Friday, December 31, 2010

Charity 2010

Last year I posted some details on our family's charitable giving to non-profits. So what's new for 2010? Where are we headed for 2011?

As some of my bleeps know, fortune smiled on me this past year, and I am now involved in making philanthropic decisions on amounts of money far in excess of my dreams. This work with the Bohemian Foundation, as part of an impact investing initiative, has been wonderful and we are off to a good start. I hope we will soon be sharing details of our first funding decisions. While I can't name names, I can say I am excited about how we are starting in this field... and the organizations with whom we are starting.

But back to our family decisions. For several years, we have reviewed our past gifts, and asked family members to identify both new charities, as well as those who may not make the cut in the coming year. As with prior years, we focus on 5 areas for our giving: Health, Income Generation, Environment, Education and our Local Community.

What's new this year?

1) One of the most provocative books I have read in recent years is Peter Singer's "The Life You Can Save." I think this is a great book to think through the "whys" and "hows" of being charitable. As part of this work, Peter has posted a pledge to answer the question: "Am I willing to do my part in eliminating extreme poverty?" He suggests levels of giving for Americans. This year, our family has used his target of 5% for our giving. Most, but not all, of our contributions are aimed at the addressing extreme poverty. Our other contributions go toward the environment and local organizations.

2) We have added some new organizations this year:
Akili Dada - we wanted to increase our giving to education, specifically focused on girls. Thanks to sister Sara Hall for recommending this organization.
Root Capital - an innovative organization which finances farmer cooperatives in poorer communities.
The Citizens Foundation - a Pakistani educational organization that also conducted relief operations following the floods. We try to support local aid organizations, and this is one that was a USA registered charity. Thanks to friend Asad for this recommendation.
IDE - Embarrassing. We have given to IDE for years. Last year, somehow, we forgot. I hope Paul and Al will forgive me. They do great work around the world on developing technologies that increase income for poor farmers, as well as building markets to distribute these technologies.
Pratham - providing education for poorer children in India. Recommended by Peter Singer and Rachel Glennerster for their excellent, measurable results.
National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship - Great organization referred by my friend Mark Albion. Works on promoting entrepreneurship to high school students in disadvantaged US communities.
Food Democracy Now - trying to fix our broken food system. One of Mariah's suggestions.

3) We increased our level of giving to:
Doctors Without Borders - one of the best aid organizations for disasters... and 2010 had several new disasters (Haiti, Pakistan) as well as the ongoing disasters in conflict zones.
VisionSpring - a simple way to improve incomes of the poor- inexpensive reading glasses.
Central Asia Institute - Greg Mortenson's work on education in Pakistan and Afghanistan continues to impress us.
Vittana - an innovative approach to providing student loans for higher education in Latin America. Check it out and make a loan!

4) We did all our giving online this year. From the number of last minute appeals via email, facebook and twitter this must be the big trend for small donors (like us). But there is great variation in how well prepared various charities are to do this (umm... it is almost 2011... let's get on it, folks). Some still have a limited presence on social networking sites (umm... it is almost 2011... if you aren't on facebook and twitter yet... why not?). I thought Nature Conservancy had one of the best interfaces- a personalized link on an email, the ability to easily promote the organization on social networking sites, etc. I was also intrigued by the "Causes" approach on facebook- each step told me how much more the cause might be able to raise if I only shared on facebook or sent out emails to my friends. To me, it went too far, but I am an old gray beard. My guess is in another year or two I will be fully on board.

5) Here is how we allocated our giving this year. We increased our overall giving by 40% (not only was Peter's book provocative, it was EXPENSIVE):
Education: 37%
Local Community: 22%
Health: 19%
Income Generation: 19%
Environment: 12%

What's up for 2011?

In both my professional and family roles, I have been challenged to describe what impact might result from two competing donations/investments. What is the relative impact of a donation to Pratham, TCF or CAI? How do we answer the questions about who to add and who to drop from our giving? Or where to increase or decrease our giving? As the mutual fund ads say "Past results are no indicator of future performance." I will continue to watch GiveWell, J-PAL as well as GIIN/IRIS (for those that participate). At least with mutual funds, you know what past performance is. The charity field still works mostly off of anecdotes and hard-to-compare metrics. I am not sure there is much incentive to change, or at least to be the first to change. But we shall see.

I have also continued to learn in the past year how complex it is to be an effective donor. Part of this is research, part is monitoring, part is listening. I am sure I will learn much more in the coming years. And late in each year, I will try to share it with my bleeps.

Do good, and be great at it. See you next year!