Do good by donating money

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Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

TL; DR
If you have some disposable income which you might consider donating to a YouTuber or a blogger, please stop and think about it for a bit. By donating it to an effective charity, that money could be used to make a far bigger positive impact in the world. Check out the charity evaluators GiveWell, The Life You Can Save or CharityWatch to see what the most effective charities are today and what could you accomplish by donating even a tiny amount.

We all have that Facebook page that we hold dear, that we cannot wait to see more posts of. Or we have that YouTube channel we watch obsessively and are waiting for that notification that they have uploaded a new video. Or we eagerly wait to read a new blog post or listen to that podcast. Or maybe we even follow that a fashion or travel influencer or a blogger and feel really connected to them. We all know and love content creators that we agree with and possibly even that touch us and inspire us.

Some of these creators might ask you to support their work, to donate to keep their service alive and running. They might have a “Buy me a coffee” button or “Support me on Patreon” link. And you might consider doing that. After all, they seem genuinely interested in what they do, they are good at it and might help to spread awareness about the cause you believe in, like feminism, humanism or liberalism. Not only that but the money you might donate to them would otherwise probably be spent on things you do not really need, so you might as well support someone who is passionate about their work, especially if they are vocal about the cause you believe in and have the possibility to make a positive impact on the world because of their large audience.

But, should you do that? With this post, which is basically an introduction to issues of donating, I wish only to inspire you to stop for a second before you hit that ‘Donate’ button to give gaming or make-up YouTuber your money. I will mostly focus here on possibly the ‘easiest’ case for charity – a case where a person has already decided they wish to donate money but to an internet content creator.

Let me first say that yes, I do believe there is something wrong in giving your money to the amateur content creators – especially those who are not vocal on the human or animal rights issues, like travel or fashion bloggers and the like, when there’s so much poverty and people are dying from preventable diseases. Of course, it seems less wrong than spending your money on obscene luxuries. And in our society that is allowed. Buying obscene luxuries is allowed and no one can command you what you must or mustn’t do with your own money. Just look at all the zillionaire yacht-owners. So, after paying taxes (we’ll get into what libertarianism has to say and any problems with it in some other post), of course, it’s your money and you’re free to spend it as you wish.

But, should you? Well, just because no one can command you what to do, that doesn’t mean people can’t say their opinion on what you should do. Since you can use your money to support many worthwhile causes to help those in need, I believe that you should not be spending your money on ultra-luxurious items while about 650 million in 2018 (source) live in extreme poverty (on less than 1.90 $/day). More controversially maybe, I also believe that you should not give your money to content creators, even if they are vocal about the issues. In my opinion – an I am not saying that it is impossible that will change – I believe that vocal content creators simply cannot have enough of an impact to warrant a donation to them over a donation to an effective charity. Even the very vocal ones who wish to increase awareness about social issues are most likely to be preaching to a choir and I don’t believe them having more money to do a higher quality show can justify not using that money for charity, even if the charity is not to save lives but to preserve old buildings or increase the appreciation for art.

Really, when you simply look at the number of people still dying from malaria - and some of those deaths could be prevented by buying a 2$ long-lasting insecticidal net. Really, how could giving to a travel blogger even begin to compare?

Sure, there’s nothing preventing you from doing both but in the end, you can spend each Euro only once so every euro to a YouTuber is a Euro less to charity. So, before you donate to a YouTuber, I would urge you to stop and think about an alternative. While that YouTuber might be cool, there are ways to spend your money that would make a far bigger positive impact in the world.

Let’s see how.

So, we have decided that money spent on charity is better spent than money to content creators. But there’s one more catch. It matters to whom we donate our money. There are hundreds of worthwhile causes and thousands of different charities that support these causes; therefore, we should do some thinking about how we donate our money.

First, we need to think about which causes are we passionate about because we’re much more likely to donate and keep donating if we can support a cause we care about. For example, you might care deeply about art or old buildings and would consider donating some money to preserve old buildings or so that your local museum can expand its expressionism wing. If you feel very passionately about these things, then, again, it’s your money, you’re free to spend it and you will still be able to say that your donation supported a more worthwhile cause than if you gave your money to a blogger or a YouTuber.

But I would urge you to think harder – to look deeper inside yourself and to consider what other causes you might care about but that is likely to have a bigger impact on how people in extreme poverty live or that might prevent people dying from a lack of clean water, malnutrition or malaria. Again, if you care about art, go right ahead.

But my recommendation is to first ask yourself what you care about from the areas of poverty, preventing diseases, hunger, animal welfare, helping sick children, helping children to get an education, etc. That is – anything from an area that deals with living beings suffering or not having the essentials for living above the extreme poverty line. You can use the browse feature on charitynavigator.org if you currently lack ideas.

Next, you should ideally be aware that your dollar or euro or pound has a much bigger impact in Africa or Asia than it does in your home country. Yes, there are local charity programs, but they cannot hope to match the cost-effectiveness of donating internationally and caring about global issues. Not only that but it’s likely you’re already supporting those programs via tax. But again, it’s your money.

Now when you hopefully decided to support a cause you care about from the areas which have an impact on human or animal suffering and that hopefully works on the international level as they are usually more effective, you need to decide which particular charities you should focus on.

To do that, we need to go beyond typing “breast cancer charity” into google. Google does not care which charity is effective. Google cares only about which of their criteria for a query relevance a website meets, so we should not focus on what Google says the top result is. Luckily, there are special charity-oriented services on the web to help your search, like charity search engines and charity evaluators.

  • You can use CharityNavigator.org to browse for charities by topics. But I would not put too much emphasis on their recommendations. Here’s a blog post which casts doubts about their methodologies – granted, from a co-founder of one of the “competitors” – GiveWell – but the post makes sense to me. So, use CharityNavigator to find out about which charities in your desired area exist.
  • Next, use CharityWatch.org or GiveWell.org – which are much better charity evaluators to find about which charities use that money most efficiently to get things done. These evaluators usually have lots of good info about a charity, such as is your donation tax-deductible, for example. Of course, if it is, in the long run, that means that you’ll have more money to donate. So, before donating make sure to check the charity’s ratings. Even Charity Navigator helps there as they do have the potential to weed out the useless ones. But again, cross-check them with other evaluators.

However, if you came this far, there’s even an easier and more effective way to give, especially if you’re not set in stone about the cause you wish to support. There are services that list the absolutely most effective charities they have evaluated so far. By giving to one of these charities your money is guaranteed to be spent effectively. The only disadvantage here is that they might not list any charity from a field you care about as a most effective charity, so you can either change your field or do more independent research. However, you will probably not make as much of an impact as you would to donating to these top charities.

Also, after donating, make sure to check your bank account and credit card statements. This is not to imply that any charity is dishonest but bugs in online forms can always happen and it doesn’t cost anything to make an additional check.

  • GiveWell’s Top Charities – this is, in my opinion, the best list there is. GiveWell’s mission is not to catalogue every charity there is and provide a rating but to find the very best charities. To do that they evaluate studies to see if charity goals work – for example if it even makes sense to give money directly to poor individuals and then they evaluate specific charities from those fields to see which ones are the most effective. This was an extremely simplified explanation, so make sure to read their “How We Work” section for more info.
  • The Life You Can Save: Where to donate? – like GiveWell, but they do not rate charities directly as GiveWell does – instead they start from the evaluators such as GiveWell and add their own layer on top. You will surely notice that they recommend many of the same charities as GiveWell but because they use recommendations from other evaluators as well, they will have a broader selection. One advantage of their site is that you can filter by cause, country and whether donations are tax-deductible.
  • If your cause is not on the Top Charities lists above and you absolutely do not wish to switch to any of the causes on those two lists, check out the CharityWatch’s Top Rated Charities which has many, many more causes to choose from with most effective charities in each cause category.
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