Saturday, June 8, 2019

How to Donate Money

I've gotten a lot of questions from well-meaning loved ones back home asking how they can help and even where they can donate money when I share with them some of the poverty challenges we've seen among our friends in Kenya. To be honest, this is one of the hardest things to answer. A lot of the root causes of poverty are systemic, and one-time cash infusions aren't going to bring about systemic changes. I've also seen a number of families get a temporary influx from donations, only to return right back to where they started a few months later.

That being said, there are plenty of opportunities to make a massive impact in others' lives through charity in general. There are a few schools of thought when it comes to giving, too, that I've found helpful in considering when I'm trying to decide where to put my charity dollars each year. The first and most obvious one is to donate to causes that resonate with you personally. This was our logic when we donated to the Lung Cancer Alliance in lieu of favors for our wedding - we had both lost family members to lung disease. Most people have some issue they are passionate about, and it's almost guaranteed there's an organization working in that field that would be happy to receive your support.

Another line of thinking focuses on the idea of "lifting where you stand" and benefitting your geographic community as much as possible. Proponents of this argument say we need to fix our own neighborhoods before seeking out opportunities to improve lives halfway around the world. No matter how privileged your area is, there are certainly people in the region who could use your help. In the very well-off northern Virginia county where M and I were, for example, there are a number of people struggling with poverty, homelessness, and unemployment. Nonprofits like Britepaths help individuals and families around our hometown get back on their feet with short-term support and an eye towards long-term stability. It's definitely worth looking to see what opportunities there are to donate where you come from or where you live.

Last but not least, there's a practical philosophy called effective altruism. The idea behind effective altruism is that the most ethical way to spend our limited resources (including charity money) is to maximize the benefit to humanity. This seems to be typically measured in the literal number of lives saved. If this appeals to you, I highly recommend checking out GiveWell's list of recommended charities, all of which have passed through a very stringent analysis process. Every one of their top charities would benefit substantially from additional donations and are demonstrably saving lives. It was through GiveWell that we found and donated to GiveDirectly, an organization supporting cash transfers to a subset of those living in extreme poverty in Kenya and Uganda. It's one of the most thoroughly researched charity programs I've ever seen, which gave us confidence that our money would make a difference.

Regardless of where you decide to donate, I do recommend taking a rigorous look at the recipient organizations you're considering. Do they monitor and evaluate their programs? Do they report honest results to the public? Do they terminate programs or cut off recipients when they find fraud or abuse? Do they keep administrative overhead minimal? Do most of your dollars go to the intended recipients or to advertising and other indirect costs? Do the leaders get huge paychecks? These are the types of questions I've found the most crucial. (In the United States, Charity Navigator can provide answers to many of these, especially for prominent charities. And Charity Navigator will take donations, too, to continue their work helping people give. How meta is that?)

There are so many hardworking charities changing lives around the world every day that could really benefit from the donations of those of us who are privileged enough to consider it. I hope this post has been helpful in illuminating some of the ways to start thinking about what might be the best way for you to give. If you have any other thoughts or tips for things that have helped you decide how to donate your money, please feel free to share them in the comments below!

(P.S. I can't discuss this topic without sharing one of my favorite hymns. I still remember what a huge impact it had on me the first time I heard it, and it so perfectly symbolizes the deep love, care, and concern we should have for all of our fellow human beings. You can check it out here.)

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