This is about running for others' lives, but let us start with the Girl Scout cookies.
Your daughter trudges up my disintegrating front steps and to my front door as you wait by the curve, apparently looking for a cab on the westernirts of Chicago. She rings the bell, invites my participation in the buy, her dark brown hair crossing up and over her left shoulder as she leans in to show me the list of the possibilities for a sugar high.
She sells, I buy. I eat (too many), she brings back (a little) money to fund her troop's autumn camping trip. I may be willing to pay a bit more for a box of cookies than I might have at the grocery store because your daughter looks like a sweet girl, or because I was once a Girl Scout and remember those days warmly. Soon the cookies are gone. The camping trip will be remembered fondly by some of those who went on it.
This transaction is kind of like what happens in a public radio fund drive, which offers valuable or branded giveaways (to "members" rather than "donors") in return for a pledge. I love to listen to these quarterly fundraisers even more than to the regular programming, simply to hear my favorite radio personalities improvise their ways, often ingeniously, out of the tight corners their on-air fundraising partners may have created for them. To compel listeners to become donors without ever uttering a negative or guilty-provoking word, one needs infinite creativity and goodwill, especially toward those who listen regularly to the programming without helping to pay for it. Both the sale of the Girl Scout cookies and the public radio fundraising drive, with rewards offered for the "gift" of a donation, are more business transactions, exports, than is asking someone to simply write a check for environmental protection or a political candidate Or the protection of basic human rights around the world.
I first became aware around 1990 of a very different kind of fundraising effort, now quite popular, when I decided to participate in the Gay Men's Health Crisis "Dance for Life" marathon. Bringing together those willing to work (dance, sweat), those willing to give (money), and those willing to organize for a cause (the Gay Men's Health Crisis), the Dance for Life event had three evident constituencies and an exponentially greater opportunity Than one-on-one transactional fundraising for long-lasting personal and communal impact.
We dancers, many of who had family members or friends who had died from or were dying of AIDS-related causes, would solicit contributions based on how many hours we danced. We danced against death: at the time, dancing felt like dye's antidote. Weave our bodies' sweat, exertion, energy to support our loved ones' and others' fight to live. The body felt like the perfect site for our devotion.
This September, I learned of an even more moving, more perfect three-way, transformational partnership to raise money. This contemporary expiatory ritual bound a cause …