Nonprofit Chronicles

Journalism about foundations, nonprofits and their impact

DPphaHGUIAEDYfFThe onslaught began last week. “Mark your calendar for Giving Tuesday,” said the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “One week until #GivingTuesday,” said SHOFCO. Triple your gift! Double your impact! An estimated 35,000 nonprofits participate, according to New York’s 92nd St Y, which launched Giving Tuesday in 2012.

Does #GivingTuesday do good? That’s hard to know. It’s lovely to designate a day for giving, following Thanksgiving (eat!), Black Friday (shop!) and Cyber Monday (shop online!). Last year, charities brought in $168m on Giving Tuesday, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy [paywall]. But much of that surely would have been donated anyway, and it’s a fraction of overall giving by individuals, who donated an estimated $282bn to charity in 2016. Some researchers have found that GivingTuesday has lasting effects (see this and this), but their findings rely on limited or selective data.

That said, #GivingTuesday is, at the very least, a teachable moment. So if you want your donations to do as much good as possible, you’d do well to ignore the flood of emails and turn to a meta-charity — that is, charities that rate or rank others — so that you can give with some assurance that your charity dollars will be spent wisely and efficiently. Here are four of my favorites charity evaluators; in each case, I’ve met with those in charge and come away impressed.

1. GiveWell: Founded a decade ago by Elie Hassenfeld and Holden Karnofsky, who previously worked together at an analytical hedge fund, GiveWell spends thousands of hours on research to identify its top charities. It currently recommends seven top charities, all of which it says are “evidence-backed, thoroughly vetted and underfunded.”

Four of the seven top charities operate deworming programs, two seek to prevent malaria and the seventh, GiveDirectly, makes cash transfers to extremely poor people in Kenya and Uganda. GiveWell recommends another seven standout charities, all of which also aim to serve the global poor. This makes sense because the needs are greatest in poor countries and dollars go farther there, as GiveWell explains.

2. The Life You Can Save: Backed by philosopher Peter Singer and led by Charlie Bresler, a former Mens Warehouse executive, TLYCS recommends 20 nonprofits, with a broader array of programs than those endorsed by GiveWell. It’s aimed at a mainstream donors–GiveWell can be geeky–and its website includes an Impact Calculator so you can see what your dollars will buy. (Very few nonprofits tell you what, exactly, your donation will do.) TLYCS also invites users to take a Giving Pledge, which commits them to donate a portion of their income to relieve poverty.

Newcomers to the this year’s list are D-Rev, which designs and delivers medical devices to the extreme poor, and Helen Keller International’s Vitamin A Supplementation program. The list also includes Village Enterprise, a poverty relief charity that I blogged about just last week, and One Acre Fund, which helps small holder farmers in Africa earn more money. Like GiveWell, TLYCS recommends charities that work in the poorest countries, guided, as it is, by Singer and the principles of effective altruism.

3. The Center for High Impact Philanthropy: If you’d prefer to give closer to home, check out the latest giving guide from this center, which is based at the University of Pennsylvania. It lists 14 giving opportunities, most US-based, and includes a special report on disaster philanthropy.

Domestic charities on its list include Youth Villages/YVLifeSet, which works with young adults coming out of the foster care system; Nurse Family Partnership, which matches nurses with low-income women who are pregnant with their first child; and the Center for Employment Opportunities, which helps young people coming out of prison or jail.

4. Animal Charity Evaluators: If, like me, you care about the suffering of animals, the best place to find effective charities is Animal Charity Evaluators, which, as its name indicates, evaluates animal charities. Its three top charities, announced today, are The Good Food Institute, which promotes alternatives to animal products, Animal Equality, a global advocacy group, and The Humane League, which conducts hard-hitting corporate campaigns.

ACE is also inviting donors to support all its recommended charities by giving to a fund that will distribute 75 percent of its money to the three top charities and the remainder to nine standout charities. All donations to the recommended charities fund will be matched by an anonymous donor, according to Jon Bockman, ACE’s executive director.

You may wonder why Charity Navigator, the best-known meta-charity, is not on my list. That’s because Charity Navigator is just beginning to gather information about impact. If, for some reason, you want to give to a nonprofit that hasn’t been vetted by an independent evaluator, please check it out on Charity Navigator, which can spotlight charities that are corrupt or spend way too much money on fundraising or overhead.

And you could do worse than to set aside some of your giving for these meta-charities. All punch above their weight, by driving donations to effective nonprofits.

A final thought: Last week, GiveDirectly, my favorite charity, published Four questions to ask before you give on its blog. They include: Can I tell where my dollar will go? Is there evidence about what good it will do? How much will the good or service cost to deliver? Good questions, I thought, and I said so, in a tweet.

An acquaintance disagreed, writing:

I’m a big fan of evaluation and rigorous measurement, but this is bordering on ridiculous I think. It’s the antithesis of the spirit of holiday giving. Frankly, as a former development director, if anyone hit me with all these, I’d probably tell them to go elsewhere. Not all giving has to be accompanied by a balance sheet, especially at Christmas….don’t think Jesus was filling out balanced scorecards when helping the poor.

Which is true, to a point. (At least the part about Jesus.) Giving begins with the heart. But there’s no reason not to use your head, too. By supporting effective charities, you’ll not only increase the likelihood that your donations will do good; you’ll make a small contribution to the idea that the social sector should be driven by results, and not by email marketing.

UPDATE: Hours after this was posted, GiveWell said it had chosen  two new top charities this year: Helen Keller International’s vitamin A supplementation program and Evidence Action’s No Lean Season program. It also retained its seven top charities from 2016. More detail is here.

3 thoughts on “How to give smarter on Giving Tuesday

  1. Paul Brest says:

    Jesus had essentially infinite resources, which most of your readers don’t.
    With the disclosure that I’m on it’s board of directors, you might add ImpactMatters a new organization that, in effect, rates charities based on their impact.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marc Gunther says:

      Excellent point, thanks, Paul. I blogged about ImpactMatters back in 2015 [] and it has been very helpful to me in seeking out nonprofits worth covering. I hope it continues to grow.


  2. Adam Creighton says:

    Jesus might not have been handing out balanced scorecards, but he did say that men were responsible to some degree, for accountability. When he told his disciples how to impart grace, (John 20:23) “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

    Jesus was telling his disciples to do their own due diligence. In my estimation.

    Liked by 1 person

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