mobile helps address food insecurity at the University of St. Thomas, where I work, and Hamline University, where my sons earned their degrees.

Mary McKeown

Mary McKeown, Keystone Community Services

Days after I already had mailed a check, Keystone’s year-end appeal arrived at my home. The story that McKeown promised featured Jean, who “has worked hard and supported herself independently her whole life,” but who had to quit her job because of emphysema. (It could happen to any of us, right? Who isn’t living paycheck to paycheck?)

I drive Meals on Wheels and serve on a strategic planning task force for Keystone. That means more to me than Jean’s story because I see firsthand the good that this organization does.

“We’ve never bought donor lists,” says McKeown, who also happens to be my neighbor, increasing Keystone’s hyper-local appeal. “We’ve just been thoughtful about how to establish a year-round relationship with our supporters. So, when they’re making that choice, out of all the envelopes in front of them, they think: I know Keystone, and I know what they’re doing with my money.

Who gives, and why?

Minnesotans are the most generous people in the nation, donating more money and time than other Americans, according to a poll released in December by WalletHub, a personal finance website. And the “average donor,” McKeown says, is a 68-year-old woman less interested in “experiences,” as younger adults tend to be, than in giving money back to her community.Blog_MSP volunteering

As a female, 62-year-old, lifelong Minnesotan, I am thus a prime target. So, which of the many worthy appeals — from Move Minnesota, the Elizabeth Warren campaign, the Animal Humane Society, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation — will grab my attention, and my wallet?

This year I relied more on data than emotion, reviewing my checkbook for 2019 and listing every cause to which I had donated money throughout the year, from $10 a month recurring payments to one-time gifts of over $100. The patterns were eye-opening:

  • Female political candidates, including Warren, garnered the highest number of donations, though not always the greatest amounts.
  • “Green” is a value and a practice in my household, so in addition to regular, small donations to the Nature Conservancy and the Arbor Day Foundation — which inexplicably sent us trees to plant in early December — my husband and I gave our largest one-time gift to Environment Minnesota.
  • Public radio, public television and local food co-ops such as Seward — whose hiring practices demonstrate its commitment to diversity — get my membership dollars, but I am using their services, so those monthly contributions don’t really count as donations.
  • The women’s health organization to which I consistently give my time received no money until the “matching gift” plea showed up on Facebook and in my e-mail after Christmas.

Turns out, Minnesotans “love a deal,” McKeown says. A marketing director from Best Buy, one of the Twin Cities’ 17 Fortune 500 companies, serves on Keystone’s board. Originally from Atlanta, he tells McKeown that Best Buy markets differently in Minnesota to appeal to our bargain-hunting ways.

That’s why matching-gift appeals are so popular at the end of the year, she explains, even though it’s a heavy-spending season: “Someone who would give $100 may give $150 because they’re getting a match.”

Seventy-four percent of Minnesotans describe themselves as “somewhat” or “very religious.” That matters, too, especially in a state that is still primarily Christian. At a national conference in October, McKeown learned that year-end philanthropic appeals relate less to tax benefits — which are shrinking anyway — than to the tradition of being generous at Christmastime to your church.

The last three days of December are “the three busiest days for donations each year,” according to GiveMN, which promotes philanthropy in Minnesota. National data show that 12 percent of all gifts are made between December 29 and 31.

The handwritten list of where I donated money this year is less a budgetary tool than it is a list of values: from feminism and political engagement to environmental advocacy, animal rights, and supporting local shops and farmers. I am privileged, and it is a privilege to give.

How the warming climate chills me as I grow old

Last summer, when I was pondering how to address the physical enormity and psychic reality of climate change, which terrifies me as I grow older, I came up with a catchy headline for this blog post: Paris is burning. Again.

It was late July. The Notre Dame Cathedral had been ablaze three months earlier, and another heat wave was scorching Europe, with Paris’ temperature hitting an all-time high. That felt safe to reflect on, because it was all so far away; it neatly sidestepped my sense of powerlessness and fear, my smug hope that my family would be safe from the most catastrophic effects of global warming because we live in the cold, land-locked Upper Midwest.Blog_big blue marble

Now, thanks to the youth of the world — can we elect Greta Thunberg president, even though she’s Swedish and only 16 years old? — the reality of climate change has washed up at my generation’s feet, just as Houston and other cities drown in rain.

For some time now I have been tossing newspaper clippings in a drawer, where I can access the scary warnings (“One-fourth of the world faces looming water crises”) without having them stare me in the face. The tendency of Americans to drive anywhere, everywhere — 88 percent of us own cars, while only 53 percent own bicycles — particularly concerns me in a state where vehicle emissions are a leading source of climate change:

Really, is that enough? To verbally shrug our shoulders and declare record-breaking heat, choked roadways and wetter, warmer winters to be beyond our control? As young activists reportedly chanted at global climate protests on September 20: “You had a future and so should we.” And then this: “We vote next.”

Where do the children play?

What moved me, finally, to coalesce my anxiety into some measure of coherent thought was not the climate protesters — as impressive and inspirational as they are — but the generation of young adults who are afraid to have children. My younger son, age 24, told me over lunch recently that he and his girlfriend would like to have kids — except they’re not sure they can. No, Nate said, reading my facial expression, infertility is not the issue. “The planet’s dying,” my son told me.Blog_children playing

In a TED Talk titled “How Climate Change Affects Your Mental Health,” scientist and storyteller Britt Wray, Ph.D. talks about the “fear, fatalism and hopelessness” that comes from immersing oneself in the realities of climate change. Those who have directly experienced a climate catastrophe (the Bahamians with Hurricane Dorian, for example) may deal with “shock, trauma, strained relationships, substance abuse, and the loss of personal identity and control,” Wray said.

For young people in prosperous nations like ours, climate change takes its toll on the surest sign of hope and optimism, the primary human desire to reproduce. “Having one less child in an industrialized nation can save about 59 tons of carbon dioxide per year,” according to Dr. Wray’s research. And so young adults aren’t weighing the decision about whether to have children against the cost to their careers, as I did, or even against whether they can afford it. Instead, they are looking at the cost to the planet; like my son, they are calculating whether the world is worth sharing with a vulnerable child.

Some young adults have declared a “birth strike,” said Wray, because “government won’t address this existential threat.”

I still grumble about the Thanksgiving a decade ago when Nate made me see The Road, a bleak and frightening film based on a Cormac McCarthy novel. Now, I recognize that he may seek out post-apocalyptic movies and books for reasons other than entertainment. Maybe this is the world he envisions for himself come middle age. Maybe this is the future that we self-centered, luxury-loving Baby Boomers refuse to see.

What is my responsibility?

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” climate activist Thunberg told world leaders at the United Nations on Monday (an essential story that the middle-aged editors who run the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune placed on page A4).

As the youngest candidate in the Democratic presidential field, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is using age to his advantage in his case against climate change: “The younger you are, the more you have on the line.”

How much are we willing to sacrifice to fight climate change? The Canadian commentator who posed that question is asking the wrong one. Few Americans today will willingly give up their creature comforts, or the prosperity that some take as their birthright. “All you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” Thunberg declared in her stern and sage warning. How dare we, indeed.

At 62, I look to the past for my solution. I strive to live as my Depression-era parents raised us. My father grew strawberries, raspberries, green beans and peas in his garden. My mother hung laundry out to dry. My family had one car until I was 9 years old, though we considered ourselves solidly middle-class. We opened windows and turned on fans to stay cool during the summer.

Pair of legs walking on a trail in nature towards the light

Their example stays with me:

  • After years of commuting, I arranged my life so I can walk to work and ride the bus to many of my appointments.
  • My husband and I bought our sons good bicycles as teenagers instead of cars.
  • Our house has no air-conditioning, and we don’t always flush the toilet.
  • We recycle or compost everything we can.
  • I pick up beer cans and plastic bottles on dog-walks in our neighborhood close to a college campus.

These aren’t sacrifices. This is how we live, and it is a calmer, healthier and more satisfying existence than driving in an air-conditioned vehicle from an air-conditioned house or, in the winter, refusing to walk outdoors. Personal behavior change has to power this movement to save our planet.

In order to change the world, you must first change yourself. That saying is painted on a building near my yoga studio in St. Paul. Yes, I still own a car (though it’s a Prius), I still eat some meat, I still accumulate more stuff than I need. But I tread lightly on the Earth, not just for me but for my sons.

“We need to be honest,” says Dr. Wray, “about what we owe one another.”

Dog bites woman: lessons learned

Getting injured tends to make me reflective because it forces me to sit still, which I don’t do well. Even at 62, I value movement and action — to a fault, I am finding as I grow older.

Suffering a dog bite at an off-leash dog park, a juicy and unexpected chomp to my bare left calf, has left me hobbled, bleeding, aching, afraid, exhausted and unable to sustain my usual pace. I sought medical attention, after initially resisting, and two days later succumbed to the first round of rabies shots.

Mia_2019

Mia, my beloved Animal Humane Society rescue, gets ready for our morning run.

Here is what I’ve learned from the ordeal:

1. Posting on social media can turn bad luck to good advice: “You should have called Animal Control immediately,” said my experienced older sister, also a dog lover. “They would have impounded and quarantined the dogs.”

Problem is, I was so rattled, calling the authorities did not occur to me. What now? “At this point, I would ask the police to visit the dog owner,” my sister told me a day later. “She needs to be deterred from coming back to the dog park.” Numerous others on Facebook agreed. One even speculated I could be awarded $5,000 to $10,000 per puncture wound through the woman’s homeowner’s insurance. Well, maybe.

2. Trusting people based on superficial qualities leads to speculative results. The first question I asked the woman who insisted her dog only “scratched” me was whether her animal’s shots were up to date. “Of course,” she said. She looked trustworthy. But what does that mean? Turn over that rock, and out slither some stereotypical assumptions.

“Diana,” likely not her real name, was articulate and well dressed. She drove a nice van. She seemed friendly, approaching me later in the park — along with that damn dog! — to see whether I was alright. Again, being rattled and bleeding and in pain, I did not think to say: “Call my cell phone, so I have your number.” Instead, I texted myself the number that she told me, and this apparently trustworthy, friendly looking woman lied.

3. “Tough it out” is an ineffective strategy with an animal bite. Among the advice on Facebook, which I ignored for three days:

  • “You need proof that this animal is vaccinated.”
  • “Get to a doctor with that wound stat.”
  • “I didn’t go to the doctor when a dog bit my finger and ended up having surgery for an infected finger bone. My primary-care doc said to always get antibiotics.”

Ego can drive these decisions, especially as we get older and want to prove that we’re still strong and healthy. I remember a woman 10 years my senior telling me that she feels more “vulnerable,” physically. Not me! I arrogantly believed I could heal on my own, if I kept the wound covered and kept up my usual pattern of walking 14,000 steps daily. Bad plan, as the nurse practitioner affirmed when she prescribed amoxicillin for my weeping wound.

4. Short-term physical pain is worth long-term peace of mind. Because “Diana” gave me the wrong phone number, because I failed to follow her to her van and photograph the license plate, I had no way to reach her. Therefore, I had no way of proving that her dog had current vaccinations.

A doctor said the risk of rabies was low, given that the apparently cared for dog was at a dog park, not some crazed animal foaming at the mouth, To Kill a Mockingbird–style, that leaped out of the bushes on a jogging path. The Department of Health said otherwise. The only way to ensure I would not get rabies was to get the dreaded rabies shots. “I think the DOH is butt covering,” I told my oldest sister, the pragmatic one. “Maybe so,” she replied, “but rabies is fatal if you get it.” A quick Google search proved that to be true.

And the shots? Not nearly as painful as folklore would have it — or apparently, as invasive as they used to be. When I heard that the initial injections were in the wound, I pictured a doctor plunging a needle straight into the bite site (which remains painful to the touch eight days post-trauma). In fact, the doctor inserted the needles horizontally in the skin next to the wound, on either side, and then energetically rubbed the bite site so it could absorb the serum. That was the worst, and it was over quickly.

Gabby_smallest

Gabby, our rescue puppy from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in the Dakotas

5. Keep the faith. “Here’s what I know,” wrote a former colleague on Facebook, a man who recently traveled across several states to buy a hunting dog. “There are many, many more bad dog owners than there are bad dogs.” Of course, he’s right.

One woman warned me about PTSD, predicting that I may never be able to return to dog parks. Another offered to connect me with a therapist who specializes in “dog-bite trauma.” I’m not afraid of dogs, which I have owned for most of my life. What I am wary of is lackadaisical dog owners — ones like my neighbor who lets his golden retrievers walk unleashed on city streets, reassuring passersby that the dogs are friendly.

I never intended to sue “Diana.” What I wanted was an apology, an acknowledgment of the pain I suffered and an offer to pay my medical bills. I wanted her to make things right, and she failed me. But I won’t give up on dogs, not today. Not ever. I need their love and loyalty in an increasingly hostile world.