Monday, January 31, 2005

Who Should I Donate To?

I'd been planning to write a post about charities for some time, but I put off writing to collect my thoughts. I was inspired by this post initially, but my thoughts didn't seem well formed. They still don't mesh together as well as I'd like, but I'm tired of sitting on this topic.

I, like so many people, sent a meager amount of money to the Red Cross because of the tsunami, and I don't regret it. It was good to send my money, and it's good to send money in general - It is good for ones soul, I feel. Since I don't have much money as an MBA student with an internship, I have little to spread around and simply hope that what I give is used for the best. But, I'll be graduating in May, and hopefully it won't be long before I have a real job with real money (knock on wood). It's time to consider where my cash should go.

I was giving to a church here in Louisville that I had been visiting sometimes, and I think it is the most beautiful and holy place in the city. It is also not a very rich church, so I was happy giving my money there when I attended regularly. But when I came to realize that I'm not going to be a Catholic, that stopped. I still believe in the idea of a tithe, though, and I'm going to stick to it. I still give to the church, but realized that protecting a wonderful local institution is only one small issue in a world that has numerous problems.

Where is the most suffering in the world? I'm tempted to say that it exists in the mind of man, as I've seen far too many people give in to depression or despair. The problem is that I have no idea what to do about this other than be a friend. Could a religious organization help here? Sadly, I've known several people who went mad because of the religion in their lives, and I'm not smart enough to know how to prevent this. Where do you give your money to help people who are so poor mentally? A psychological foundation? Which one would actually work to help people? Which one would use poor methodology that hurts more than it helps?

I believe that such mental problems that we see in the US are largely problems of a prosperous world, disconnected from the traditions of the past. I also think this is a consequence of a good thing; that we are moving away from fear and poverty, and into prosperity. Widespread poverty is a far worse problem than our own, affecting so many countries. I'd like see it end, even to the point of my own detriment. But, again, I am not sure of where to go with this. Giving to the Red Cross and the like seems like a good idea - but which charity is really doing the best work? Until I find a better idea, the Red Cross will likely get some of my money.

Sadly, I'd bet that there are many small charities or organizations that do a large amount of good, and get a little bit of money. Somewhere in Africa there is a wonderful group of people (quite possibly missionaries) that improve their corner of the world to a significant degree, and that no one has ever heard. Now they deserve my money! But, I don't have the time to find them.

I was looking at North Korea blogs today, which might be the worst place in the entire world. Here is an issue that I'm truly concerned about. What can I do to help? I searched these sites for places to donate to, and I came up empty (there is an excellent chance I overlooked something). How I hate tyranny that exists in the world. But, no amount of money is going to stop that. They need a better government, and leaders that permit them to be free.

Maybe the best thing to do is to give to countries that are changing their governments, as perhaps they have the best chance to change. Would it be best to send my money to Afghanistan or Iraq... or even to the Ukraine, Georgia, or any country in the Eastern Bloc? Perhaps the best way to help these countries is to invest in them. In fact, I intend to do that, buying index funds of entire countries or regions, like this Latin American index fund. I wonder which country has dipped in price the most in recent years? Hmmm...

In thinking about this, I have come to believe in giving locally, and need to do a similar examination of charitable foundations in the Louisville area. Coming to think of it, I really should look at some of those for a job when I graduate. And, of course, one of the best ways that I can help these organizations out is to volunteer for them, something I can't do for overseas organizations very well. And also something I can't do when I'm in school so much.

As my friends know, I'm a huge Billy Beane fan, and feel that Moneyball did an excellent job of spreading his efficiency ideas to the public. I wonder if the principles of the book can be turned to the charitable world. Yes, you can give money the tsunami, as I did, but don't more people die from cancer every year than that? Here's a great post about how many more people die each year from infectious disease than died because of the tsunami. And another post on charitable events like the tsunami. Can you just write one check each year and have it given to the "most efficient cause"? Most likely no, but you should still give. I just hate to give money to places where it will be wasted, or on feel-good causes that don't do any good.

So, here is the question: where can I get the most bang for my chartitable buck? I have to admit to being pretty ignorant here. Which handful of institutions should I decide to donate to?


At 1/31/2005 11:22:00 AM, Blogger PaulNoonan said...

The Salvation Army is famously efficient.

Forbes has a charity efficiency calculator if you want to check a certain charity.


At 2/16/2005 12:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to commend your committment to charity -giving money as a student is very difficult-before adding my two cents. All Christians, Jews, and Muslims recognize a scriptural obligation to help other through action.

I feel the same as you, that local causes have our first priority. As a Catholic, I ask the Knights of Columbus for a list of requests for funds from the community. This is how I began to buy specially made bicycles for the disabled in my home town. As the first responder noted, the Salvation Army is famously efficient. Any church based charity is efficient because it is all volunteers.

I prefer to donate to causes that prevent problems, rather than solve them. To me, this includes Boys&Girls clubs, Scouts, community recreation facilities, and community sports clubs.

I suggest that your donation of money (and time, which is even harder for a student) to any legitimate charity will by fruitful to both your community and yourself.

At 2/24/2005 01:13:00 AM, Blogger Elango said...

Check out

Hope this gives some ideas.

At 2/24/2005 03:35:00 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Just so I don't forget:


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