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.

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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 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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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:

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» Continue reading “Recommendations for donations: 2015-16 edition”

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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.)

» Continue reading “Why I’m not donating to the American Red Cross this year”

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Link roundup: direct charitable giving, energy efficiency, and TSA opt-outs

I was just trying to help — This American Life and Planet Money recently did an episode about a charity that gives money directly to people.  I haven’t actually had a chance to listen yet, but am looking forward to it and will hopefully post more about it once I do.
 

Why bad environmentalism is such an easy sell — A recent Freakonomics episode that I did listen to.  It was mostly useful as a reminder that evaluating environmental impact can be more difficult than you think; e.g., increasing the amount of development in cities (which are relatively energy efficient due to factors like shared transit, short distances to travel to get resources, etc.) may be better for the environment than more rural development.  Also, if everyone switched to more fuel efficient cars, and the cost of fuel to travel a given distance goes down, that could potentially cause people to drive a lot more.  The conversation was generally more speculative than data-driven (and Freakonomics has been sloppy about some of their claims in the past), but it made me want to dig into the work of Ed Glaeser — the Harvard economics professor interviewed here — and related work in more detail.
 

CHARTS: US carbon emissions are dropping:  Historically, I’ve mostly blogged here about quantifying the effects of individual choices we make in our lives.  But it’s great to get more systemic evidence that our individual actions can add up.   Among the factors that have made a significant impact are household energy reduction and more fuel efficient vehicles.  More people and businesses have been using renewable energy, too. Of course, it’s not all that clear-cut: the biggest factor is the increase in use of natural gas in place of coal — a change which is thanks mostly to fracking.  This American Life and many others have covered some of the potential worries surrounding fracking.  Still, it’s heartening to see some large scale good news, which reduced carbon emissions are.
 

Scanning the scanners — millimeter wave vs. X-ray TSA scanners: A good comparison of the types of TSA body scanners currently in use.  I’ve been meaning to post for some time about whether opting out of TSA body scans does anything to change the system.  There are personal reasons in terms of personal safety and privacy — and a lack of outside auditing — to consider opting out of scans for at least the X-ray machines (arguably there may be privacy concerns for both).  And there is evidence that the machines are not nearly as effective as one would hope, both missing actual weapons and having high rates of false alarms.

But if one of your primary objectives in opting out is registering a complaint with the government and encouraging systemic changes, is opting out at all effective?  I suspect it probably isn’t very effective, but I don’t have any evidence yet.  I’ll continue to look for evidence as to how effective this and other methods of TSA protest are.   In the meantime, I’d love to hear from people who currently opt-out about why they do so, especially if they opt out of the millimeter wave machines.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

» Continue reading “evaluating charities, part II”

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Evaluating charities, part I

I’ve been wanting to post for a while about the different sites out there that evaluate charities and help donors decide how to best spend their money.  I’ve finally done the research, and I think I’m actually going to split this into at least two posts — possibly a longer series.  In Part I, I’m going to discuss three of the oldest and best known charity evaluators, all of which grade organizations in large part according to financial metrics.  I’m also going to discuss the controversy over using such metrics, and the pros and cons of these sites.  In Part II, I’m going to discuss some newer sites that are finding other ways to evaluate nonprofits.

I’m going to start by talking up front about the controversy involved with using financial metrics, because it’s interesting and it’s a good thing to keep in mind when reading about the sties below.  All of the evaluators I’m about to discuss measure, among other things, the amount of an organization’s income that goes toward administrative overhead.  The idea is that organizations should be efficient, and should be spending their money on the cause rather than large salaries, unnecessarily expensive resources, and general bloat.  While this idea seems reasonable up front, it has a number of critics.

» Continue reading “Evaluating charities, part I”

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