Archive for January, 2017

Doing something small but meaningful

Post-US election, I’ve seen some advice on how to have impact (mostly focused on political impact) through small but meaningful actions, and do so sustainably. I wanted to start collecting such resources here.

A friend wrote on how to be more politically involved without burnout:

1. I know donating money doesn’t feel like doing a lot, but it’s often the most effective and efficient way you can help people or push for change. Setting up automatic monthly donations to your organizations of choice is extremely helpful because it allows them to plan effectively over the longer term rather than trying to figure out what to do with a sudden windfall or figure out how to make up an unexpected shortage. Check whether your employer has a matching program for extra leverage!

2. I looked at my weekly schedule and found a few places I reliably have time to make phone calls and do research (to figure out what I need to be making phone calls about and be sure I have enough background information)….

3. I am trying out a few local volunteer opportunities, and I’ll see what sticks in the long term.  If [the first thing I try] doesn’t seem sustainable for me I’ll look for a different opportunity. When you are considering volunteer opportunities, look for things you will enjoy. Do you like talking to people? Do you enjoy manual labor? Would you like your volunteering better if you brought some friends with you, if you worked alone, or if you got to meet lots of new people?

4. Connecting with an organized group is a fantastic way to avoid reduplicating a lot of effort. I’m using the spreadsheet at to guide my calling efforts and short-circuit my dithering about how to rank the many important issues I could be working on….

6. Don’t think too hard about where to put your efforts. There are lots of different things you could be advocating for, donating to, or helping with. You don’t have to find the very best one! It’s really easy for me to get caught up in trying to figure out what the very most important issue is, and how I specifically can be the very most effective helper I can, but every minute devoted to trying to figure out what to do is a minute you aren’t actually doing the thing. Pick a set time to research — “I am going to find and compare organizations working to help people register to vote for the special elections in North Carolina for 30 minutes” — and then go from there. ( — they’re currently organizing, so they know money will help and they’ll be contacting me later in the month or in February to let me know what else I can do from out of state)…

More good advice at the link.  And I like that a lot of the advice also applies well to any cause (burnout is always an issue), which also giving concrete examples and resources for people who share the author’s causes.  Also, I miiiight be the kind of person frequently subject to analysis paralysis. ;)  So the last point is well taken.

Do Something, courtesy of Crooked Media, also has a bunch of resources with specific suggestions for actions.  Most very specifically are related to electing more Democrats and/or fighting Trump.  If those are your causes, check their links out.  (To be clear about my own biases: I am mostly aligned with those causes, but try to keep this blog less partisan and more focused on effective solutions to specific issues.)  I’ve bookmarked the Indivisible Guide to dive into more later.  The subtitle is “Former congressional staffers reveal best practices for making Congress listen” — it looks like it’s got a lot of broadly applicable advice for getting things done within the US political system.

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Some actual good news from 2016

If you’ve read my past charity evaluations, you’ve seen that Innovations for Poverty Action has rated at or near the top of my rec lists for effective charities.  They perform scientific research on how to effectively help large numbers of people out of poverty, and into healthier, happier, lives.  They focus on identifying high impact, scalable solutions.  Their results impact policies and actions worldwide.

IPA just shared in the Washington Post some of the brighter spots from their last year of research, as well as some takeaways for future giving, in an article entitled, Why 2016 was actually one of the best years on record.  I’m quoting it very extensively here so I can add my own bolding, but it’s worth clicking through and reading the whole thing, particularly if you’re interested in more relevant studies and details:

Between 1990 and 2013 (the last year for which there is good data), the number of people living in extreme poverty dropped by more than half, from 1.85 billion to 770 million. As the University of Oxford’s Max Roser recently put it, the top headline every day for the past two decades should have been: “Number of people in extreme poverty fell by 130,000 since yesterday.” At the same time, child mortality has dropped by nearly half, while literacy, vaccinations and the number of people living in democracy have all increased.

….Here are four things we’ve learned in 2016:

First, give the poor cash. Studies in Kenya and elsewhere show that the simplest way to help is also quite effective…. More and more research shows that when the poor come into a windfall, they spend it on productive things — sending their children to school, fixing the roof that’s letting in the harsh weather or investing in a business….

Second, innovative health-care delivery can dramatically improve outcomes…. [In Uganda, NGOs have tried training women who do Avon-style door-to-door sales to also] perform basic health checks for children to look for symptoms that warrant getting the child to a clinic. One randomized evaluation released this year concluded that taking this health care to people’s homes reduced child mortality (for those younger than 5) by an astounding 27 percent and infant mortality (less than a year old) by 33 percent.

Third, access to mobile money may lift people out of poverty in large numbers.…. Research from this year shows that as [Kenya mobile money system] M-Pesa became more available in a local area, households became less poor — particularly households run by women. The study estimates that 185,000 women changed professions from subsistence agriculture to business and retail and that 194,000 households were lifted out of extreme poverty.

Finally, mobile phone technologies are leapfrogging the reach of traditional telecom infrastructure, and text message reminders are proving to be effective at helping people follow through on things they want to do. One study found that they helped the poor save money. [Others found they can help patients finish taking antimalarial drugs, help educate girls about reproductive health, and reduce student dropout rate.]

The size of the impacts in the cited studies are very impressive, as are the overall numbers for the past ~2 decades.  (It’s a bit silly for the headline to imply that 2016 is one of the best years on record in terms of poverty reduction, though, given that we won’t be able to get good data for a bit — but these are definitely some great research results that will presumably steepen the decline of poverty going forward.)  I’m also encouraged, as someone who hears a lot of well-intentioned suggestions from the tech sector about how tech can take on problems like poverty, to hear that some mobile solutions are actually substantially effective in this problem space.

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Donation recommendations… for 2017?!

Wow, I’m way on top of my game this year!  … Sort of. :)

I did a lot of research on where I should donate this year that I didn’t end up using – that is, I decided in the end to donate to the same orgs I’ve donated to in the past.  Why?  Because getting on even more organizations’ mailing lists is a pain, and I’ve decided that I’m going to donate anonymously via a donor-advised fund in the future so that I can avoid the mailing lists.  But that means I have to set it up first. :P

The good news, though, is that my donation research mega-spreadsheet should still be applicable in ~10-11 months when I am next donating.  And for everything subjective, I tried to document everything I was thinking along the way so that others (and future me) can adjust the conclusions according to taste or according to anything that’s changed.  I’ll reshare it on various social networks when it’s “giving season” again.


Notes and caveats:

  1. You may not agree with the list of charities I’ve evaluated so far (in which case I’d love to hear what you think I left out — though please see my To Evaluate and Didn’t Make the Cut tabs).
  2. You may also not agree with my criteria or weighting (heck, I’m not sure I agree with those :) ), and I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback on that as well!  I’ve tried to clearly document my thoughts, in any case, so that if your priorities are different, you can change your rankings accordingly.
  3. I scored and ranked the organizations (to be taken with a large grain of salt! mostly it’s not the rankings but the other info that’s useful), but I’m not quite sure how I’m going to use this info to allocate funds.  Some charities that score really well in terms of excellence might not actually get the most money… I’m still pondering how score and amount should relate. And still considering what other factors should perhaps be going into my rankings.

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