Recommendations for donations: 2015-16 edition

Sorry this post arrives so late in the year, probably after most of you have already made your charitable year end donations.  However, I’m following my own advice — see my final point below.  

Are you fortunate enough to be able to donate resources to others this year?  If so, here are some ideas for how to maximize the effects of your donation.  Some of these are suggestions for specific charities.  But whatever causes and charities are most important to you, there are ways to make your giving more effective — and some of these suggestions apply to all donations.

Do you want your donation to have a large, empirically proven impact?

I’ve talked before about how much I admire GiveWell and Innovations for Poverty Action, which are effectivist organizations to the core — both organizations do empirical, in-depth evaluations of the impact of charities.  This year, the press is taking notice as well; Vox and Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Zweig both wrote about how these organizations help your charity dollars go farther.

GiveWell once again has published their annual top charities list, with the four charities that they’ve determined give the most impact per donation. I recommend following GiveWell’s donation allocation suggestion:

For those seeking our recommended allocation, we simply recommend giving to the top-ranked charity on the list, which is AMF.

Another organization, The Life You Can Save, has an overlapping top charities list — along with a very useful Impact Calculator that lets you see the impact of a donation to each charity.  I don’t endorse this organization as strongly as the others, because I don’t know as much about it (it was founded by ethicist Peter Singer; I don’t believe it does the same degree of rigorous evaluations as the two sites above, but it does depend on some outside evaluations), but a number of these charities have been endorsed by the other two sites, and the Impact Calculator is great.

For instance, if you’re considering donating $500, you can see the impact on GiveWell’s top-rated Against Malaria Foundation:

sm-amf

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Why I’m not donating to the American Red Cross this year

As the end of the year approaches, I’m revisiting my old strategies for donating money, and deciding where to donate this time around. This year, I’m starting with where not to donate, starting with the American Red Cross.

ProPublica and NPR recently teamed up to produce a troubling expose about the American Red Cross’s lack of effectiveness during Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac.  (Here’s a podcast with the report’s author.) A few particularly outrageous details about their use of emergency supplies for PR:

During Isaac, Red Cross supervisors ordered dozens of trucks usually deployed to deliver aid to be driven around nearly empty instead, “just to be seen,” one of the drivers, Jim Dunham, recalls….

During Sandy,emergency vehicles were taken away from relief work and assigned to serve as backdrops for press conferences, angering disaster responders on the ground.

(Note: The Red Cross responds that these claims are inaccurate.)

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where should I donate money?

As the year draws to a close, I am trying to decide where to donate money, and feeling grateful that my company is generous enough to match my donations.

There are lots of guides for how to give wisely out there: (e.g., GiveWell’s basic, advanced, and now vs. later analysis; GivingWhatWeCan’s tipsCharityNavigator — caveat: why effectiveness, not efficiency, should be the focus of donations).  Many experts and evaluative organizations have also made  endorsements for where to give (e.g., GiveWell’s top three charities, Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy’s list of social programs that workPhilanthropedia’s top charities in many categories).  Effectivism has also covered methods for evaluating charities multiple times. Despite these tips, I’ve spent probably around 30 hours in the past few months trying to decide where and how to donate money this year.

I decided to show my work in case it’s useful for anyone else who’s trying to prioritize.  I’m not saying anyone else should have the same principles or choose the same charities.  But perhaps my thinking will help you with your own.

First, my criteria for choosing causes: » Continue reading “where should I donate money?”

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Occupy Wall Street: unexpected effects

Just over a year ago, I covered the Occupy movement.  At the time, my assessment was that the movement was garnering a lot of attention initially, but didn’t seem to have very coherent goals.  I was a bit skeptical, but interested to see what happened next.

Initially, there were camps, protests, port shutdowns, and confrontations between the protesters and city officials & police.  But eventually, most of the Occupiers stopped inhabiting physical spaces like Zuccotti Park (in many cases because they were forced out).  However, the community built by OWS has remained strong, and has focused on many other ventures.  For instance, many Occupiers have shown solidarity with various unions during strikes, which is the kind of action I was imagining would happen, based on the movement’s roots.

Less expectedly, » Continue reading “Occupy Wall Street: unexpected effects”

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crowdsourcing for a cause

How can crowdsourcing help people in need, or help further a good cause?

Crowdsourcing is a buzzword in industry right now, and large groups of people are earning money online doing everything from verifying business listings to designing logos.  There’s plenty of debate about whether crowdsourcing is fair to workers, and how to make these platforms most effective and fair.  But crowdsourcing be also be used in a number of not-for-profit situations.  The projects below are examples of several innovative ways that people are reaching out to help others via crowdsourcing technologies–and ways that you can, too.

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donation by text message

In the wake of the Haiti tragedy, a number of organizations have set up earthquake relief funds that have encouraged donations of $5 or $10 by text message.  The American Red Cross campaign has been the most publicized of these, having surpassed $20 million in SMS donations from the U.S. in the first five days (here are the current totals, broken down by state).  Other organizations accepting donations include Yele Haiti, the Clinton Foundation, the International Rescue Fund, and the International Medical Corps (details on how to donate to each here).

If you plan to donate $30 or less to the Haiti efforts, is SMS a good way to do so (mobile donors are allowed to donate more than once, up to $30 per campaign depending on your mobile carrier)?  The answer seems to be a qualified yes — it’s not a bad way to donate, at least if you’re donating to the Red Cross, and if you’re intent on donating to Haiti specifically.  Other organizations are more questionable as to their effectiveness (especially Yele Haiti), and earmarking funds (for Haiti or any disaster zone) is also possibly not the best idea.

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