Nonprofit Chronicles

Journalism about foundations, nonprofits and their impact

My wife Karen Schneider and I gave just under seven percent of our pretax income to charity in 2017. Most Americans give away about three percent of their adjusted gross income, according to the Urban Institute, but our earnings are higher, so we should give away more. The Life You Can Save, a website inspired by the moral philosopher Peter Singer, has a calculator that recommends the percentage of your income that he believes you should give.*

I’m writing about our giving because (1) I’m a strong believer in transparency,  (2) I would like to influence readers to be more intentional about their giving, and (3) I would like to encourage more people to talk about their charitable giving, both to promote moregiving and so that we can learn from one another. For what it’s worth, I’ve had almost no luck engaging friends in this conversation. I’m not sure why.

My biggest donation this year went to Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation. In this, I’m like most Americans; religion was the biggest category of individual giving last year, reports Giving USA. My religious beliefs and synagogue community fuel much of my work and guide much of my life; giving to Adat Shalom is like paying the bills for spiritual energy and an ethical GPS.

My next biggest donation went GiveDirectly. GiveDirectly, which makes unconditional cash grants to extremely poor people in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, has become my favorite charity for several reasons. First, I love the idea of simply giving money to the poor, and letting them decide what to do with it; it’s efficient (91 cents of every donated dollar ends up in the hands of the poor) and studies indicate that it is effective as well. I’ve never been poor, nor have I lived in East Africa, so there’s no way for me to know whether a poor East African family needs a cow or a cookstove or job training (probably not). It makes sense to trust the poor to decide for themselves what they need. Second, GiveDirectly has the potential to influence global aid by providing a benchmark against which other programs can be measured. If these other interventions can’t outperform cash (and they often cannot) why bother doing them? Finally, I’ve had a chance to meet Paul Niehaus and Michael Faye, two of the co-founders of GiveDirectly. Michael now chairs its board and Paul is president. I’m confident that they will spend my donation well. (See below for an amusing video about holiday gift-giving and GiveDirectly by economists Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok.)

Third on my giving list is GiveWell. GiveWell, as you may know, is a donation platform that identifies and analyzes effective charities:

Unlike charity evaluators that focus solely on financials, assessing administrative or fundraising costs, we conduct in-depth research aiming to determine how much good a given program accomplishes (in terms of lives saved, lives improved, etc.) per dollar spent.

This is important work. GiveWell drives many millions of dollars to its top charities. Its work is a much-needed reminder that good intentions are not enough reason to support a charity. Nor, for that matter, are good results. What we want–or at least, what we should want–from our charitable donations is to do the most good that we can per dollar spent.

My fourth biggest donation went to Animal Charity Evaluators. Animals raised for food endure terrible suffering; Animal Charity Evaluators examines nonprofits that advocate on behalf of farm animals. Animal Charity Evaluators will deliver most of my donation to its top charities, which include Animal Equality, The Humane League and the Good Food Institute. All do excellent work.

My wife Karen chose the other groups to which we made significant donations. They are Mama Cash, which supports feminist activism around the world; the National Network of Abortion Funds, which provides access to abortions for poor women; and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, which support advocates for LGBTQI human rights. (Our daughter Sarah is director of philanthropic partnerships at Astraea.)

Karen and I made smaller donations to nonprofits where friends work or volunteer. They include the International Rescue Committee, Yachad, The Life You Can Save, the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda, Climate Ride and the Insight Meditation Community of Washington.

Thanks again for reading Nonprofit Chronicles. See you in 2018.


* I plagiarized myself in this blogpost. My giving hasn’t changed all that much from last year so I have taken some language from a similar post that I wrote in 2016.

2 thoughts on “My charitable giving 2017

  1. Karen Ansara says:

    Bravo on this blog and your article on DAFS. My charitable gifts — most directed internationally — come from a DAF at a community foundation. My husband and I have a website to share where the money goes. (It’s being updated.) I agree with all your points that DAFs should be legally required to be transparent and to pay out a percentage of assets like foundations every year. Who’s filing legislation like that?


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