for-profit businesses asking for donations as if they are nonprofits: THE RAGE


Sorry to yell, but I keep getting all shakey and screaming-with-rage about this. A sure sign it’s time for a blog post.

Every week it seems there’s a fresh new crop of for-profit enterprises asking for donations on my Facebook wall. Recently it was a vegan bodega in NYC.

Yes: you are supposed to give your hard-earned vegan cash to some vegans who want to sell you shit corporate junk food back to you. But it’s vegan junk food! So it’s totally fine.

This week it’s these hot boys making vegan doughnuts who want you to give them money so they can open up a shop selling you doughnuts. 

The doughnuts look fucking amazing (as do the boys, which I already mentioned. I digress.). And, as is typical with these things, you do get something in return for your cash: free doughnuts, in most cases.

So many of my friends are directly involved in projects like this, I’m beginning to think there’s something wrong with me that it makes me so ragey. Maybe it’s because my town is full of displaced people whose houses are ruined, businesses trashed, farms flooded? Maybe because people are starving all around the world, animals are being tortured everywhere, women are being beaten by men everywhere, etc etc forever forever?

It’s wonderful that these hot boys are making sexy little doughnuts.

I want to make that point clear. They look delicious. I keep meaning to seek them out when I’m in the city. But it’s not true activism. It’s joyful work, and it’s on the activism spectrum, sure. But treating doughnut-making like a non-profit makes me sick. Yes, of course, the vegan world needs delicious food activists making food so good it converts non-vegans instantly. I’d argue we are the core of the vegan movement, in fact. But there’s a line in the sand that separates us from non-profits—animal sanctuaries, animal rights groups, etc. We are not non-profits. We are here to support non-profits. We are also here, no matter how you spin it, to make money.

It’s really, really, really hard to run a small business, particularly a hardcore vegan foodie small business. I spend hundreds of hours a week doing it and have, full-time, for nine years now. Every single day of these nine years could I have used a free cash infusion. 

I work 12, 13, 14, 15 hours a day. I make poverty line wages (actually the shop is doing pretty grand, but it’s just that I have those three mortgages and student loans, renovation expenses, etc blah blah, sexy lingerie to buy on etsy, etc, so I’m always poor). But my job is pretty fucking easy. I make chocolates. My job is the literal definition of fun. And you know what? It is fun. Lots.

I’m not, like others I know, undercover working at slaughterhouses and coming home crying every night, taking hours’ long baths to attempt to soften my shocked and aching muscles so I can get through another awful day smothering baby chicks. I’m not, like others I know, a social worker attempting to keep teenage girls off heroin and alcohol. My job is not deserving of free money. 

Also, there already exists a system for funding businesses, called investors. It’s not my bag, being an anarchist and whatnot, but it works for some people. If I invested in a business, I’d sure want dividends, not “shout-outs” on websites and whatnot. I get that this new, social network-based investing system is meant to be something inbetween finding traditional investors and just straight-up asking for money, but it’s the appeal to one’s social-justice consciousness that annoys me. I do think sites like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter *can* be used to provide “investors” with something actually valuable or meaningful for their donation/investment, but a few doughnuts, a t-shirt here and there, and recognition seems pretty sad. Dun-Well is offering a sweet catered doughnut party, which seems fair for a larger donation–actually, several of the incentives seem logical: a doughnut named after you, a tile with your name on it in their shop-to-be. All of this seems fair, actually. My problem is with the appeal to one’s animal rights ethics. If you want to trade some money to a great little start-up in exchange for a bunch of doughnuts so they can get off the ground, please do. But please don’t pretend that NYC having a vegan doughnut shop is going to change the face of the animal rights world and thus your donation is as valuable as if you gave it to a true animal rights group.

Maybe a lot of it is pride. I guess I have to admit that. If I opened up my shop without help from my family and secret riches, others should be able to too. Of course I have my partner’s (rather scanty) income to lean on when things get lean, and I’ve borrowed a TON of money from friends over the years. And I’ve always paid it back. I never hesitated to ask, they never hesitated to give, I rushed to pay back. I also, as you know, do a ton of barters, and I suppose this is somewhat like a barter. Sort of. But I never acted like I’m doing God’s work by making caramel. I would have been ashamed to do so. I’ve certainly said it’s part of my mission to live a life in line with my values, and that the shop is my personal attempt at animal rights activism, but I’m sure not going to pretend that you buying chocolates there is yours.

My plan is to make money, I’m not going to pretend it’s not. I want to make enough to buy myself cute shoes, and eventually to build a small, eco-friendly house on that little bit of land Jacob and I own. I want to make enough to travel a bit, work a bit less, and, of course, to give to my favorite animal rights organizations and arts organizations and environmental organizations because I love animals and I love art and I love the earth and they are all essential for my sanity and survival.

I also love doughnuts. But never will I love doughnuts enough to donate money to two hot boys running a for-profit business making them.

Am I saying I feel superior to them, because I’ve managed to find a way to run a business without begging for money from well-intentioned people by appealing to their ethical beliefs in animal rights? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying, I suppose. And so it is.

Hmm. I just realized that as I edit this and mull this all over while answering emails, I just signed up to pay $250 to be a sponsor for New Paltz Flood Aid, which is basically giving money to farmers. How is it different? It is. And not just because it’s a catastrophe, because farming is just…different. Maybe I’m a hypocrite. I don’t know.

Don’t give money to people running for-profit businesses, friends.

It’s a disgusting thing to ask of you.

18 Responses to “for-profit businesses asking for donations as if they are nonprofits: THE RAGE”

  1. Tamara McFarland

    As usual you are WAY more articulate than I am and I have never quite put it all together even in my mind the way you have here, but I TOTALLY feel the same way. xoxo

  2. adriennefriend

    I don’t exactly fly into rage, but I have been known to get seriously pissy about this very issue on several occasions. For example, last month a friend told me her pal couldn’t start her food business (“her dream”) because she didn’t meet the goal on Kickstarter. A little stunned, I managed a judgment: if it’s her dream, if it’s really what gets her up in the morning, she can make it work without fifteen thousand dollars up front. (Why is it always $15K? Have you noticed that?!)

    It’s amazing what a negative effect Kickstarter has had on folks’ industriousness and creativity in such a short amount of time – as though not having up-front backing means that you won’t be successful at all. That it’s necessary. Maybe I’m just being prideful too, but I look around my kitchen and see a single vollrath stainless steel bowl, a single 12-in cast iron skillet, a decent enough blender, yard sale pots and pans (or, in some cases, stuff I got from dead relatives) and I feel just fine (except for maybe the dead relatives part. But hey, their stuff lives on! Most notably Nate’s gramma’s Maid of Honor copper-bottom pot that I cleaned up and now use for EVERYTHING!). The most important thing I needed when I struggled with the idea of starting my own business was a good example (you) and encouragement (my friends in general). It was all psychological. The thought of having a fat bank account never occurred. I just did it.

    On that note: I think I have also been struggling with the way Kickstarter seems to take advantage of friend networks without being aware of and grateful for the (often white & class) privilege and accessibility one already has. When I see young, articulate, well-educated, creative white people asking for money for their for-profit businesses on Kickstarter, I can’t help but think immediately of how well-connected they must already be. (This may be cruel of me, but they’re kind of the last folks I want to just give money?) Since they DO have so much going for them already, I would hope that they could consciously seek to deepen relationships that already exist. It would be more work than making a Kickstarter page, but it also has the potential to transform one’s community.

    anyway, I’m really tired so these are just some preliminary thoughts. I’m looking forward to hearing what others have to say. Your posts always provoke such great conversation. And while I haven’t had D-W donuts yet, one of my besties is a personal friend who has known them since the beginning and says they have a pretty dang superior product. I hope they succeed – I want to support them (and the others!) buy buying their products! :)

    • Joshua May

      this, times a million.

      Kickstarter is irritating me a lot of late. earlier on, it seemed relatively noble. high signal to noise. I think the signal is around the same today, but there’s a whole lot more noise to drown it out.

      and yes, I’ve donated on Kickstarter, but I’m pretty choosy.

      I put some money into Kiva for my first time yesterday. I like it, because it calls it as it should be: business loans. it’s empowering people, not just giving a handout. it’s spurring entrepreneurship in locations where that might have otherwise been super difficult. often, none of them are particularly innovative, yet it’s still providing meaningful opportunity. I like that. they’re going in it for-profit, sure, but they’ll pay you back too :)

  3. secondwindcsa

    I totally agree. Haven’t these guys ever heard of a business loan??? Also, sustainable farming is different. It’s a community cause and there was a catastrophe, and there is no aid available.

  4. JenMcCleary

    Yeah, that’s pretty irritating. Although it doesn’t bug me as much as this one who is asking for funding to travel around for a year and eat at every vegan restaurant in the US and blog about it.

    I’m sure there are good intentions there but I don’t really buy the whole “raising awareness of veganism” thing in this case. I’d love to quit my job travel around and travel around and eat at lots of restaurants but no way would I ever ask anyone else to pay for it.

  5. Meghan

    There’s more than a hint of snake-oil salesmanship in the whole thing.

    To get investors or even a loan, you woo with things like a business plan and viable numbers; banks and venture capitalists are rather notoriously disinterested in the ethics and intentions of the businesses they finance.

    To be crowd-funded, on the other hand, there’s no need to demonstrate that you actually have any kind of viable business in the offing, and in fact, practical data is likely to turn people off. The whole thing hinges on coming across as lovable little guys with an agenda you can get behind. In an economic environment where the profit motive is ruining lives left and right, it’s easier to sell yourself as a crusader than a merchant.

    This weird cynical spin thing happens across the board on Kickstarter. Last year when a bunch of local bands got a showcase at CMJ in New York, they used it to raise money for their travel fund. We’re a small city and it’s a supportive scene, and if they’d played fundraisers or whatever, people would likely have really supported them. As it was, instead of acknowledging that it would just make their lives easier to get money through Kickstarter, they pitched it as though they were doing all the other musicians in town a favor, intrepid explorers paving the way to out-of-state glory for the rest of us. They got some support, but they were also called out very publicly and told to stop begging and start saving their pennies for the tour like everyone else does.

    Ultimately, I don’t really have a problem with the basic idea. If someone has an idea and someone else finds it inspiring enough to give money, fine. For my taste, though, pretty much all the projects are too long on charisma and condescension and too short on substance.

  6. Bettina

    The thing is, Kickstarter tells a good story with their videos and incentives to donate. The medium itself makes you want to tell a good story to inspire people to donate. Who are the people who donate to strangers via Kickstarter? Or is it all friends? I’ve supported documentary films on Kickstarter from strangers that may not be non-profit but were stories I wanted to see told on film.

    I’m not against people using Kickstarter for whatever their project is, but maybe we should make some sexy videos for our favorite non-profits and put it up there?

  7. Jordan

    Wait it gets worse…. What I go into a rage over is when nonprofits make Millions of dollars a year and then do jack shit with it! No new buildings no new barns and put their sanctuarys on full lists!! Some of them have thousands of acres just sitting there. I help run a sanctuary of over 300 animals on less then 10 acres (everyone is healthy and has alot of room) We throw events sometimes nine a year just to feed the animals. There are no wages at the farm all of our work is free. We struggle to make the feed bill and empty our pockets for the vet bills. Then you have non profits that sit on stock piles of millions of dollars and do nothing but advertise for more money! Maybe those cocksuckers should buy doughnut shops! It makes it all so hard to know what non profit is legit and who is blowing smoke up your ass. I love this post Lagusta! And those pretty boys can calm the fuck down about doghnut shops, when there are sweet little people who have to smother even sweeter little chickens.

  8. Jordan

    wait wait wait….. I just saw the video of the doghnut boys, And their efforts seem sweet,,,, However instead of them traveling the world they should have been saving for the shop (just sayin). I’m still with you Lagusta, They shouldnt spin it like a nonprofit when at the end of the day they want 50 bucks for a free fucking doghnut!!

  9. Michel

    I found you because the whole idea of for-profit businesses asking for “donations” makes me stabby, really stabby, and I had to see if I was the only one.

    • lagusta

      Welcome to our stabby stabby world! There are so few of us. We must stick together.

  10. Frustrated

    I completely agree!!! There are local businesses asking for business supply donations all the time. And I mean like art supplies they can use to run for profit art classes, not office supplies.

    If you run a business (and I did for several years), it is shameful to ask for donations that you are going to turn around and use for making money. Save up your own money rather than taking the hard earned money someone else saved and not repaying it!!!! What is wrong with people!!!??? They want to start a business, but they don’t want to get loans they have to repay despite the fact they want to make a profit off of the money.

    They should at least offer a return on investment. Anyone with a conscience wouldn’t just expect handouts because they want something they can’t afford. Talk about greed/entitlement! People are starting go fund me for cars instead of saving their own money now too. I’m disgusted. These same people usually say they “can’t afford” to help others in their life (I knew one more closely that I would have liked. He eventually got caught swindling the government and lost the business). In my mind, it is just conman behavior. You want something…. You work for it or you get a loan. They asking other people to pay for their non-essential dreams. They aren’t starving on the street, they aren’t jobless and asking for investors that they will eventually repay, there is no intent to repay. They want so you should be nice and give…. God help us….


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