Life is sobering.

Sometimes things happen – to us directly, to those we know and care about, and to those we don’t know at all but feel compassion for and want to help. These events can help remind us how blessed we are and how short life can be.

I have been reminded of this recently. In light of these events and the holiday season – when we tend to look for more ways to show love and kindness and donate to worthwhile causes – I thought I would share some thoughts on charitable giving.

While there are many ways to donate and do good in our families, communities, and throughout the world (and I’m certainly not here to tell you which cause is best), I hope to offer some insights and guidance this season.

Most people I know want to make sure their charitable donations, especially of the monetary kind, actually help support the cause. One approach is to find the charities that spend the least on administrative expenses and then donate to those. Another approach is to find the cause you are most passionate about and donate everything you can there. As another alternative, there is an approach which says you should donate where your dollars will go the furthest.

This approach is often called Effective Altruism. As the website says, it aims to answer one simple question: how can we use our resources to help others the most? You can learn more about this movement by watching this 17 minute TED talk. Here is one example from Peter Singer’s talk:

“Take, for example, providing a guide dog for a blind person. That’s a good thing to do, right? Well, right, it is a good thing to do, but you have to think what else you could do with the resources. It costs about 40,000 dollars to train a guide dog and train the recipient so that the guide dog can be an effective help to a blind person. It costs somewhere between 20 and 50 dollars to cure a blind person in a developing country if they have trachoma. So you do the sums, and you get something like that. You could provide one guide dog for one blind American, or you could cure between 400 and 2,000 people of blindness.

Again, I’m not here to tell you which cause is better or most worthy of your donations. Rather, I’m here to offer some food for thought – some resources to watch and read as you make these decisions. And so, as part of my November Edition of What I’m Reading, let me share the following sites:

From Freakonomics, Why Ranking Charities by Administrative Expenses is a Bad Idea.

The Life You Can Save website, which helps identify charities they feel are worthy of your donations.

As its website says, GiveWell is “dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities and publishing the full details of [their] analysis to help donors decide where to give.”

Also from the GiveWell site: “Unlike charity evaluators that focus solely on financials, assessing administrative or fundraising costs, we conduct in-depth research aiming to determine how much good a given program accomplishes (in terms of lives saved, lives improved, etc.) per dollar spent.”

Myths about aid and charity, from the Giving What We Can website.

One final note, and a personal one, if you will allow it. While I only have a small voice on this blog, I feel I should use it. If you are looking to directly help a family in need, might I recommend this cause (for a college friend’s brother and his family). They have also asked that contributions be made to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Thank you for your kindness and generosity, in any and all ways you express it, to one another, your communities, and to the world.



Previous What I’m Reading post: October 2016

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