There is No Magic in Money (Pt. 1)

There is no magic in money. Regardless of whether you hold to the Secret, and the myriad ways of manifesting it, money intrinsically does not have magical capabilities. It can’t of itself cheat death, make the IRS disappear, or arouse love in others. It cannot even solve poverty, although intuitively, that seems to be what money should be able to do.

As a social worker with some real-world professional experience in two states, Texas and Colorado, and having lived in five, some of those years being poor myself, I’ve seen the ineffectiveness of the money lead. That is, the knee-jerk tendency to throw money at the problem without an effective plan, administration, follow-through or support from complementary resources. Most recently, a supervisee of mine described a grant-funded program sponsored by a government agency ostensibly supporting underserved clients. While the basic idea was excellent, the implementation was woefully ineffective and the administration frankly lame. What were the grant administrators thinking? They were thinking, here’s a really cool idea, let’s throw money at it and see if the basic concept, despite poor planning, will work. Sad story. Common story.

Luckily, a good teacher came my way early on, debunking this notion and replacing it with a much better one. I’m in my early 20’s, on the final leg of a biking trek through Canada and the North Pacific. Exhausted and unscrubbed, I decide to forego the final stretch between Oregon and northern California, and catch a ride with a total stranger. While this could be the set-up of a horror story, instead fortune is smiling. The man is a community activist, Navajo lineage, happily married and the father of a six-year-old son. He runs workshops for public and private agencies struggling to make a go of it, and starts each workshop by asking the participants what will help their agencies out the most. Almost always, the majority respond “money!” He writes it on the ubiquitous large pad present in all workshops, and then promptly crosses it out.

Paul is a firm believer in figuring out what the resources are in the community, strengthening the relationship between those resources, and addressing the problems each agency is dedicated to. The need for funding recedes as the effectiveness of the agencies is enhanced. Over and over again, he saw this happening as he followed up, months and even years later; over and over again, I’ve witnessed and even had the pleasure in participating in agencies that assessed the problem and then, instead of immediately going for the money, disciplined themselves to clarify how best to address the issue, and what in the community was already out there referencing in some way that same issue. When some friends and I started the Gay Lesbian Association of Durango, finding money to support community events, a support phone line, and political action (Amendment 2, anyone) was the last element on our radar. Instead, we milked local and state resources and tapped into our volunteer base, as well as aligning with Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and starting up a local chapter of PFLAG. In our tri-county area, we turned DOWN Amendment 2 by an eight-point spread, and enhanced the wellbeing of hundreds of people, including allies, all without heavy funding.

So what does this have to do with you and your bank account? To be continued...

Inga K. Larson, LCSW CMT

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