Last year I wrote a post about where we donated money. I started off with a few paragraphs justifying sharing this information at all, given its self-aggrandizing nature. But now I don’t need to justify it at all! Research has shown that when you tell people you’ve donated time or money they’re more likely to do it themselves. That’s right, doing good and then telling people about it is its own form of doing good.
Rachael and I picked out a bunch of charities last year and gave some money to each. This year, we decided to make two changes.
First, instead of donating lump sums at the end of the year we decided to set up ongoing monthly donations. This makes it easier for organizations to plan out their budgets, and it’s easier for us, too, since we can set it up once and then forget about it.
Second, instead of donating to a bunch of organizations, we decided to narrow our focus and attempt to increase our effectiveness.
Our giving is increasingly informed by the concept of effective altruism. The movement is based on figuring out how your donations can do the most good.
For example, let’s say you have $150 that you’d like to use to feed hungry children. Feeding America estimates that a meal in Oregon costs about three bucks, which means that your $150 would buy fifty meals here, or a little over two weeks worth of food.
If, on the other hand, you decided that you didn’t care where in the world your money went as long as it was feeding hungry kids, then you could donate to the World Food Program, which puts the cost of feeding a child at just $15 per month. So instead of buying a little over two weeks worth of food in Oregon, you could buy ten months worth of food in South Sudan, Yemen, Syria, or elsewhere.
Simply put, if you want your money to do the most good, put it where it can go the furthest. That usually means overseas.
Of course, there’s something to be said for helping those closest to you. Like your own children, for example. This is the point that the painfully reasonable David Brooks makes in this column from 2013.
The point here is not to neglect your own children so that another child half a world away can survive. Rather, that by spending just a tiny bit less on yourself and your kin you can make a gigantic different in someone else’s life.
All of that said, if you think that it doesn’t make sense to give any of your own money to people you don’t know and will never meet, this probably just isn’t the blog post for you. But if you just want your money to do the most good that it can, send it far away.
If you want to learn more about effective altruism, check out Vox’s Future Perfect site, or The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer. It’s a short read, and the tenth anniversary edition can be downloaded for free as an ebook or audiobook.
The first two charities in this list, Against Malaria and Helen Keller International, were recommended by GiveWell, a non-profit organization that does extremely rigorous evaluations of charities. In fact, our monthly donations are made at GiveWell’s discretion. They select charities on a quarterly basis based on effectiveness and current funding needs and then direct donations accordingly.
Against Malaria Foundation
Against Malaria Foundation distributes insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria, which affects over 200 million people worldwide and kills several hundred thousand. Bed nets are a cost-effective intervention that prevent suffering and save lives.
Helen Keller International
Helen Keller International supplies vitamin A supplements to children which prevent malnutrition and blindness. This brings up another example of what I was talking about earlier, which is that it’s much cheaper to prevent or alleviate blindness abroad than it is to do so here in the United States.
Our Climate is a political advocacy organization which focuses on fighting climate change. 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.
This organization is not connected with GiveWell, and I have no idea how cost-effective their efforts are. I doubt anybody else does, either. Still, I’m confident that climate change is the greatest threat we face, and so I think it makes sense to contribute money toward mitigating it, even if it might be impossible to judge how cost-effective the donations are.
One thing I didn’t do last year was share any information about how much we were donating. It felt a little bit like sharing how much we make, which is obviously (though perhaps unnecessarily) a cultural taboo.
Instead of sharing the actual dollar amount, I’ll say that we donated 3.3 percent of our income in 2019 to the organizations listed above. And when I say “our income” I actually mean Rachael’s, since she’s the only one working right now. 🤗
If you’re curious about how much of your income you might be able to donate, check out the calculator at The Life You Can Save, or read about the people who have pledged to donate ten percent of their income to charity.
It might seem impossible to donate ten percent of your income, but imagine you’re making $90,000 per year. Donating ten percent of that would leave you with $81,000. That extra $9,000 might mean a Mercedes instead of a Toyota for you, or it could mean saving two people’s lives who otherwise would’ve died from malaria, or funding twelve surgeries to repair obstetric fistulas, or protecting thousands of children from going blind.
Granted, donating ten percent of your income is much easier when you make $90,000 than when you make $30,000, but you get the point.
I’m happy with what we’re funding and how we’re doing it. Going forward, I’d like to increase the share of our income that we donate. Hopefully this will become a reality once I’m done with graduate school and both of us are working again.