Ping (zestyping) wrote,

What's an effective charity?

Thinking about charities to support? Perhaps you have opinions? I think it's good to talk about this stuff openly, so we can learn from and encourage each other.

If you're curious or looking for ideas, these were my top picks in 2010:

A lot of it is international aid, because the effectiveness per dollar seems pretty high there. Second Harvest and Project Respite are due to fundraising efforts by Google coworkers. Berkeley Free Clinic was a shot at doing something local.

It was not very disciplined, though. When I looked back to make this list, I was a little surprised that it was spread out among so many different organizations. I think it might be more efficient to focus on the highest-impact ones, if such a thing can be determined.

It wasn't until after the new year that I found out about Giving What We Can and Give Well. So these are now contenders for ones I missed that I'm considering in 2011:

Which charities do you like, and why? Any important ones that you think are missing?

(Interesting: I just saw that Chris and his wife Madeleine posted their lists too.)

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I think what you're doing is fantastic. And inspiring!

Would you consider Women For Women International? It's a wonderful organization and I think it fits really nicely into your already impressive group of non-profit organizations.
I presume you checked out the charities you decided on via Charity Navigator or somewhere similar? There are some on your list I don't know, but the ones I do recognize are excellent. The only one I would question is IRC. Although they unquestionably do some great work, their links to government have been questioned, and if a charity isn't neutral then I can't support it, just on principal.
Can you tell me more about your concerns? I'm not aware of the issue, and would like to learn.
I like to split my charitable giving between direct help--like feeding people who are starving (Doctors Without Borders)--and giving help to people so that long term they won't be starving (Grameen foundation, Heifer International, etc).

When I was in Berkeley, I did this by donating to BOSS (long-term help) and to Dorothy Day House of Berkeley (short-term help), which feeds the homeless breakfast in People's Park.

I also like to do a conscious split between global concerns and local concerns, because as you say dollars seem to go farther over seas, but it doesn't seem right to ignore the local situation entirely.

Thanks for posting this list.

Here's where my money went last year:

Small, recurring monthly donations:
* ACLU (civil liberties)
* EFF (online civil liberties)
* KQED (San Francisco NPR Station)
* Creative Commons (copyright reform)
* Courage Campaign (california mariage equality and general progressive activism)
* Long Now Foundation

One-off donations:
* Engineers Without Borders Canada*
* Donors Choose
* Doctors Without Borders
* Oxfam America
* EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center)
* firedoglake writers foundation
* Idealist (job search site)
* Ten Oaks Project (camp for gay kids)

* Note to Americans: if you want something more local, go for Engineers for a Sustainable World, not EWB-USA.
decided to help and sent out a post in the social services. bookmarks. I hope to rise in popularity.
One topic I don't see discussed often is the question of what type of charities make the biggest impact in the long run. How do you decide whether to help feed the hungry vs. control a disease vs. promote education vs. save the environment? Most people tend to start with a cause in mind, and look for the organizations that are most effective at that cause. But if you have no attachment to any particular cause and you just want to do the most good in the world with your philanthropic dollar, what cause should one support?

Take poverty, for example. One argument is that if we help a certain country out of poverty, then either they'll be dependent on foreign aid for at least a while, or they won't be able to support their population -- they can progress from that state to something more stable, but it would be more effective if other problems were solved first. (And the problem is often compounded by political instability.) A counter-argument is that once people have the expectation of the baseline stability of a minimally-acceptable standard of living, consequences such as reduced birth rate and increased political stability follow. (And therefore, for example, we don't need to worry that getting millions of people with a birth rate of 10 out of poverty will result in tens of millions of people in poverty in the next generation.)

Obviously the discussion of what type of charity would most effectively make the world better depends implicitly on a shared concept of what makes the world better, and rational people can disagree on that. But I still think that a discussion is possible, and important.
I think you don't see this discussed often because there isn't much to discuss---we just don't have the tools to build a useful argument about whether trying to feed the hungry is better than trying to cure the sick. Development economics is far, far, far from an exact science, and I suspect it won't be much better by the time I die. Here's hoping, though?
It may be an inexact science, and hard data may be limited, but all that means is that definitive, incontrovertible, peer-reviewed conclusions can't be reached. The conversation that I had hoped would be more widespread would be (at its minimum) a discussion group of like-minded people who want maximum impact for their philanthropic dollar, or better yet, people who collectively have enough information to reach provisional conclusions such as "If you believe in Theory-Of-Change A, and you think Chain-Of-Events B is more likely then Chain-Of-Events C, then you probably want to support Cause D over Cause E."

Or "An argument can be made that supporting Cause J will help the world more than supporting Cause K, because your dollar will accomplish X, which will lead to improvement Y. On the other hand, here is the counter-argument for supporting Cause K over Cause J. Should I make my choice of J vs. K based on which of these two arguments I believe more, or does anyone know of a better argument for either cause?"
Thanks for posting this! I've been thinking about exactly this kind of thing lately, so I'm glad you picked this week to write about it.

I'd never heard about Giving What We Can or Give Well before, and they both seem really interesting. Do you have any information about either org beyond what's on their web sites?

What do you think about the sock-puppet squick surrounding Give Well a few years ago? On one hand, the GW founders come out of that MetaFilter thread looking like total slimebuckets. On the other hand, the only reason I know about any of this is because it's featured prominently on GW---the MeFi thread is linked in Karnofsky's apology. And in the end, scam or not, it really does look like GW is doing solid research... I can't verify any of it myself, but it seems too detailed to be made up, and it would be incredibly useful if true. So who do I trust? MetaFilter or my lying eyes?

As for charities I like...
- Nothing But Nets looks good to me. I'm told that mosquito nets are dirt-cheap and proven to be effective, and I don't think handing them out could do any harm. (Even if local mosquitoes become resistant to the insecticide, the nets should still be helpful, right?)
- The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences is an educational institution affiliated with a Master's program I did last year---actually, one of my classmates from back then is currently working there as a tutor. I can't see it doing much direct, immediate good, but it's got a place in my heart and I can't resist mentioning it.
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