The Miser In Me


OK, stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

A friend — not a close friend, because you haven’t talked in a long time, but hey, you’d say hi if you saw them in Chinatown — has posted a breathless announcement on Facebook that they have just received the opportunity of a lifetime to study frogs in Romania/take a service trip to Kenya to dig wells for rural villages/pursue a lifelong dream of cooking gumbo in Georgia.

They’re all set to get up and move, but they are hoping you, and all their closest, dearest friends, could find it in your heart to send over just $50 to help pay their airfare.

If your lower lip has already begun to curl in distaste, then we are kindred souls.

Crowdfunding (a la or is a new social frontier (and minefield), and not everybody knows how to navigate it with tact. So I have put together a brief etiquette guide to help you better ask your friends and family for some extra cash (or know when not to).

If you’re going on a service trip … It’s really great that you want to help underprivileged children in another state or country. Really! But if you can’t afford to go on this trip in the first place, perhaps it would make more sense to help the underprivileged children where you live. Get involved with a local nonprofit, do some good here, and then think about expanding your efforts.

If you’re starting up a small business … Asking for investors for your small business venture is fine, as long as they and you understand what is on the table. But when you take the Kickstarter approach to business, reneging on promises made to friends can get ugly … particularly when the project fails and you have to get on with life as normal, with the specter of their investment hanging over you.

If you’re sick and need help … This is OK. The American health system needs work, and medical bills are expensive. There are tons of unforeseen and mountainous things that come up. If your friends can help, let them help you.

If you’re just flat-out asking for money … Get a job to pay for your own Adele tickets and vacation getaway.

However, the No. 1 ultimate cardinal sin is not returning unused money. Like, say your service trip got canceled, your business cut out early or you ended up not needing the surgery. The correct thing to do is return everything you got. Don’t keep it for the “future.” Don’t say you’re donating everything to a charity that you believe in. People gave it to you for a specific reason, and you’re not using it for that. Give. It. Back. At the very least, offer. Don’t take advantage of the goodwill of others.

Sure, it seems like common sense when I lay it out. But the glee of digital dollars rolling into your account sometimes erodes the logical side of your brain. Just be smart and spread goodwill. That’s all you can do.