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making a quantifiable difference

IPA Live: maximizing holiday giving impact (Dec 3)

Members of Innovations for Poverty Action (one of the organizations I donated money to last year and discussed here) are going to talk online on Dec. 3 about how to maximize the impact of holiday donations:

“IPA Founder and Professor Dean Karlan (Yale University) and IPA Executive Director Annie Duflo discuss how to maximize the impact of your philanthropic dollars during the holidays.”

I’m going to try to attend this online event and cover any new info for this blog (I’m hoping to do an updated giving guide this year), but it will depend on my schedule that day.  I encourage others to attend if interested!

October 27, 2013   Comments Off

updates on donating money

Thanks to everyone who’s given feedback on the previous post!  A few updates on donating criteria, literacy, and global family planning:

1. One reader wrote:

I like a lot of what you wrote, but here’s a criterion I didn’t see there, but which makes sense to me: if huge funding sources are already available to a project (e.g. Gates Foundation) I’m pretty sure my impact will not be that significant. It might make more sense to focus on organizations that do not (or do not yet) have such resources available to them.

I think this is a very good point.  I think it’s likely that a lot of organizations without funding from large foundations may not have funding because they don’t have much evidence of effectiveness.  But that’s surely not always true, and all other things being equal, your contribution will go much further in an organization that doesn’t have huge grants.

[Read more →]

December 17, 2012   Comments Off

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: [Read more →]

December 15, 2012   7 Comments

link roundup

  • I continue to have a huge blog crush on Do The Math, especially the analyses of how to reduce personal energy use.  While some of his findings are shocking (shrimp are one of the least energy efficient foods?  Say it ain’t so!), many of his methods for measuring and drastically reducing energy use are inspiring.  I’m not currently willing to take some of the steps he does (e.g., solar panels, or completely turning off my heat), but many of his methods can be applied in moderation, and I’m a big fan of his emphasis on starting by measuring where your big expenditures are.
  • Freakonomics had a recent podcast about the effectiveness of herd mentality in persuading people to make changes such as reducing energy consumption or water usage.  Telling someone, “Most of your peers are doing it,” is often one of the best ways to influence people’s behavior.  Conversely (and counterintuitively), telling people, “Please don’t do X, because lots of people are doing X, with terrible consequences,” often encourages people to also do X.
  • Slate asks: what happens to the clothes we donate?   “Most of our donated clothing does not end up in vintage shops, as car-seat stuffing, or as an industrial wiping rag. It is sold over­seas. After the prized vintage is plucked out and the outcasts are sent to the fiber and wiping rag companies, the remaining clothing is sorted, shrink-wrapped, tied up, baled, and sold to used-clothing ven­dors around the world. The secondhand clothing industry has been export-oriented almost since the introduction of mass-produced gar­ments. And by one estimate, used clothing is now the United States’ number one export by volume, with the overwhelming majority sent to ports in sub-Saharan Africa.”

July 2, 2012   2 Comments

donations links roundup

GiveWell’s new list of top-rated charities is out.

Freakonomics recently had a podcast called What Makes a Donor Donate? (link includes podcast and transcript.)  It’s short and full of interesting (and sometimes counterintuitive) facts about the effectiveness of seed money, matching donations, raffles, and letting donors opt out of future solicitations.

For those who want to dig deeper, John List, one of the guests of the Freakonomics podcast, studies the economics of charitable giving.  He has a set of research papers full of empirical evidence about various fundraising tactics.  These publications look both interesting and useful for those trying to effectively raise money for a cause.

December 11, 2011   Comments Off

End of the year charitable donations

We’ve made a number of posts on the topic of charitable giving in the past.  Since many charitable donations happen toward the end of the year, I will be posting a few additional guidelines and suggestions to keep in mind for those donating soon.  Most of today’s guidelines come via GiveWell, and are most helpful for people still trying to decide where to allocate some of their charitable funds (though some of the information will be helpful for everyone).

The more I read about GiveWell, the more impressed by them — they investigate relatively few charities, but their investigations are extremely in depth, and give a thorough evaluation of the effectiveness of the organization as well as other important factors (e.g., whether or not the organization currently needs money).  They are very transparent about their methods, as well.  The downside is that they address only a few types of charities, currently.

GiveWell has a Giving 101 guide to making wise contributions.  They also have a list of top-rated charities (about to change in December – the top-rated charities on the current list no longer need short-term funding, so keep watching for the updated list) and a list of celebrated charities they don’t recommend, with explanations of their rationale for each.

The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy presents empirical evidence about social programs that work.  Some of these interventions are not connected to specific charitable organizations or programs, but many of them are.

November 11, 2011   3 Comments

Link roundup

Trying something different from the normal, more extensively researched style.  Should link roundups become a regular feature?  Do you have any suggested links?

Greener Choices - A site from the publishers of Consumer Reports which is chock-full of information about environmentally friendly purchases and habits.  They’re very focused on quantifying impact and offer useful side-by-side comparisons and calculators.

Guide to food labels - What do food labels really mean?  Which ones are regulated?  Greener Choices also offers an Eco-labels center addressing overlapping issues.

Khan Academy and education reform - the online math-focused education website, Khan Academy, is radically changing the way some classes are taught and some students are learning.  Can this technology revolutionize education?  When, how, and for whom?

A Lever Long Enough covered innovative and effective ways to spread e-books and literacy across the world.

Charity rating systems still coming up short – I’ve written previously about problems with rating charities.  A recent scandal demonstrates how different rating methods currently used remain insufficient.

How to stop solicitations by mail - giving anonymously is not the only solution.

August 13, 2011   Comments Off

staying off mailing lists: anonymous online donations

Here’s a situation I’m sure you can relate to if you’ve ever donated money:  First you feel happy for having contributed to a cause you care about.  Then you feel dismayed at the flood of resulting mail that comes pouring in from the organization you donated to and everyone they sell your contact information to.  Most of us don’t want to have to deal with the hassle of all this mail, or know that we’ve indirectly caused a tree massacre.

In the past, people have avoided the dead tree deluge by donating anonymously through a third party such as an attorney, a broker, or entity such as Fidelity Charitable Trust.  These days, another easy way to give anonymously is to donate via an online service.  JustGive and Network for Good both help users make one-time or recurring online donations. If you specify that you want to make the donation anonymous, both will keep your personal information private from the recipient of your donation (as well as the rest of the world).  In this way, you can avoid a deluge of mail.

JustGive charges a 3% processing fee;  Network for Good asks for a minimum 5% tax-deductible donation to their organization (4.75% for recurring donations; 3% for donations to non-profits that have subscribed to the site’s DonateNow service) on top of your donation.  These sites also make it easy to donate online to sites that don’t offer that option on their own websites.  Both sites are endorsed by American Institute of Philanthropy.  CharityNavigator has partnered with Network for Good and explains why, although I still haven’t found a convincing reason to prefer the more expensive of the two services.

If the organization you are donating to offers PayPal donations, PayPal’s fees are smaller than either of the above options, so long as the charity gets at least $3000 a month.  PayPal doesn’t allow anonymous donations, but you can also check the “no shipping required” box to hide your shipping address from the recipient.  However, according to the PayPal Privacy Policy,

If you are buying goods or services and pay through PayPal, we may also provide the seller with your confirmed credit card billing address to help complete your transaction with the seller. The seller is not allowed to use this information to market their services to you unless you have agreed to it.

If you do not pay by credit card (instead paying from your PayPal account balance), it sounds like you may be able to avoid sharing your mailing address with charities altogether.

Have you used any of these services, or found other ways to stay off of mailing lists when donating? What’s your favorite method?

Also, bolding main points of the post: obnoxious or good?  Please give feedback!

August 2, 2011   2 Comments

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.

[Read more →]

July 29, 2011   Comments Off

evaluating charities, part II

[Note: I started this post a number of months ago; some details might now be out of date.]

In a past post, I discussed sites that evaluate charities based primarily on financial metrics.  Before leaving that topic entirely, I wanted to to also point out that Guidestar has a bunch of information about charities, their structures, and their finances.  You can access the tax records from the past several years for many charities.  They help you verify an organization’s nonprofit status and do other research into organizations.  The site seems to be mostly aimed at people working in the nonprofit sector, large philanthropic organizations, businesses, and academic researchers.  It’s kind of clunky and ugly and harder to use than some tools, sometimes some data is sparse or missing, and they charge money for some services.  But if you want access to a lot more information directly from the company about their structure and finances, I’d check here first.  This may also be useful in using The Charity Rater, described below.

Moving on to other ways to evaluate charities aside from financial metrics, in the rest of this post I will be exploring GiveWell (based on empirical evaluation of results!), GreatNonprofits (kind of like Yelp), Philanthropedia (expert-based),  and The Charity Rater.  If you know of other charity evaluating organizations or metrics that I haven’t discussed in either post, let me know, and I’ll cover it in a follow up.

[Read more →]

December 5, 2010   Comments Off