kottke.org posts about charity
The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson examines the act of giving and goes in search of the best charitable cause in the world.
Perhaps the most piercing lesson from effective altruism is that one can make an astonishing difference in the world with a pinch of logic and dash of math.
See also Doing Good Better.
I had a great time guest-blogging here this week! Thanks so much to Jason and to everyone who read, some of the smartest, most interesting readers I’ve found online. It was really a thrill. It was like being Krang inside the exosuit, but in a good way.
When Jason originally put out the call on Twitter for a guest blogger, he tweeted, “It’s a paid gig or you can do it for the lolz and we’ll donate the fee to a charity of your choosing.” So we’re donating the money to Girls Write Now, a terrific New York City-based non-profit that pairs talented at-risk teen girls with professional writer mentors to create the next generation of great women writers.
You can find me online here or on Twitter.
Update (from Jason): Thanks, Susannah! It’s been great having you here. I just dropped your fee into the coffers of Girls Write Now. If some of you would like to do the same, you can donate here; it’ll only take you a couple minutes.
And since Susannah was too courteous to promote her recently published short story, The Tumor, I’ll do it.
At this point it’s almost a Pavlovian response; a natural disaster hits and we hit the Red Cross donate button. We feel better, but do the victims benefit? NPR and ProPublica looked at internal emails and confidential reports and uncovered The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster.
During Isaac, Red Cross supervisors ordered dozens of trucks usually deployed to deliver aid to be driven around nearly empty instead, ‘just to be seen’ … During Sandy, emergency vehicles were taken away from relief work and assigned to serve as backdrops for press conferences, angering disaster responders on the ground.
In the latest installment of his excellent series Ask A Native New Yorker, Jake Dobkin tackles the question of how to react to those people holding clipboards asking if you have a minute for the environment or gay rights or whatever. The short answer is ignore them with “EXTREME PREJUDICE”.
This is because Clipboard People are grifters, who, in the name of various causes (Gay Rights, the Environment), have only a single aim: to get your credit card number authorized for recurring payments to a “charity.” In fact, the majority of that money does not go to the charity, but goes to pay the salary of the Clipboarder, and the evil canvas organizations that employ them. Even worse, the Clipboarders are themselves exploited-often young idealists from less vicious places, they are brought to New York on the promise of helping a charity they believe in, only to find out they’ve been dragooned into a commission-based predatory marketing scheme.
Well, good because that’s what I’ve been doing (for other reasons). Instead, give to an efficient charity listed on Charity Navigator.
In 2011, Toyota offered to donate their celebrated business management process to The Food Bank for New York City. After some initial skepticism, the donation has “proved transformative” for the Food Bank.
“They make cars; I run a kitchen,” said Daryl Foriest, director of distribution at the Food Bank’s pantry and soup kitchen in Harlem. “This won’t work.”
When Toyota insisted it would, Mr. Foriest presented the company with a challenge.
“The line of people waiting to eat is too long,” Mr. Foriest said. “Make the line shorter.”
Toyota’s engineers went to work. The kitchen, which can seat 50 people, typically opened for dinner at 4 p.m., and when all the chairs were filled, a line would form outside. Mr. Foriest would wait for enough space to open up to allow 10 people in. The average wait time could be up to an hour and a half.
Toyota made three changes. They eliminated the 10-at-a-time system, allowing diners to flow in one by one as soon as a chair was free. Next, a waiting area was set up inside where people lined up closer to where they would pick up food trays. Finally, an employee was assigned the sole duty of spotting empty seats so they could be filled quickly. The average wait time dropped to 18 minutes and more people were fed.
The Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting spent a year investigating bad charities and this is what they found.
The worst charity in America operates from a metal warehouse behind a gas station in Holiday.
Every year, Kids Wish Network raises millions of dollars in donations in the name of dying children and their families.
Every year, it spends less than 3 cents on the dollar helping kids.
Most of the rest gets diverted to enrich the charity’s operators and the for-profit companies Kids Wish hires to drum up donations.
In the past decade alone, Kids Wish has channeled nearly $110 million donated for sick children to its corporate solicitors. An additional $4.8 million has gone to pay the charity’s founder and his own consulting firms.
No charity in the nation has siphoned more money away from the needy over a longer period of time.
But Kids Wish is not an isolated case, a yearlong investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.
Using state and federal records, the Times and CIR identified nearly 6,000 charities that have chosen to pay for-profit companies to raise their donations.
Then reporters took an unprecedented look back to zero in on the 50 worst — based on the money they diverted to boiler room operators and other solicitors over a decade.
These nonprofits adopt popular causes or mimic well-known charity names that fool donors. Then they rake in cash, year after year.
The nation’s 50 worst charities have paid their solicitors nearly $1 billion over the past 10 years that could have gone to charitable works.
Despicable. And a reminder that before you give, you should check on a site like Charity Navigator or GiveWell for organizations where a sizable portion of your contribution is going to the actual cause. For instance, the aforementioned Kids Wish charity currently has a “donor advisory” notice on their Charity Navigator page. (via @ptak)
Advertising Age reports (via gulfstream) that despite having spent as much as a reported $100 million on advertising and promotion, the (RED) campaign has raised only $18 million to fight AIDS in Africa. (RED) CEO Bobby Shriver responds by saying that the amount will soon be $25 million, they’re in it for the long haul, and that there are non-monetary benefits to all of the advertising — “A phenomenal benefit is that Gap, Apple, Sprint and other sales people are meeting Americans and explaining that 5,500 Africans dying daily of AIDS is preventable”.
The (RED) campaign strikes me as part of a larger trend in the US (and perhaps elsewhere too): the idea that if you, the consumer, spend normally (or even increase your spending), it is possible to break the law of conservation of energy and somehow save more money or lives. Other examples of the spend-to-save trend include the Discover Card Cashback Bonus program, the Bank of America Keep the Change program, and hundreds of retail promotions where, golly, if you spend another $20 on something you don’t need, you get a free something that you really don’t need.
It seems to me that if The Gap really cared about stopping HIV/AIDS in Africa, they would just donate the $7.8 million they spend on (RED) advertising to the Clinton Foundation. If Discover really cared about saving you money, they’d lower their APR to prime + 1.
I realize that the entire US economy is a house of cards kept standing by the escalation of spending and credit card debt by American consumers, but the sad fact is that to save money, you need to cut spending or increase income. And if you really want to help fight AIDS in Africa, instead of buying that (RED) Gap t-shirt for which Gap will donate 50% of its profit to The Global Fund, buy a cheaper one at American Apparel and send the $13 difference to the Global Fund yourself.
Back in December, Philip Greenspun was debating the gift of a water buffalo to a poor family in Asia through Heifer International, but he found out that the animal is merely a symbolic gift:
A friend got a water buffalo for Christmas from her dad. She won’t actually take delivery of the animal. The Web page says that it will be given to a family in Asia. If you read the fine print on the page, however, it turns out that there is no actual buffalo and no actual family and you won’t get a photo of your family and your buffalo. The money simply gets dumped into the common fund at the charity. We are trying to decide if this is the crummiest possible Christmas present.
Bob Thompson, currently a resident of Yunnan province in China, read Greenspun’s post and offered to help him donate an actual water buffalo to an actual family in the area. Greenspun and his friend Craig MacFarlane took him up on the offer and an animal was purchased for ~US$460 and given to a family in need:
Thompson made an 8-minute video of the whole process which is well worth viewing. (thx, tom & eric)
The economic case against philanthropy: charity is selfish. “Those organizing fund-raising drives for the United Way tend to be disproportionately real estate agents, insurance brokers, car dealers, and other people with something to sell.”
“Kiva lets you loan as little as $25 to a qualified low income entrepreneur in the developing world.” Basically no-interest loans to developing countries as charity, but you get the original donation amount back. Pretty cool idea. (thx, jonah)