I recently attended a national conference of professionals in the field of Independent Living. I showed up in my mask and wore it most of the time, but I still felt the unspoken peer pressure of, hey, most are NOT wearing masks, and I don’t want to be the dork. So I was ambivalent, sometimes putting it on, most of the time not after that. Maybe it didn’t really matter.

I came home and read this powerful post from Disability Visibility and I am reposting it here. It made me change my mind. I WILL be masking at future national conferences, out of respect for my peers whose immune systems need my support.

Why I Won’t Be Organizing Any In-Person Fundraising Events For the Foreseeable Future

Ingrid Tischer

Informational graphic from the CDC. The text message is “Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.” The stylized image is of a woman wearing a mask and walking two dogs outside on leashes. She is alone with the dogs.
Informational graphic from the CDC. The text message is “Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.” The stylized image is of a woman wearing a mask and walking two dogs outside on leashes. She is alone with the dogs.

Reasons, I’ve got a few. But this still-current guidance from the CDC for high-risk people is the one that matters for any organization claiming inclusion as a core value.

Because May is Mental Health Awareness Month and what better time could there be for me, a high-risk Development Director at a nonprofit, to deal with my depression flare’s connection to fundraising-event season, both of which are now in full swing, just like the newest Covid surge. Why, you ask?

Because I don’t want to organize a fundraising event I can’t attend.

Because I’m going with scientific reality versus magical thinking about a deadly virus that could make me disappear.

Because my professional judgment based on 30 years in this field is that an in-person event where people have to be on their guard about a highly-contagious, life-threatening disease doesn’t sound festive or like a feasible option that merits extended discussion. 

Because “caveat donator” (let the donor beware) is an irresponsible standard for a non-profit.

Because the choice you make as an individual about going to an in-person gathering is different from an organization’s choice to host an in-person fundraising event during a pandemic that, yes, is still going on. This is not disability justice. This is not solidarity.

Because I’m a crip who wants to go on being part of the resistance and resisting is really hard if I’m no longer existing.

Because you may be just fine if you test positive for Covid after having had your mask off for a few minutes while you noshed at a fundraising event but the high-risk people you inevitably interact with afterwards may not be. The same goes for the attendees’ high-risk loved ones.

Because what you see as a negligible risk for a few outliers is the still-blood-chilling risk for the group of people I’m in, whose deaths and severe illness we don’t even have detailed reporting on. Even with vaccines and treatments available now, that doesn’t mean everyone has access to them. Mind you, there are still people who cannot be vaccinated or are not eligible for existing treatments.

Because, to paraphrase what I said as an HIV/AIDS test counselor in the 90s, we should all be practicing harm reduction and safer eventing.

Because harm reduction + your mental health needs = prioritizing the in-person togetherness that brings you maximum joy with the least risk. I value all of the fundraising events I’ve ever worked on but I’m pretty sure you have more meaningful options for gatherings that get your mental health needs met.

Because a commitment to racial equity includes centering the people who those “outliers” are likely to be, given the rates of disability and chronic illness in BIPOC communities. In addition to poor, older, and/or higher-weight people.

Because choosing to host an in-person fundraising event is encouraging the implicit message that the pandemic is over and things are back to “normal”  whether you intend to or not.

Because fundraising event planners take a sacred oath that starts with: First, do no harm to your attendees.

Because hybrid fundraising events end up creating two tiers where non-high-risk people get to talk and hang out and socialize, and a lesser event where high-risk people are passively watching stuff on-screen that they cannot be part of. 

Because if passively watching stuff on screen is enough for me then it should be enough for everyone else.

Because, yes, I am okay with non-high-risk people losing the sense of relief that everything is going back to normal because their false-positive is going to keep high-risk people in danger that much longer.

Because your relief in going back to “normal” is my grief in being sent back to the margins where attending in-person fundraising events is tiring, stressful, and expensive, and makes me afraid that the ease that was the saving grace of the last 2 years is going to inexorably dwindle away.

Because I’ve accommodated other people’s preference for in-person fundraising events for all of my worklife and had only 2 years of not having to do things like pee-math as part of my job. 

Because it bummed me out to be pitted against people with different types of disabilities who can’t access virtual fundraisers instead of being in solidarity that we can use what we’ve learned to look at such events differently.

Because high-risk people are in every donor population and intentionally planning a fundraising event where people like us can’t be present conflicts with the idea of No Funding About Us Without Us

Because fundraising events are supposed to showcase our values, like equal access and inclusion, not conflict with them by excluding an entire class of people.

Because an in-person fundraising event is not necessary unless your mission and services are inseparable from gathering together outdoors safely, as with non-contact sport programs.

Because if there’s an organizational commitment to a principle like #NoBodyIsDisposable then fundraising cannot undermine that or the organization loses credibility and trust.

Because it matters if high-risk people aren’t at the fundraising event with you. 

Because I’d be a hypocrite the size of a Republican’s ego if I organized or was associated with an in-person fundraiser before the pandemic is under control after taking other organizations to task for their lack of access and inclusion. 

Because I’m a zombie-killer when it comes to the ableist, won’t-die insistence that “real” community-building can only happen face-to-face.

Because holding firm to “better safe than sorry” is what my crip-leadership looks like right now.

Because, in fundraising terms, your promised solidarity with high-risk people isn’t a pledge you can write off.

Because I can’t believe I have to actually explain this but planning a fundraiser that you know isn’t really safe isn’t the good kind of “disaster-planning.”

Because still being alive after the last two years is a privilege and I’m not going to misuse it by creating a potential superspreader hazard for other people, even if they don’t see a danger.

ABOUT

Photo of Ingrid, a middle-aged White woman with a long gray/brown ponytail who is wearing a bright blue dress and a colorful cloth face-mask. She's sitting in her wheelchair outdoors, next to a fuschia orchid. Photo credit: Christopher Egusa
Photo of Ingrid, a middle-aged White woman with a long gray/brown ponytail who is wearing a bright blue dress and a colorful cloth face-mask. She’s sitting in her wheelchair outdoors, next to a fuschia orchid. Photo credit: Christopher Egusa

Ingrid Tischer (white, she/her) has been a Bay Area–based “accidental” fundraiser and non–profit manager for 30 years, going from a women’s free clinic on Haight Street to a national cross-disability rights center. She is currently setting up a coaching-for-liberation practice focused on the emotional landscape of disability, chronic illness, and aging, to better cope with the ableism that pops up to block progress in your life, work, and creative projects. Her practice will also work with allies and organizations on how to grow a culture of access that addresses work-disability balance, disability-related implicit bias, and succession-without-stigma planning. Her blogs are www.talesfromthecrip.org and www.disabledindevelopment.org. This post is found at https://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/2022/05/24/why-i-wont-be-organizing-any-in-person-fundraising-events-for-the-foreseeable-future/

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