Charity, 2011 edition

Oops, only three blog posts in the last year. I’ve mostly been posting over at Google+, wherein I met a bunch of photographers and picked up a fledgling photography obsession of my own. I’ll try to write a “what I did in the last year” blog post at some point.

This post isn’t about that, though — like last year, this year Madeleine and I are again donating N% of our joint pre-tax income to effective charities for each year that we’ve been married, and this year N is equal to 6. Mad has a post outlining why we’re doing this and which groups she’s chosen, and here’s a writeup of who I decided to donate my half of the 6% to:

40% to Schistosomiasis Control Initiative

It’s very common to think about international aid in terms of “lives saved”, but it makes more sense to talk about something like “number of disability-adjusted life years increased” (DALYs). GiveWell thinks that this charity — which concentrates on the “Neglected Tropical Diseases” which are usually worms/parasites — offers an extremely effective intervention at improving DALYs; because these infections are readily treatable using very inexpensive drugs, yet often come with debilitating symptoms that don’t quite kill the “host”.

25% to Give Directly

Give Directly is a fascinating project. The charity simply finds the poorest people in an area (currently they’re working in Kenya) and transfers money to them via mobile phone. This leaves the charity itself with very little overhead — all the charity has to do is identify who the poorest people are, which they often do by looking at what kind of place they live in. The claim is that this outperforms many other attempts at aid; there’s nowhere for the effect of the money to get diluted or misappropriated along the way.

I should be clear that I don’t think this is the best possible aid intervention. But, as GiveWell points out, it should be the intervention that we treat as the baseline that other interventions are measured against — if you think you have a better idea, then you should be able to prove it by comparing outcomes against this method. Give Directly has a commitment to measuring the quantitative effects of its work; I want to support finding out how well this intervention works, even though the optimist in me hopes we can do much better!

15% to GiveWell

GiveWell has dramatically changed how I think about and evaluate charitable giving. This year I’ve been pleased to see them doing things like exposing errors in commonly referenced DALY calculations, and generally acting as the quantitative sanity-checker for development charities.

15% to the Tor Project

Tor is a technology that helps its users achieve anonymous access to the Internet over a connection that may be being monitored; as a side-effect of this, it allows its users to get around filtering of their connections. I think this pairs up nicely with Madeleine’s choice of donating to the Wikimedia Foundation — it’s important to have the world’s knowledge available to everyone, not just the people who are lucky enough to have an unfiltered and unmonitored connection. I increased my donation to Tor this year after seeing how effective the Internet has been as a pro-democracy tool this year, and how many regimes tried to filter communication using it when it was being used by citizens to coordinate with each other.

5% to the EFF

While Tor works on “exporting” the Internet that we use to regimes that wish to block or filter it, the EFF is helping to keep the network itself safe from becoming controlled by groups like governments or media companies; attempting to preserve the freedoms that the net provides today.


  1. I’m sure that utilitarianism is pretty untenable as a philosophical position, but I have to say, one thing I did take away from Peter Singer is the practicability of giving a large amount of your income away.

    It’s really cool to see people taking some control and responsibility over their charitable behaviour. It’s not just inspiring, as all tales of great charity are, but comforting, in so far as all those numbers and percentage signs make it look less like suicide-by-charity, and more like an organised activity engaged in by well informed actors.

  2. Pingback: Eight years and eight percent: Always giving more | Madeleine Price Ball

  3. Pingback: Chris Ball » Eight years and eight percent: Always giving more

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