Giving what I can: who am I donating to?

This January, I pledged that I’d start donating at least 5% of my annual income to organisations that make the world a better place. I gave myself a few months to sort out my finances, and to research where exactly I’d be donating, with April being my deadline for setting everything up.

After research on both effective giving and into specific causes and organisations, I’ve decided that I will be supporting six organisations with regular donations, leaving a small amount of my donations total for more flexible or ad-hoc donations. Yay!

So I wanted to give a bit of detail about two of the questions I’ve been considering since January:

  1. Which organisations will I be donating to?
  2. What is my justification for my choice – for both individual organisations and more generally my approach to giving.

1) Which organisations am I donating to?

The six organisations that I will be making regular donations to are:

  • Mines Advisory Group – MAG works in conflict areas globally to clear landmines and carry out risk education in communities with high contamination of landmines and unexploded bombs.
  • Effective Altruism Funds – run by the Centre for Effective Altruism, these are a set of four case based funds (Global Health & Development, Animal Welfare, Long-term Future and Effective Altruism Community) managed by individuals with expertise in the relevant fields and philanthropic giving. It works a bit like an investment portfolio: donations are pooled and a wide variety of organisations & interventions are supported.
  • Give Directly – a development charity working in Kenya and Uganda that aims to combat extreme poverty through the use of unconditional cash transfers directly to households.
  • Friends of the Earth UK – a campaigning organisation that works at national and local levels to create change around a variety of environmental issues (such as renewable energy, biodiversity and air quality)
  • Leeds Tidal – a campaigning organisation that works on a local level to link people in Leeds and wider Yorkshire to action on national and global issues – from climate change to trade justice and peace promotion
  • Simon on the Streets – a charity working in West Yorkshire to give practical and emotional support to rough sleepers

 

2) Why these organisations?

I’ll be exploring the specific merits of each organisation in more detail through a series of posts on each one throughout the next month(ish), though a fair summary would be that they all work on issues I think are important and occupy a niche in terms of their work that makes a donation to them effective.

The choice of six organisations, rather than donating more money to fewer, was down to two considerations:

  1. Some of the organisations (eg. Leeds Tidal) are very small, and so a small donation would make a big difference without taking too much away from other causes
  2. The organisations are working on some similar issues at various levels of intervention (see below), and so I view spreading my donation as a way to support complementary areas of work that have slightly different impacts but aim towards similar outcomes.

To explain my approach more generally, there were a few key considerations in drawing up this list:

  1. The organisation’s work: I sought to donate around two key issues: poverty and environmental degradation. In some cases, the organisations had other important impacts (eg. MAG and the Effective Altruism Funds), but I prioritised these two areas as the drivers of much of the world’s suffering that are both addressable and pressing.
  2. The organisation’s capacity for more donations: will my donation increase the capacity of the organisation to do good, or would it make little difference?
  3. Direct work vs policy/system change work: I wanted to spread my donations between organisations with direct interventions with people and communities, and those which take a more social change/policy approach to improving the world. The reason for this is that without longer-term approaches the direct interventions will be more limited in effectiveness, and without shorter term direct interventions there would be a huge amount of unnecessary suffering in the world.
  4. Global vs national vs local: much of the discussion on Effective Altruism is focused on global development issues, and I came to the conclusion that there is a potential gap in using this approach for more national/local issues, where there’s scope for supporting longer-term change or a different kind of good.

The last point, I realize, seems to counteract the entire ethos of doing the most good you can do: surely there is more overall benefit to be had from donating to lifesaving interventions globally rather than work locally that may not bring about an equal level of wellbeing? There are, however, two reasons why I specifically sought out more local interventions (harder to quantify than resort to Quality Adjusted Life Years, but I think still valid):

  • There is significant value in working at a local level to increase people’s engagement with global development issues: the local rootedness of organisations offers a big advantage in terms of likelihood to change behaviours and opinions. Furthermore many organisations that work like this are tiny, so even a smaller donation goes a long way.
  • There are specific interventions around local poverty issues (eg. homelessness) that can arguable equate to global extreme poverty: if the state does not provide adequate support, and an organisation needs donor funds to operate in their niche, a donor’s knowledge of and proximity to that organisation can provide a strong argument for making a donation more effective than to, for example, some of the GiveWell top charities.

The two tables below give an outline of how I’d characterise the organisations I’m donating to:

Table 1: Organisations categorised by which key issue they address

Poverty reduction

Preventing environmental degradation

Mines Advisory Group

Effective Altruism Funds

Give Directly

Simon on the Streets

Friends of the Earth

Impacts in both areas

Leeds Tidal

Table 2: Organisations categorized by where they work

Global

National/Local

Mines Advisory Group

Effective Altruism Funds

Give Directly

Friends of the Earth

Simon on the Streets

Leeds Tidal

This is an ongoing process, so as I get more and updated information on these organisations, and as I decide how to spend the ad-hoc portion of my pledge, I’m expecting my ideas to evolve and possibly change.

For now, though, I am confident that my donations live up to the principles of doing the most good I can with my money.

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