Ask me about my dream job, and it may surprise you, as it is a little unusual: philanthropist. It is dreadfully discouraging to receive so many worthy appeals for donations, and to not have enough to go around.
The world is overflowing with problems and unanswered prayers, too many for governments, churches, and temples to tackle. I understand why some people are overwhelmed and give up, but I grew up in the era of ten cents for the March of Dimes and 25-cent stamps to paste into my book for a US Savings Bond. I grew up earnestly believing every little bit helps.
I still do believe that, but our world has outgrown nickel and dime fundraising to the point where it’s anyone’s guess what is a decent donation; I know it has gone up from $25. Unfortunately, my income has not kept up with the inflation rate for charitable giving (including tipping), and I know I must seem like a cheapskate to fund raisers. Sometimes I don’t even bother, repeating my mother-in-law’s mantra, “you’ll never have money if you give it all away.”
Bill Gates, through his foundation, models the idea of making your money count by choosing one cause (eradication of malaria) and supporting it all-out. I’ve tried that, but I find it too difficult to single out one cause, turning my back on all the others.
Fear of scams is another inhibiting factor. Recently, when I learned of a new charity, I did some research online to find out not only what they were all about, but also whether they were even on the level. I learned some interesting things.
There are organizations that keep tabs on charitable organizations, coming up with ratings based on how much of their budget actually reach the cause they claim to promote. Three of these rating organizations include Charity Watch, Charity Navigator, GiveWell, plus two intriguing organizations: Effective Altruism and 80,000 Hours.
Having used so much space introducing my topic, the descriptions of these sources will be brief, and perhaps another article will develop it further.
Charity Navigator — largest charity evaluator; charity directory; top 10 list by categories.
Charity Watch — ratings by name and category; in-depth articles and evaluations.
GiveWell — ratings based on effectiveness and impact; cost/benefit analysis & evidence based
“Effective Altruism” considers itself to be a philosophy, as well as a charitable organization, by using data to determine which causes — including research projects and policies — do the most good. Their members, beyond evidence based giving, seek to maximize their efforts, sometimes including their whole careers, to achieve the most good. “GiveWell” also subscribes to this philosophy.
“80,000 Hours,” carries the effective altruism idea to the extreme: they collect information to identify the world’s most pressing needs with the aim of providing career guidance which will recruit individuals seeking meaningful careers. They publish a career guide which identifies areas of significant need, which can incidentally guide your charitable giving.
If you are not inclined to browse the internet, Forbes magazine devotes their entire holiday issue to charities and charitable giving, and provides a great place to start. (In lieu of selling magazines, you can find the latest charity issue in your library).
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.