Giving What We Can

Unsurprisingly, given my bleeding heart tendencies, I’m quite taken with the idea of Giving What We Can, a movement that encourages people to make a public pledge to donate at 10% of their income from now until the day that they retire, in order to fight extreme poverty in the developing world.  10% may sound like quite a lot, but I’m certain that I could do it without missing it (although it would mean fewer magazines and items of clothing, neither of which would materially reduce my quality of living).

I like that the focus is squarely on the developing world, and not just charitable support in general.  As the website explains:

Giving What We Can focuses exclusively upon the world’s poorest nations because that is where a donation can do the most good. For example, suppose we want to help those who are blind. We can help blind people in a developed country like the United States by paying to train a guide dog. This is more expensive than most people realize and costs around $50,000 to train a dog and teach its recipient how to make best use of it. In contrast, there are millions of people in developing countries who remain blind for lack of a cheap and safe eye operation. For the same amount of money as training a single guide dog, we could completely cure enough people of Trachoma-induced blindness to prevent a total of 2,600 years of blindness. If you look at the charity comparisons section of this website, you will see many more examples like this about how a given donation can achieve vastly more in developing countries than it ever could in developed countries. There is thus a very strong argument in favour of giving to those living abroad.

Moreover, waiting until we fix our own problems may mean waiting forever. Compared to other parts of the world, we have been experiencing unrivalled prosperity for a very long time. If we can’t help those far less fortunate than ourselves now, when will we?

Although I’m still working my way through the website, it looks to be very well thought-out (and, reassuringly, well-written).  The idea is that it’s an honour system, pretty much: you make the pledge, your name is published, and each year you send the founders of GWWC confirmation of your income and the amount that you’ve given to relevant charities.  And that’s it.  And really, it’s the oldest philanthropic idea in the book, isn’t it?  The concept of tithing lasted for centuries and there’s no reason why it couldn’t be made relevant to the modern world.

Anyway, I obviously don’t know whether this is something that I will do (living, as I do, in Joint Finances Land), but it’s good food for thought.

2 Responses to Giving What We Can

  1. Jackie D says:

    My only problem with something like this is that people are doing a collective exercise while individually selecting what they believe to be “qualifying” organizations. Charities need to be thoroughly vetted on many fronts before I’ll give to them, and I worry that most people don’t do any due diligence on the entities they fund.

    • exilednzer says:

      I agree with you, Jackie, but I think that this outfit is intending to continually vet and monitor charities, recommending the particularly good ones to the people who have made the pledge. That’s what I gather so far, anyway – I need to read further.

      I’ve always thought, from my five or so years of working in CSR, that there’s a big gap in the market for impartial comparisons between charities. There used to be a good website in the UK called that tried to do it, but it was eventually bought out by New Philanthropy Capital and they haven’t continued that side of things to any great extent. And they didn’t talk broadly enough to stakeholders, in my opinion, which meant that their analysis wasn’t as rigorous as it could have been.

      What frustrates me is the perception that any big charity must, by definition, be wasting vast amounts of money on staff and other expenses. Sometimes that is true, but sometimes big charities, through the economies of scale, can both attract the best staff and mobilise its activities far more effectively than smaller charities. In fact, in my experience the optimum size for a charity seems to be somewhere between 25 and 50 people – big enough to achieve something, but not huge and unwieldy.

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