Charities- General thoughts

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My friends tell me I worry too much.

I tell them that they worry too little.

Among other things, I worry about good people working for good causes which are unable to be as effective as they might be simply for lack of funds.

And I also worry that money which might go to worthy charities goes to "charities" which don't deserve it. When I invest in a stock, I study the company first. Do you study the charities you send money to? If you want to save the polar bear, how do you decide which of the people claiming to work towards that end you are going to support? And if you can save one polar bear for $1000, or 100 spotted owls, which is the best use of your money? (If you have $2000, do you want to save two bears, 200 owls, or 1 bear, 100 owls?) If you don't ask these questions, are you using your money well?

Spend other people's money, and help without spending any

For many years, big corporations have been giving money to worthy charities. They are now embracing "social networking", and letting you help them decide who is to get the goodies.

Yes… you have to register. Yes… you have to log in. But do you want to help your charities or not?

Two places where you can "vote money" to charities, and can invite your friends to vote with you, are….

Pepsi's "Refresh Everything"


American Express's Take Part

Pepsi's site will inflict pop ups on you, and seems to be inward looking… only US domestic issues helped. But you can vote for ten ideas every day.

American Express allows you a vote per week, and seems to do more filtering of the "good ideas" on offer.

Research tools…

Charity Navigator

One way to study charities is via….

Not only will they give you facts about charities you know, but they will also tell you about other charities in any given field.

Worth Magazine/ Money Magazine annual surveys

Worth Magazine itself is interesting… see the notes about it that FINCA includes in FINCA's celebration of their inclusion in the magazine's list of "best charities". I couldn't find the article itself, but if you use Google to look for "worth magazine charities", you'll find lots of charities saying "we were on that list"!

Money Magazine does a similar survey from time to time. When I went to their site, looking for it, I found many interesting articles about giving to charity… but only a survey of the 200 largest charities. There was a link that was supposed to take me to the most efficient charities, but it seemed only to take me to the article about the largest.

New way to give

Micro-finance meets Facebook meets eBay! I'm not sure I am quite ready to take part myself, but the folks at have come up with an interesting idea: If you would like to help someone get a loan, feel free. Make the loan yourself! The site is worth a visit, at least. If you like the idea of micro-finance, but want professionals more directly involved, try Accion. While I'm no fan of his business ethics, I do believe that Bill Gates knows a good investment from a bad one. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made a grant of $5.8 million to ACCION.

Give help… not hassle

(This one for US taxpayers only) Do you give $250 or more to a single charity each year? Do you have stocks in your portfolio with unrealized capital gains? Like paying capital gains tax? You don't have to! And you don't have to inflict the hassle of a gift of shares on the charity. And there are other advantages to a Donor Advised Fund. I have been very happy with the one I set up at Vanguard Charitable. Makes my life easier, and means that "my" charities get more money, but still just receive cash. The one "downside" is that I can't give $25 here, $25 there. Each gift… with the Vanguard program… must be of at least $500. (I give some charities $500 every two years). Other donor advised fund managers allow smaller gifts… and they charge higher fees.

Biggest Bang for Buck

You may think that encouraging people to avail themselves of birth control or abortion is immoral. I think everyone should look at the consequences of failing to help people take steps which, all by themselves, have far reaching benefits towards the achievement of almost any charity's stated goals. Would it be nice if an abortion was never considered? Of course. But the world isn't nice.

Reduction of birth rates reduces hunger, poverty, strain on heathcare and education services, resource depletion, environmental degradation. I'll refrain from going on… but I'm tempted.

Help to "developing" regions

Much of my charity giving is to areas where personal wealth, on average, is meagre. There are a number of reasons for this.

I went to two very good schools. One of them regularly gets serious money, more or less against my general inclinations, but you have to "diversify". I'll come back to that. The other I support in various ways, but I give it little money. Too often I have seen indications that they have more money than sense. (Oh… and I give nothing to the university I attended. I believe in the "early nudge" theory. Want to save the earth from the asteroid that has our name on it? If you can find it when it is one light year out, it will take but a tiny nudge to save the world. Wait until it is passing the moon, and it will take rather more work to make a difference. In any case, schools spend their money more effectively than universities, as far as I have been able to see.

Continuing with "why not give to "your own"?"…

If I give $100 to a school in the US, it will possibly pay for a broken window to be replaced, by the time you factor in taxes, minimum wage, the standard of glass required by sundry "security" regulations. And you won't be able to use an effective paint to protect the wood of the frame, after the job is done.

Give $100 to a school in a less advantaged place, and you have probably enabled them to re-roof a classroom which has been letting rain in.

Now… you can argue that a 1% improvement in the education of a child who will one day be in a position of power is more valuable to "the greater good" than a 10% improvement in the education of a child who's future is more bleak. Hmmm. On the poor child side of the equation you should also factor in that perhaps if people in "the third world" saw more humanitarian aide from the wealthy, then perhaps what they see of bombs from drones at 20,000 feet would have less impact on their decision that being a suicide bomber is at least "doing something" with a life that they don't see as being worth much in any other way.

Moving on…

I tend to lean away from charities focussed on Aftica's problems. Africa has breath-taking problems. It also has some breath-taking potential for good, success, etc… ask the Chinese, who are investing enthusiastically (with the fruits of western profligate spending).

But there is great poverty in India. In South America. (And many other places. But you wouldn't know it from the prayers of the Anglican church. South America, I can understand. The Pope has that pretty well sew up as a source of revenue. But India? There are strong ties between the two. But I don't expect much from the Anglican church, so constant whining… by people living in "palaces" about the needs of Africa… to the exclusion of all others… is not something I worry about much. Any more than I share my child's consuming concern about how his football team is faring.)

What is happening in Africa, South America, India?

If you have a look at….

… then way down near the bottom you will find a rotating globe. On it, there are little green dots showing where visitors have come from. Notice the relative distribution across the three regions under discussion?

Now give a little consideration to the content of

It is a page where motivated people can learn a bit about an accessible technology. Accessible to someone living on the street? No. But you need not be very far off the street, nor to you need to be a richly endowed school to benefit from the site.

India, South America: People trying to learn, trying to know more, so they can do more. Out of the millions in Africa, are there no people who want to learn? What does that say about the likelihood of the societies there making progress beyond the continuation of sundry kleptocracies?

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