My wife Karen Schneider and I gave away about nine percent of our pretax income in 2019. Like most people, I delayed my charitable giving until the end of the year–a bad practice, because nonprofits have needs all year–so I’m just now writing my annual blogpost about where the money went. 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, as well as an excellent list of top charities.*
My biggest gift went to GiveDirectly, which makes unconditional cash grants to people living in extreme poverty. Give Directly is my favorite charity. In 2018, I traveled to Rwanda to see how the organization operates and talk to recipients of its grants. I could say a lot about GiveDirectly but my biggest takeaway from the trip was this: The money that well-to-do Americans 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. If you care about inequality–and it seems that more and more people do–there’s no better charity than GiveDirectly.
Next on the list is GiveWell, a donation platform that identifies and analyzes effective charities in depth. If you want to do the most good you can for each dollar that you spend on charity, GiveWell is essential. Most of the money it raises flows to charity that improve global health, in particular by helping poor people protect themselves against malaria.
Together Karen & I also donated to our synagogue, Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation. In this, we are like most Americans; religion was the biggest category of individual giving last year. My religious beliefs and synagogue community are an important part of my life.
I also made a significant donation to Animal Charity Evaluators, which identifies nonprofits that advocate on behalf of farm animals; the unnecessary suffering of farm animals is an underrated problem.
New to the list is the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Research, or MAPs, which is conducting groundbreaking research into the use of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to treat PTSD caused by war, sexual assault, violent crime and other traumas. More broadly, MAPS advocates for the careful use of psychedelic drugs and marijuana to heal people and the planet. I wrote about philanthropy and psychedelics last year for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, here, and for Medium, here, and came away impressed with MAPS and with the enormous potential of psychedelic medicine.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that these donations were made through a donor-advised fund (DAF) at Vanguard Charitable that Karen and I set up at the end of 2017. I’ve been a critic of DAFs because I believe they should be regulated, to prevent people from exploiting the fact that they can get tax deductions by giving to a DAF without ever pushing their money out to where it is needed. [See America’s Biggest Charity is Built on a Lie.] In our case, we estimated our charitable giving for 2018, 2019 and 2020 and deposited that money into our DAF. We plan to distribute all the money to “real” charities by the end of 2020.
Why I am writing about this? Several reasons. (1) I believe in transparency. (2) I’d like to influence you to be more intentional about their giving, and perhaps even to give to some of the groups I’ve studied. (3) I’d like to encourage more conversation about charitable giving, both to promote more giving and so that we can learn from one another.
*Some language here is drawn from my posts about giving in 2017 and 2018 since our giving has not changed much over the years.
3 thoughts on “My charitable donations in 2019”
Dear Marc (and Craig),
In “America’s biggest charity is built on a lie,” you end by commenting that “Inexplicably, there’s scant desire among the major players in the nonprofit sector to ask Congress to take a look at DAFs. Why that’s the case is a story for another day.”
It appears that Greater Washington Community Foundation is part of a partnership that has recently issued a statement *against* Congressional reform of donor-advised funds — declaring, in part, “we worry it could negatively impact our valuable partnerships with local charities and other philanthropies.”
Since it’s hard to imagine how local charities would object to a requirement to disburse a larger percentage of DAF monies each year, it seems that the community foundation partnership is more concerned about its alliances with the same wealthier foundations that you criticize in “America’s biggest charity is built on a lie.”
I’m also wondering why there was no disclosure of your own DAF investments in your concurrent critique of Fidelity. Instead, you conclude “Do we need DAFS? I’m not sure we do.”
Unfortunately, broad critiques like yours also erase the experiences of lower-income DAF holders like me. In the 15 years that I’ve maintained a DAF balance of $5-$12K, I’ve consistently disbursed an average of 70%-90% annually.
Looking forward to more nuanced coverage of these issues as we continue to face this “opportunity to rethink the charitable deduction from the bottom up.”
Yours for just-giving (just give, AND give justly),
Great transparency. I’m wondering, however, why you use a commercial donor advised fund and not your local Community Foundation (Greater Washington Community Foundation) to house your DAF?
I myself donated to (among others) the National Council of Nonprofits (https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/) and the United Philanthropy Forum (https://www.unitedphilforum.org/) both of which I have worked for a couple of their members. These “infrastructure” groups and their members are a critical resource for nonprofits and foundations to help with compliance, policy, and management resources.
Thanks for the comment and question. We opened our DAF at Vanguard because it was convenient, and I had not thought much about DAFs at that time. When we make a new deposit in 2020 or 2021, we’ll take a close look at the Greater Washington Community Foundation.