Nonprofit Chronicles

Journalism about foundations, nonprofits and their impact

My wife Karen Schneider and I gave about eight percent of our pretax income to charity in 2018. The Life You Can Save, a nonprofit inspired by the moral philosopher Peter Singer, has a calculator that recommends the percentage of your income that you should give.

I’m writing about our giving because (1) I’m a believer in transparency, (2) I’d like to influence readers to be more thoughtful and intentional about their giving, and (3) I’d like to encourage others to talk about their charitable giving, both to promote more giving and so that we can learn from one another. I have friends who will talk for hours about politics or religion or family, but when I ask them about their charitable giving, they clam up. I’m not sure why. You don’t have to disclose dollar values. Just talk about why and where you give.

This year, our biggest single donation went to the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, which supports grassroots advocates for LGBTQI human rights around the world. Karen was the driver behind this gift, but we both know and like Astraea very much. We get an insider’s view because our daughter Sarah Gunther works as director of philanthropic partnerships at Astraea. It’s hard to measure advocacy, but easy to know that it matters: The US campaign to secure marriage equality for gay people has been cited as one of the great philanthropic victories of recent times, according to scholar Ben Soskis.

Our next biggest gift went to GiveDirectly, which makes unconditional cash grants to extremely poor people in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. Give Directly has become my favorite charity; last spring, during a trip to Rwanda, I had the opportunity to see how the organization operates in the field and talk to recipients. I could say a lot about GiveDirectly, but my biggest takeaway from the Rwanda trip was this: The money that middle-class or upper-class people in the US spend on a few restaurant meals, or for a single night in a nice hotel, is enough to make a meaningful difference to the life of a poor person in Africa. (Details, here.) I love the idea of simply giving money to people, and letting them decide what they need. GiveDirectly is more efficient than most charities (91 cents of every donated dollar ends up in the hands of the poor) and, importantly, cash transfers have the potential to influence global aid by providing a benchmark against which other programs can be measured. [See my story for The New York Times’ Fixes column, headlined Is Cash Better for Poor People Than Conventional Foreign Aid?] I’ve met Paul Niehaus and Michael Faye, two of the co-founders of GiveDirectly, and I have confidence that they will spend donor dollars wisely.

Next on my giving list is GiveWell. GiveWell, as you may know, is a donation platform that identifies and analyzes effective charities in great depth. It is a much-needed reminder that good intentions are not enough reason to support a charity. [See my blogpost about More Than Me for a horrifying story of what happens when good intentions go awry.] If you want to do the most good you can for each dollar that you spend on charity, GiveWell is essential. Shaped by the effective altruism movement, it drives many millions of dollars to its top charities.

Another significant donation of mine (though not Karen’s) went to Animal Charity Evaluators. Animals raised for food suffer terribly; Animal Charity Evaluators examines nonprofits that advocate on their behalf. Animal Charity Evaluators will deliver most of my donation to its top charities, which include Animal Equality, the Albert Schweitzer Foundation, the Good Food Institute and the Humane League. All do excellent work.

Another major donation went to Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation. In this, we are 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.

Karen chose the other groups to which we made significant donations. They include the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, where she was a board member for six years and which supports grassroots human rights groups around the world, and the National Network of Abortion Funds, which provides access to abortions for low-income women.

In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings, we made a donation to HIAS, a nonprofit that was founded in the 19th century to help Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe. HIAS now supports refugees and immigrants.

We made smaller donations to nonprofits where friends work or volunteer. They include the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, Yachad, The Life You Can Save, the Center for Climate Change Communication, the International Rescue Committee and the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda. I’m also a fan of Village Enterprise, Water for People and The Bail Project.

You may not share our desire to give most of our money globally or to support the animal welfare movement. (Most people don’t.) If, instead, you would like to support charities that work on health, poverty, education or disaster relief in the US, the Center for High Impact Philanthropy publishes an excellent guide. The Life You Can Save also has wide range of top charities that they have vetted, but most work outside the US. If you

Whatever you do, please give what you can and do so thoughtfully. You’ll feel good knowing that you are helping others in need.

*Our giving in 2018 was similar to our giving in 2017, so some of the language is this blogpost is adapted from last year’s post.

One thought on “My charitable giving in 2018

  1. Jon Bockman says:

    Nice post, Mark! Kudos to you and Karen for your thoughtful philanthropy. And many thanks to you as well for publishing it—I agree that it’s good to strive for transparency, but it’s also an inspiration to many folks I’m sure. I missed reporting my own giving activity in this year’s ACE blog post, but you’ve helped remind me how important it is so I’ll have to make sure to make that happen next year.

    Cheers, Jon


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