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advice on giving from elsewhere in the blogosphere

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  • seth.blumberg
    I happened onto an interesting article
    Message 1 of 2 , Jun 2, 2009
      I happened onto an interesting article at the blog "Good Intentions are not Enough" rebutting theWSJ's advice for smarter giving.  Perhaps some of you have already seen it, or know the blog.  Saundra Schimmelpfennig, the author, started D-TRAC, an organization to track and hold accountable post-tsunami aid in Thailand, and which seems to have evolved into ChildTRAC, a charity to provide children with I'm-not-quite-sure-what.  Now, according to her blog, she's looking to publish a book she's written called "Beyond Good Intentions: How to Make Your Donation Dollars Do the Good You Intended".

      Anyway, she takes issue with each one of the questions the WSJ suggests donors to ask, and suggests that they instead:
      1) Ask for a copy of last year's audit findings.
      2) Request the results of several independent evaluations of the aid agency's work.
      3) Request the results of the agency's needs assessment.

      She also gives advice on some resources to learn more about good giving.  (No need for me to reprint them, but I'll note that Givewell is not among them.)  She's quite conscious that the above three things may be difficult for a donor to understand, but she says that their mere existence and frequency will convey useful information.

      I'm less interested in her or the WSJ's specific suggestions (though to anyone who is, please comment) than the mission question of how GiveWell should prioritize the results of our own research of the best charities to give to vs. advising donors how to research for themselves.  To a large extent, the blog and our explanations of our ratings do serve the latter purpose, educating the public and fostering debate.  But our focus is, and I believe should be (for now), on the former.

      However, the WSJ article mentions a group of friends who pooled together their donations and started a group to support local nonprofits in Nebraska, and it suggests forming such Giving Circles as one way to donate, even if you don't have much money.  I wonder how popular such groups are, and if they could take off the way CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture organizations - which pay in advance for locally-grown produce) have.  Isn't such a group the genesis story of GiveWell?  If we or others lowered the bar for the effort and initiative it takes to start a giving circle, perhaps they could become more popular.  I think American society is becoming more socially conscientious of issues like international poverty, so maybe this isn't a crazy prediction.

      Also, if we provided such groups with guidelines on how to evaluate charities, perhaps they could do some of our research for us, enabling us to expand our scope (particularly to domestic charities in many localities).  I don't know how much of charitable giving is local, but it's probably a lot, and it's probably nearly as in need of a better system than international aid.

      Since we already do lots of thinking about how to evaluate charities and have experience with how hard it can be to get useful information, making guidelines for outsiders would build on existing strengths.  (Though it would be somewhat labor-intensive.)  Such a feature would represent a more developed stage of our evaluation methodology, but the exercise would probably also help us develop and simplify those guidelines.

      Well, this is another long-term crazy idea, like my last post about travelers conducting site visits, but this seems like the right venue to share these ideas.  Thoughts?

      -Seth
    • Holden Karnofsky
      We re working on something along these lines - a rough generic guide for how a donor can/should investigate a charity. We probably won t have a draft before
      Message 2 of 2 , Jun 3, 2009
        We're working on something along these lines - a rough generic guide
        for how a donor can/should investigate a charity. We probably won't
        have a draft before 7/1 (we're focused on our international aid report
        until then) but there's a good chance that we will have a draft by
        7/30 (for the next meeting of the Alliance for Effective Social
        Investing - www.alleffective.org)


        On Tue, Jun 2, 2009 at 4:13 AM, seth.blumberg <sblumberg@...> wrote:
        >
        >
        > I happened onto an interesting article at the blog "Good Intentions are not
        > Enough" rebutting theWSJ's advice for smarter giving.  Perhaps some of you
        > have already seen it, or know the blog.  Saundra Schimmelpfennig, the
        > author, started D-TRAC, an organization to track and hold accountable
        > post-tsunami aid in Thailand, and which seems to have evolved into
        > ChildTRAC, a charity to provide children with I'm-not-quite-sure-what.  Now,
        > according to her blog, she's looking to publish a book she's written called
        > "Beyond Good Intentions: How to Make Your Donation Dollars Do the Good You
        > Intended".
        > Anyway, she takes issue with each one of the questions the WSJ suggests
        > donors to ask, and suggests that they instead:
        > 1) Ask for a copy of last year's audit findings.
        > 2) Request the results of several independent evaluations of the aid
        > agency's work.
        > 3) Request the results of the agency's needs assessment.
        > She also gives advice on some resources to learn more about good giving.
        >  (No need for me to reprint them, but I'll note that Givewell is not among
        > them.)  She's quite conscious that the above three things may be difficult
        > for a donor to understand, but she says that their mere existence and
        > frequency will convey useful information.
        > I'm less interested in her or the WSJ's specific suggestions (though to
        > anyone who is, please comment) than the mission question of how GiveWell
        > should prioritize the results of our own research of the best charities to
        > give to vs. advising donors how to research for themselves.  To a large
        > extent, the blog and our explanations of our ratings do serve the latter
        > purpose, educating the public and fostering debate.  But our focus is, and I
        > believe should be (for now), on the former.
        > However, the WSJ article mentions a group of friends who pooled together
        > their donations and started a group to support local nonprofits in Nebraska,
        > and it suggests forming such Giving Circles as one way to donate, even if
        > you don't have much money.  I wonder how popular such groups are, and if
        > they could take off the way CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture
        > organizations - which pay in advance for locally-grown produce) have.  Isn't
        > such a group the genesis story of GiveWell?  If we or others lowered the bar
        > for the effort and initiative it takes to start a giving circle, perhaps
        > they could become more popular.  I think American society is becoming more
        > socially conscientious of issues like international poverty, so maybe this
        > isn't a crazy prediction.
        > Also, if we provided such groups with guidelines on how to evaluate
        > charities, perhaps they could do some of our research for us, enabling us to
        > expand our scope (particularly to domestic charities in many localities).  I
        > don't know how much of charitable giving is local, but it's probably a lot,
        > and it's probably nearly as in need of a better system than international
        > aid.
        > Since we already do lots of thinking about how to evaluate charities and
        > have experience with how hard it can be to get useful information, making
        > guidelines for outsiders would build on existing strengths.  (Though it
        > would be somewhat labor-intensive.)  Such a feature would represent a more
        > developed stage of our evaluation methodology, but the exercise
        > would probably also help us develop and simplify those guidelines.
        > Well, this is another long-term crazy idea, like my last post about
        > travelers conducting site visits, but this seems like the right venue to
        > share these ideas.  Thoughts?
        > -Seth
        >
        >
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