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Jan 09
Opinion Pieces
Inseparability of Donating Time and Money

By Gordon Shotwell

For several years now, I have staffed Sun Camp. But last summer I had to leave early because I had started working at a bank and didn’t have enough vacation days to staff the entire program. Leaving early was a heartbreaking, and for a little while I thought about calling my boss and requesting a couple of unpaid days off in order to see the program through.

This experience got me thinking about the somewhat irrational way that we relate to donations of money and time. The reality was that Sun Camp didn’t actually need me – there were plenty of brilliant people volunteering, and while I’m sure I would be missed in some sense, it likely wouldn’t cause a great deal of inconvenience. I realized that, as we were in the process of fundraising for a new kitchen, a financial donation would actually be more valuable than my presence at the camp. So I decided to return to Toronto, go to work, and donate the money I made during those three days to Sun Camp.

Each year I probably donate about a month of work to Sun Camp, and I’m thrilled to do it. Whether I’m at camp, running around buying t-shirts, or doing administrative work over the year, I feel genuinely happy and fortunate to be contributing to the program. I do this every year, but if someone asked me to donate one months wages to Sun Camp, or any other Shambhala program for that matter, I would start to feel like they were asking a lot. Volunteering for a month doesn’t seem like too much to give up, but $2000? That’s asking a lot.

What’s so strange about this is that I spend most of my day exchanging time for money. We all do. We wake up and go to work in order to trade time for money, we work hard and get professional training so that we can make that at a better rate. As a result of this, when we donate time we are actually donating money and vice versa.

Because labor and money are interchangeable, we should reasonably donate whichever one is most needed. Sometimes that means washing dishes at a Shambhala Training program, sometimes that means washing dishes at a restaurant and donating your wages, sometimes that means staffing Sun Camp, sometimes that means going back to work.

When I came back to Toronto I decided to relate to my professional work just like I related to work at camp. I took out a piece of paper and wrote “Rota: Test Credit Derivative Trading Software” and then I wrote down my name. This did an enormous amount to cheer me up. I wasn’t just slouching off to work, I was doing something material for the world. The financial donation was a way of connecting my worklife with practice. At the end of the day I quietly dedicated the merit, calculated my before tax income for the day, and pledged it to the kitchen project.

When an organization asks for financial donations they are asking for volunteers. They are asking for people to donate the product of their time. My suggestion is to actually formalize this practice: give up a day, three days, or longer, write down your rota, and give it away.

Gordon Shotwell grew up in the Shambhala community in Halifax, he currently serves as the Nova Scotia Regional Chair for the Shambhala Sun Camp Leadership Group. Gordon lives and works in Toronto.

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1 response to “ Inseparability of Donating Time and Money ”
  1. Thanks for this article. I was very helpful.

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