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A New Way of Thinking About Philanthropy

Earlier this week, we hosted an engaging and informative discussion with the founders of Givewell.org to discuss strategies for having the most impact through philanthropy and how to change people's mindset from giving out of emotion/social pressure to giving more rationally, with the end goal of doing the most good. Individual donors give over $200 Billion every year, so thinking differently with even a tiny fraction of this money would have a tremendous impact.


Key takeaways:


1. Right now, people give to causes for emotional reasons (a relative suffered from a disease so they want to fight that disease) or social pressure (my friend is running a marathon or donating their birthday to charity). However, this usually means that people aren't considering where their money is going, how it's being used, or if it's actually accomplishing the greatest good per dollar. The Givewell founders wrote a great blog post about opening our minds beyond certain causes. if you want to do the most good with your donation. Rather than focus on "my friend suffered from this illness so I want to end other people's suffering from this illness," expand your thinking to "my friend suffered, so I want to end suffering" and put your dollars to best use. Of course, keep some of your giving for social giving and supporting friends -- but recognize when you're giving for social reasons versus giving to do as much good as possible with each dollar.

Tips For Giving Like A Pro


2. The causes that accomplish the most "good" are often not the causes that are the sexiest or have the best marketing. For example, de-worming or fighting diarrhea certainly aren't sexy and don't have flashy marketing campaigns, but have the ability to accomplish tremendous outcomes. For example, malaria kills hundreds of thousands of children in Africa annually and is entirely preventable, but gets way less visibility than something sexy like the current viral KONY campaign.

The Worst Killer of Invisible Children is Not Joseph Kony


3. Not every charity is poised to take money. Every charity will ask for your money, but some need it more than others. For example, some charities are so tiny that even with an influx of money, they can't scale quickly enough to make good use of it. Other charities don't have a bottleneck of money, but a bottleneck of service providers (example: even with a billion dollars, charities that perform reconstructive surgeries couldn't necessarily do more surgeries because there are a set number of surgeons available for the procedures.) 


4. There is a huge lack of transparency among non-profits. We've created a culture where non-profits only want to share good news because the only time someone writes anything negative about them today is when there's a scandal or major criticism. They're scared to lose a single dollar of donor money, so they don't want to innovate and take risks -- and they especially don't want to talk publicly about failure. But we should expect some bad news from even the best non-profits, because they are working on some of society's toughest problems. We need to do a better job as a society of rewarding non-profits that are transparent and creating a culture where it's OK for a charity to try an experiment that fails, as long as they share the results with donors and learn from it — and we need to show them it won't impact donor giving. 

How Personal Should Your Giving Be


5. Be careful of the "match donation" - while the match donation can be really great and is an awesomely effective marketing tactic, it's easy to think "I'm doing twice as much good for my money" when you support a charity with a match donation, when that may not entirely be the case.

Why You Shouldn't Let Donation Matching Affect Your Giving


There is so much more that I haven't been able to include here. It was a truly fascinating discussion, full of many different opinions, and I'm eager to hear your thoughts. Please check out Givewell.org and share how you are thinking about your own giving/philanthropy. I'm planning on doing a more in-depth video interview with Holden when he returns to SF later this spring, so feel free to also post questions/discussion points you'd like me to bring up with them the next time I see them.


Special thanks to Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld for taking the time to come meet with us and to Cari Tuna and Dustin Moskovitz for making the introduction and co-hosting.


Thanks everyone!