Fifty Shades of Green: How to Support Sexual Freedom With $150

the letters donate on  dollar...
the letters donate on dollar...

The end of the year is giving season for many people. This year has been full of victories for same-sex couples, continued tragic battles for reproductive rights, glittery exploration of gender roles and frenzied hope for the Pope. Some people may see all of these events as part of a path toward sexual freedom, a cause worthy of financial support. For those who want to move beyond narrowly defined issues and support the larger movement toward sexual freedom, one central challenge is this: where do you send the check?

Sexual freedom means different things for different people. Generally speaking, sexual freedom is the capability to engage in sexual activity and expression of one's choosing, free from danger, fear and prejudice. Even that definition (which is already too narrow for some) includes an array of issues. The
, named after an early sexual freedom advocate Victoria Woodhull, lists the following key issues as components of sexual freedom:
  • Freedom of speech and expression
  • Health
  • Religion
  • LGBT issues
  • Civil Rights
  • Sex Work
  • Reproductive Justice
  • Sexuality Education
Sexual freedom is a constant cultural and political battleground. Targeting your charitable support can be tricky. Very few organizations work on all these issues, and even fewer do so under the banner of sexual freedom. If you want to use your charitable dollars to promote a larger sexual freedom goal, here is what I recommend.

Split your giving into two or more gifts. Collectively, consider these organizations as your 'sexual freedom' groups, even if they do not use that label to describe themselves. Groups that are effective in their particular area are going to label themselves in a way that makes sense in that area. So, for example, a group that works on religious tolerance or sexual health may not call itself a sexual freedom group. Don't let the label, or lack of one, get in your way. If you want to support them because they fit your definition of sexual freedom, you should consider them as such.

Pick the total amount you are going to give and then make all the gifts at the same time. Each gift can be any size. The important aspect of this method of giving is that the recipients collectively fit together in your mind to form a mini-portfolio of sexual freedom work.

Here is how I recommend choosing individual groups to support.

  • Start with the groups you have given to in the past. Don't overlook your church, school, library or other local groups. If they work on issues that could be considered part of sexual freedom, give to them again, except this year tell them why you are giving to them. Write a separate note to the organization's President or CEO (get the address from the website). If you put a note with a solicitation card in an envelope, or in the comments section on the donate page, it may not make it past the desk of the fundraising staff. A one sentence handwritten note will get more attention than a long email. Say something like "This year I've made my contribution to you in order to support the work that you do to protect sexual freedom."
  • Choose groups whose tactics you understand. If you are interested in politics, look at groups that lobby. If you spend time on the internet, choose a group with a good website or a good social media presence. If you have kids, choose a group that deals with youth issues. If you attend church, choose a group that deals with religion.
  • Make a small gift to at least one group that is outside of your normal interests, just to get on their mailing list. This will help you learn more about the issues.
  • Look at groups that can inform you about the 2016 elections. Organizations that have an office in Washington, D.C. are going to be monitoring issues about women's health, LGBT rights, girls education, sexuality education, an others.
  • If you can stomach it, make a gift for the purpose of opposition research. Each year I make the smallest possible gift to a conservative right-wing group (the Traditional Values Coalition or the American Family Association) in order to see what the opposing side is doing on these issues. Only do this if you are willing to be on their mailing lists and listen to their telephone calls (otherwise you are just giving them money). You will get calls on the days before elections and important legislative votes. Listen to the entire call and engage with the caller. There is no better reality-check than hearing the political script that is being given to millions of Americans on the other side.

You may ask about "overhead" and "administrative ratio." After nearly two decades running organizations and then working in the grantmaking field, I think it is a useless question. Social justice organizations are made up of researchers. advocates, lobbyists and other folk who sit at desks with computers and phones just like any other office worker. Having a high or low overhead tells you nothing, except possibly that they are located too far away from the capital, the courthouse or wherever they should be in order to be effective.

As with all gifts, your gift should be acknowledged and you should receive regular communication from the organization. If you don't receive anything from the group, cross them off your list for any future giving. If they are not able to keep engaged with you, a willing donor, then there is little likelihood they will be able to effectively engage anyone else.

Between the presidential elections, a potential new Justice on the Supreme Court and possible changes in the Catholic hierarchy in Rome, next year is bound to have an exciting mix of sexual freedom debates. Giving to groups now can help you to feel connected to the upcoming battles.