My charitable donations for 2015

December’s a big month for charitable giving, so in hopes of encouraging other people to increase their giving and/or give to more effective charities, I’d like to talk about my charitable giving for this year.

In 2015, I gave a little over 10% of my income to charity, consistent with the Giving What We Can pledge. Next year, I’ll likely give more–this year, I was focused on rebuilding my savings after having spent much of 2014 and early 2015 job hunting or in short-term gigs.

The single charity to which I donated the most money is GiveDirectly. GiveDirectly is a charity that uses mobile-phone payment processing networks to send money directly to poor people in Africa.

I’m extremely bullish on GiveDirectly, at least in the sense that I’m bullish in the long-term prospects of stock-market index funds. The evidence indicates that, contrary to stereotypes, the poor do a pretty good job of spending money on themselves. Furthermore, this strategy is much more straightforward to scale than something like the Against Malaria Foundation, which has an impressive track record but may not have much room for more funding (especially given that they’ve already got GoodVentures in their corner).

After GiveDirectly, the charity to which I donated the second largest amount of money is Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE). I’m a huge supporter of animal rights, but unfortunately, we know a lot less about what works in animal advocacy than we do about what works for fighting global poverty. My hope is that Animal Charity Evaluators may be able to change that–and I’m impressed by the quality of research they’ve managed to do so far on their quite limited budget.

I’ve also donated to two of ACE’s recommended charities–Mercy for Animals and Animal Equality. Though there’s a lot of uncertainty here, I’m cautiously optimistic about undercover investigations (which both orgs have historically focused on) as a tactic. I chose not do donate to ACE’s third recommended charity, The Humane League, because I’m more skeptical about their focus on online advertising. I’ve written more about my motivation for these donations here.

(Note: according to ACE’s latest review of Mercy for Animals, it seems they don’t have a lot of room to spend more money on undercover investigations. This makes me inclined to be more cautious about donating to them in the future.)

Two other organizations I donated to this year are the Center for Applied Rationality (CFAR) and Cool Earth. My donations to CFAR weren’t motivated by purely disinterested considerations–I donated to CFAR mainly because I believe I’ve benefitted a lot from going to CFAR workshops and being a part of the CFAR community. Therefore, I’m counting my CFAR donations as part of my “consumption” budget, not my charity budget.

I donated $100 to Cool Earth because Will MacAskill’s book Doing Good Better recommended it as likely one of the most effective anti-global warming charities, and estimated that $100 was enough to offset the average American’s carbon emissions for a year. Cool Earth is also notable because their approach involves fighting deforestation by helping out indigenous people living in tropical forests. I think there’s potentially a lot of value in getting more attention for such neglected approaches to problems like global warming.

This is just where I’ve donated this year; I’ll likely do somewhat different things next year. Charity Science looks promising, but they told me they were good on funding for 2015. I’ll probably ask them again about their funding situation soon.

I’m also thinking of organizing a fundraiser for the Humane Society‘s Farm Animal Protection Campaign–which looks likely quite effective, but it’s hard to tell where small donations to the Humane Society go on the margin, hence organizing a fundraiser to allow small donors to act like a large donor.

I’m feeling pretty cautious right now about donating to organizations focused on existential risk, especially after Elon Musk’s $10 million donation to the Future of Life Institute. Musk’s donation don’t necessarily mean there’s no room for more funding, but it certainly does mean that room for more funding is harder to find than it used to be. Furthermore, it’s difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of efforts in this space, so I think there’s a strong case for waiting to see what comes of this infusion of cash before committing more money.

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10 thoughts on “My charitable donations for 2015

  1. I notice that you’ve donated to more than one charity. I’m also pretty convinced by the argument that you should just pick the highest EV charity and only donate to it. Do you accept this argument but have special circumstances that still mean that it makes sense to split donations, or do you reject it, and if so why?

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    • I think the arguments against splitting your donations run into trouble in the context of a movement where everyone is talking about their donations and influencing each other’s donation decisions. (Other people have made this point at great length, but can’t find any good links at the moment.)

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  2. > it’s difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of efforts in [x-risk reduction], so I think there’s a strong case for waiting to see what comes of this infusion of cash before committing more money.

    I’m not sure I understand this. AFAICT, the typical argument for x-risk reduction efforts being difficult to evaluate goes along the lines of “we don’t know what things will actually impact the future and what things won’t until the future comes”, so if this were true, I wouldn’t expect you to be able to evaluate the impact of FLI grants by looking at the papers produced. Do you just mean that you’re not sure what sort of papers, research institutes, PhD student positions etc. will be produced?

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    • >Do you just mean that you’re not sure what sort of papers, research institutes, PhD student positions etc. will be produced?

      Yes–I’d add “number and quality of papers.”

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  3. Thanks for the thoughtful post! So people know, Charity Science is currently fundraising to cover its 2016 costs. (Disclaimer: I’m a board member, but have separate funding sources so don’t have a direct financial interest here.)

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  4. It looks like I didn’t comment on this when it first came up, so: Thank you for posting this. It has influenced my own strategy for the present year.

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