Previous spiteful OP:
There is a long list of things that people could do to improve the effectiveness of their charitable donations. Since almost no one does any of these things, people don’t really care about charity.
Recently a secular liberal friend of mine posted a message on Facebook encouraging people to donate to the Salvation Army. Someone else brought up something about the Salvation Army's homophobic past and/or present and said maybe it was a bad idea to donate to them, and there was a mild Facebook scuffle.
Feeling uncivil and a little 'spergy, I said that it's probably a bad idea to give to most charities if your intent in giving is to make your donations helpful. If you want to help someone you should want to get the most bang for your buck, which means you want to give to the most effective charity, whatever that is, and not to anything else.
I posted a link to givewell.com and said, "You should only ever donate to one charity: the most effective. The difference between what you give and that optimal charity is composed of ignorance and ego."
By ignorance I mean not knowing what is the most effective; e.g., "man, Japan is in bad shape after that earthquake/tsunami, maybe I should help them out", or "I will buy some canned goods to give to the local soup kitchen".
By ego I mean giving to make yourself feel better and/or to signal ones beneficence to others such that one is giving inefficiently; e.g., "I'll donate to renovate Harvard's aging auditorium".
Beyond ignorance and ego there may be other factors; I'm not sure if I'd classify ethnocentrism or localism as being subsets of ignorance/ego or their own beasts; e.g., "If you're gonna do charity, do it in your backyard first."
Fundamentally, it's better to give inefficiently than to not give at all, but volunteering to partake doesn't put one above criticism. If one volunteers but does the least, or does so in ignorance, or advocates wasteful charity, there is an opportunity that is being missed. People waste time, effort, money, and they do so because they don't know better or they're looking to boost themselves first and anyone else as an afterthought.
What do you think? Charity: could you do better? Could people do it better? I didn't even mention all the charities that are essentially scams, or the religious charities that put proselytization over bettering peoples' immediate needs, the Randian idea that charity is bad or that charity itself is possibly sub-optimal as a means of helping people relative to some alternatives.
Concerns about Givewell: http://www.givingwhatwecan.org/blog/2012-12-24/some-general-concerns-about-givewell
Blog post I pulled some ideas from: http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/04/05/investment-and-inefficient-charity/
Gawker post I pulled some bad ideas from: http://gawker.com/the-three-most-effective-charities-for-helping-the-poor-1475116580
New and less spiteful OP:
There is a long list of things that people could do to improve the effectiveness of their charitable donations, but don't. Why don't we start discussing these things and start maybe doing them?
Recently a secular liberal friend of mine posted a message on Facebook encouraging people to donate to the Salvation Army.
Someone else brought up something about the Salvation Army's homophobic past and/or present and said maybe it was a bad idea to donate to them, and there was a mild Facebook scuffle.
My own input was that it's probably a bad idea to give to most charities if your intent in giving is to make your donations particularly helpful.
If you want to help someone you should want to do so effectively. There's a spectrum of "help" ranging from the completely self-serving photo op to sacrificing oneself for a cause, and most of us probably want to avoid either of those extremes. I tend to think that we really do want to do our best to help, but there are a lot of biases and misconceptions that get in our way.
An example: buying canned goods to give to a food drive. This is strictly inferior to skipping the shopping trip and just giving the charity the cash directly. They know what they need, and they can buy it in bulk, and they don't need to inspect the donation to make sure it's okay, they don't need to sort unsorted cans. Feeding America
A hastily-organized local food drive can actually put more strain on your local food bank than you imagine. Feeding America members maintain the highest standards of food safety, which means not every product is suitable for donation. Your local food bank will need to sort and inspect all donated items to ensure that they are absolutely safe.
The best way to support hunger-relief in your community is by making a financial donation to your local food bank, and encouraging your friends to do the same. Your local Feeding America member can then utilize the buying power of the Feeding America network to acquire and ship healthy, nutritious food at deeply discounted rates. But if you do want to conduct a food drive, please only do so after reaching out to your local Feeding America member.
There is a better way to help out at the level of personal involvement. It's less romantic perhaps to just fork over cash than to go shopping for the needy, but at least in this case the easier and less engaged method is the more effective one.
There are also many, many charities out there, with many different approaches to helping people, some with overlap with others and others without. It's not easy to know what goes on with them, and there are a lot of scams out there that are geared toward taking advantage of peoples' kindness. There are also ones that simply don't do a good job relative to others at their stated goal. Fortunately, there are organizations that monitor and rate charities. My personal favorite is Givewell
, but there are others as well
If our intent is to give away our money or time to help people out, I think it behooves us to do our best with our efforts; we don't want to cheat ourselves out of doing what we intend to do, and we really do want to improve the lot of people out there. Givewell and its ilk are one tool at our disposal for cutting through the BS that's out there, and getting our efforts through to the people who are in dire need of them.
Finally, and maybe controversially, there's the notion of optimizing one's efforts.
Consider the clear example of donating a new auditorium wing to an Ivy League school, and spending that same amount of money preventing malaria or diarrhea in places that are stricken with those problems. That's I think a relatively clear example of not doing as much good as one can. So long as one intends to maximize the good one does, that kind of situation is one that should be considered in one's moral calculus.
There are also immediate concerns that, again so long as we're concerned with maximizing good, can take our eye off the ball. Consider the earthquake/tsunami tragedy and disaster that happened in Japan two years ago. According to Givewell, more aid was given than was requested
, which suggests that it wasn't particularly helpful in addressing what the aid was sent there to do.
How should we think about these things? Should we focus our efforts, or not? Can we do better and should we do better?