Housing Help Foundation

Young Family Moving Into New HomeThe right to housing is a social-justice issue I’ve been concerned with most of my life. Years ago, I promised myself that someday I would make a difference for people who needed help with housing. Today is that day. My new nonprofit foundation, Housing Help, is up and running.

After seeing some family members struggle to save enough money to pay the first/last/deposit required to move into even a cheap apartment, I realized that was a critical need here in Lane County. So that’s what Housing Help will do: Write checks to rental companies/landlords so that homeless families can move out of their cars (or friend’s garage) and into a space of their own. We will also help people facing eviction because of a temporary crisis, so they can stay in their homes. (More specific information is on our website.)

Housing Help may accomplish more than that someday, but our scope for now is limited, because we want to be successful in that single endeavor. Some wonderful friends have joined my board of directors, and we’re committed to helping at least one family a month. I’ll be contributing significantly to the foundation, but I have no plans, as yet, to link book sales to my donations. I may run special promotions to raise money for the charity, but I think it’s best to keep them separate.

A local charity, St. Vincent de Paul, already does some of this type of charity, but they have limited resources and strict policies. Also, I wanted to offer donors concerned with housing the option of making a contribution to a nonreligious charity. We won’t discriminate or require our recipients to adhere to any religious principles. But we are networking with St. Vincent’s, and if they have to turn away worthy recipients, they’ll refer them to our charity.

Now when you see the Housing Help logo on my website and Facebook pages, you’ll know what it means. I hope it inspires you to make a donation, or do something even bigger/better in your own community.

Should Charity Be Profitable?

Amercian Broadcasting CompanyA news story this week asked “Is ABC Going to Far in Covering Robin Roberts Illness?” The journalist was speculating about whether the network’s “concern” had crossed the line into exploitation in an attempt to boost ratings.

It’s a very fine line and a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately because it applies to authors, charity, and book sales. Many authors have donated the profit, or part of the profit, of a new book to charity, typically a charity or medical cause that corresponds with a theme in the story. And in doing so, they boost their sales and visibility.

On the surface, this seems noble, and we did it on the Crime Fiction Collective blog when the tornado tore apart Joplin Missouri. We all donated all of our profits during a certain time period to a Joplin family, who was very grateful for the help. I even think it was my idea.

But the more I ponder this trend, the more I believe that for myself, charity needs to be separate from commerce. Any donation I make should be done out of compassion and goodwill alone—without profiting from it directly through increased sales.

But why not accomplish both things at once, when it seems so expedient? I’m not sure I can articulate why I’ve come to feel this way. Except that rooting for your book to sell is a completely different emotion and experience than sending money to help others in need—perhaps even a contradictory one.

I understand why authors do this. Their hearts are in the right place. And the readers who buy those books are even more commendable. They’re figure they’re going to spend money on books anyway, so why not make a donation to charity at the same time?

Many businesses also run these campaigns. A pizza parlor down the street often donates part of its one-day profits to a charity, school, or foundation. Everybody wins.

And I understand what ABC is trying to accomplish: educate viewers, raise money for medical research, and boost its ratings. But has it gone too far? Probably. Charities are by definition nonprofit, and raising money for, or donating to, a cause without directly profiting from the effort seems more noble. Yet goodwill results naturally from generosity, so indirect benefits are inevitable, but they’re not the same as direct profit.

I’m not saying it’s wrong for authors to connect their books to a charity. It’s just not something I’m comfortable doing myself. But I’m probably in the minority here. What do you think?

Helping a Family in Joplin

As I watched families pick through the rubble of their homes, looking for shoes for their kids, I felt sickened and helpless. I tried to imagine what it would feel to have lost everything and not have enough money to rent a motel room for the week. So I decided to do what I could. Together with my blog partners at Crime Fiction Collective, we’re raising money to help a family in Joplin. Read more