Where Our Donations Went in 2018

I know it seems arrogant to tell other people about your own charity. Not only am I bragging about having a few extra dollars to give away, but I’m even more superior because I’m using it to feed the hungry! Or cure malaria! Or whatever! For a couple reasons, though, this is a risk I’m willing to take.

First, we talk about how we spend our money all the time, it’s just that some things are more acceptable to talk about than others. Telling your friends abut a trip to Europe or Hawaii? That’s talking about money. Telling them about buying a car or a house? That’s talking about money. Why should we feel OK talking about a trip or a new house (money spent on ourselves) but shy talking about donations (money spent on others)? It doesn’t make sense.

Second, several of the organizations we donated to weren’t on my radar till recently, so hopefully this helps spread the word.

I’m not saying that anybody should feel obligated to share (brag about) their donations, but people shouldn’t feel shy, either. Donating is good, and we’d all be better off if it were more common. As it stands now, about 55 percent of Americans donate to charity, which is down from about 68 percent in 2002.

The Charities

The Brady Campaign

I’m not against guns, but like the vast majority of Americans, I do support regulating them. This is exactly what the Brady Campaign advocates for. In case you’re curious, it’s named for the late James Brady, a presidential staffer who was critically wounded by John Hinckley Jr. when he tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan.

The American Civil Liberties Union

Before she died, Molly Ivins said: “It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.” That, in a nutshell, is what the ACLU works toward, and the reason why we support it.

One thing that has put the ACLU in the news lately is it’s challenge of the Trump administration’s asylum ban, which was recently struck down by the Supreme Court.

The Southern Poverty Law Center

Like the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center is focused on civil rights litigation. More specifically, they target white supremacist and hate groups. In the wake of Charlottesville and groups emboldened by President Trump, I think that organizations need all the help they can get.


This year I began to feel increasingly helpless as climate change marched forward and our world leaders, well, didn’t. So I decided to try buying carbon offsets. These come in many different forms, but the general idea is that you donate money to a project or organization which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thereby offsetting your own (presumably unavoidable) emissions.

I offset Rachael, my, and Idara’s carbon footprint through an organization called nativeEnergy, which manages small-scale green energy and environmental projects. I heard about them through the Sierra Club, which partners with them to offset the cost of their organized vacations.

Carbon offsets were maligned for a time as a modern form of indulgence (a scheme in which the Catholic Church would allow you to offset your sins with donations to the church), but I think the industry is improving. If you’d like to learn more, this article from a few years ago provides a good summary. One surprising thing I learned in my research was that it would only take about $15 per month to offset the average American’s carbon footprint.

I don’t think the solution to climate change is for everyone to buy carbon offsets (really, the best thing you can do is probably to just vote for people who take it seriously). But it can’t hurt, either.

Our Climate

While nativeEnergy is focused on actually building projects with mitigate climate change, Our Climate is focused on political advocacy. Their strategy is to train and sponsor young people (who will bear the brunt of climate change’s effects) to act as climate advocates.

I found out about Our Climate through Gordy, my father-in-law, who is on their board of directors.

Rachael and I were lucky to have supportive employers that allowed us the time and space we needed to focus on bringing Idara into the world. Many people aren’t so lucky, which is a situation that PL+US is attempting to change. They push businesses to extend paid parental leave to their employees, and have recently won victories for Starbucks and Walmart employees.

Malaria Consortium

I heard about the Malaria Consortium from a podcast called Future Perfect. The podcast is focused on the idea of effective altruism.

One of the central tenets of effective altruism is getting as much bang for your charitable buck as possible. A good way to do that is by spending money on preventable diseases in places with low costs of living, like sub-Saharan Africa. It’s no surprise that Bill and Melinda Gates focus so much energy on malaria.

The Malaria Consortium, for its part, runs several programs, like giving anti-malarial drugs to children to prevent illness and death.


GiveDirectly takes a different approach. Instead of focusing on a particular problem like malaria, they operate on the libertarian assumption that people know what they need most, so if you just give them money then they can buy it.

The organization has thus far focused its efforts on Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.

Going Forward

I think eight charities is a lot to keep track of, so next year I think we’ll narrow it down to a more reasonable four or five. I’ll also probably focus on one charity per category, assuming the categories include climate change, civil rights, families, and communicable diseases.

The other change I’d like to make is to choose organizations at the beginning of the year and set up ongoing donations rather than donating a lump sum at the end of the year. It would allow less flexibility on our part, but I’m sure it’s better for the organizations we’re giving to if they can count on a steady stream of income.