wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
After a couple of months of procrastinating about it, today I handed in my Give As You Earn form. For the last 18 months or so that I was at Orbis, 10% of my salary was going into a Charities Aid Foundation Account, and now it is again, en route to whatever is the most cost effective poverty relief charity I can find (most likely SCI, but I'll see what Givewell and Giving What We Can are saying when I've accrued a reasonably substantial balance.)

There's a theory that one shouldn't talk about ones charitable giving, that to do so is bragging and self-aggrandising, although [livejournal.com profile] the_alchemist does a pretty good job of taking that viewpoint apart here.

And I'm going to talk about it, because I want to encourage you to do the same. Because those of us who are relatively well off (and if you're reading this, the chances are high that you're extremely well off compared to the people who SCI help, even if you're not compared to me), have the ability to make an enormous difference to people's lives at very little cost to ourselves.

Now, in an ideal world I'd want to convince everyone I know to start giving 10%, or indeed more, but that can feel like quite a hit to one's income, especially if you're feeling pretty hard up to begin with, so here are some things that might make it easier to get started.
  • Begin by just giving 1%, perhaps even just as a trial for a couple of months, and see if it's bearable. If it is, maybe push it by another 1% every now and then. Even 1% of the salary of someone on UK minimum wage will provide another 400 vacinations each year if donated to SCI.
  • Decide now that when you next get a payrise you'll start donating half of it. That way, you don't have to take any hit at all
  • In a similar vein, if you're paying off student loans, or other debts, resolve to switch some of the difference to charitable giving when they're paid off. (This wasn't my idea - I think it's either [livejournal.com profile] shreena or [livejournal.com profile] lavendersparkle who deserves the credit.)
  • If you're already making regular charitable donations, but to charity which works in the UK or another rich nation, consider switching to a more efficient way of giving. Even if you feel closer to the people who are being helped by your current choice, is that really worth overlooking the fact that tens, or hundreds, perhaps even thousands more could be helped with the same amount of money if you direct the funds elsewhere?

Date: 2012-05-15 05:58 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] ciphergoth
ciphergoth: (Default)
Thanks for this post - totally agree with your decision to make it!

Date: 2012-05-15 08:17 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] lavendersparkle
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
I think it must have been [personal profile] shreena.

Date: 2012-05-16 01:25 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] shreena
shreena: (Default)
You see, I think it was you! Perhaps we had a mutual moment of inspiration

Date: 2012-05-15 09:12 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] liv
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
I think talking about charitable donations in this sort of context is a great idea, and I am definitely in favour of giving a regular proportion of salary rather than doing it ad-hoc.

I am a little squicked by your last bullet-point, though. I mean, sure, choose charities that use donations effectively, but the idea of getting cut-price philanthropy and more life-saving for your money by donating to developing countries where the economies were wrecked by colonialism seems really off to me. This is probably a problem I have with Giving What We Can and similar outfits, though, not so much a problem with your post.

Date: 2012-05-15 10:02 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] liv
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
Yes, basically. I mean, I don't like buying stuff made in the developing world on the grounds that it's so much cheaper than the stuff that's made in places that have thriving economies and decent labour rights. But buying virtue at a cut-price rate seems really unpleasant, to me. It's "white saviour industrial complex" stuff.

It's partly tied up with the fact that I have very mixed feelings about direct aid in the forms of giving food and medicine to people in precarious situations. Yes, it's good because it saves lives, and I'm obviously not opposed to saving lives. But it doesn't do anything to solve the systemic problems which led to so many people starving and displaced in the first place, and in fact I've seen pretty convincing evidence that aid makes those problems worse.

I would rather spend a proportion of my charitable giving on, say, political lobbying to forgive third world debt and end the international arms trade. Political lobbying is vastly inefficient in terms of return on investment, but it seems absolutely hypocritical to me to donate a percentage of my income to providing food and medicine for the world's poorest, while turning a blind eye to the fact that the reason I have all this lovely spare money is because my country continues to exploit these areas of the world and takes actions that deliberately keep people poor.

Let me be clear: I don't have a problem with giving money to poverty relief. That's an entirely valid choice! I have a problem with the claim that sending money to very poor countries is morally better than spending it on social or medical problems here, because it's so inconveniently expensive to feed, house and treat someone in the UK.

Date: 2012-05-15 10:56 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] miss_s_b
miss_s_b: (Default)
I saw the bullets as advice, rather than a prescription, so I was just planning on ignoring the bits I disagreed with (and I agree with the vast majority of what you've typed in the comment above).

Shall be donating to something like CAB or the Survivor's Trust if I set this up.

Long rambly reply - sorry!

Date: 2012-05-15 11:16 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] cm
But buying virtue at a cut-price rate seems really unpleasant, to me. It's "white saviour industrial complex" stuff.

I don't feel I'm buying cut price virtue, though I wouldn't particularly care if I were: 100 people having longer, happier, healthier lives is more important to me than whether I'm a good person or not (though it's kind of circular, because I would feel I were a less good person if I cared more about being a good person).

In fact I find it very difficult to understand how people can have a concept of themselves as 'good' or 'virtuous' quite that independent of how they use their resources to increase others' chances of being happy or unhappy, but I appreciate that's probably my brain being a bit wonky.


But it doesn't do anything to solve the systemic problems which led to so many people starving and displaced in the first place, and in fact I've seen pretty convincing evidence that aid makes those problems worse.

Could you point me in the direction of this evidence?

It's complicated, but I'm inclined to think the solutions to many of the systemic problems are most likely to come from people in developing countries themselves, and that one of the best contributions we can make is to provide health treatments that (for example) help children stay in school, to give them the best chance of becoming the people who find these solutions.


Political lobbying is vastly inefficient in terms of return on investment ...

What makes you think that? I believe I'm right in saying that recent Giving What We Can research (not published yet) has suggested that the most effective political lobbying is likely to be more effective than the most effective health interventions. I may well be pointing my own donations in that direction within a few years.


... but it seems absolutely hypocritical to me to donate a percentage of my income to providing food and medicine for the world's poorest, while turning a blind eye to the fact that the reason I have all this lovely spare money is because my country continues to exploit these areas of the world and takes actions that deliberately keep people poor.

What's wrong with doing both? I see redistributing a portion of my income back to the people on whose exploitation it is based as a necessary and important part fighting against that exploitation. Political lobbying to forgive third world debt and end the international arms trade are other parts.


I have a problem with the claim that sending money to very poor countries is morally better than spending it on social or medical problems here, because it's so inconveniently expensive to feed, house and treat someone in the UK.

That sounds similar to the arguments used by advocates of the US healthcare system where people with inconveniently expensive conditions might have a better chance than they would here, if they're sufficiently rich and sufficiently lucky. I *do* think it's morally better to behave more like NICE, distributing finite resources in something like a fair way, even if it means the inconveniently expensive get left out.

And that's not just in spite of the fact that the system I benefit from is why the conveniently inexpensive are so poor; if anything it's because of it.

I want to live in a world where we're no longer inconveniently expensive to house, feed and treat, because everyone has equal access to the basics, and I see political lobbying and health interventions in poor countries as excellent ways of helping achieve that. Whereas spending money on social or medical problems here does comparatively very little.

Date: 2012-05-16 12:39 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] cm
Oh, this is a much better answer than my one, particularly the last paragraph.

Having thought about it more, I think one of the reasons why I can't see myself as virtuous for giving 10% is that I know my motives are mixed and that the 'good' ones are overshadowed by the selfish and/or downright unpleasant ones.

I feel frustration and rage when I hear about people prefering to support UK charities, but I don't think that eschewing them makes me more virtuous. In fact I think the rage makes me less virtuous, as it's clearly unhelpful and for the most part unmerited.

I know that (with a few exceptions) people don't support UK charities because they have have *bad* beliefs, only beliefs that are [in my opinion] mistaken. All that means is that People Like Us need to work harder to find ways of communicating our message (or People Who Support UK Charities need to communicate theirs better, and convince us).

I find this really hard to write about, because I don't really bother about being virtuous, moral or ethical myself, just about increasing utility. I have a vague idea that virtue, morality and ethics have something to do with whether you're increasing utility, and something about your motivation in doing so (hence what I say above), and something about fitting in with your cultural norms of what is 'good'.

But I find analysing and changing my motivation much more difficult than and much less important than increasing utility, that it doesn't really seem worth my while to work on it, except perhaps a little bit for the sake of increasing my own happiness.

And I care far more about changing our cultural norms to ones that make people happier than about fitting in with our current ones.

Date: 2012-05-15 10:52 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] miss_s_b
miss_s_b: (Default)
This is a really good idea. Funds really are very tight at the moment in this household, but I'll think about doing it next time I get a rise - which will be when the minimum wage goes up - although if the pattern is repeated of the last two times min wage went up, I will end up with a concomitant cut in hours which will mean I take home less...

Date: 2012-05-16 09:55 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] twigletzone
twigletzone: Red and white striped socks clothes-pegged to the guy rope of a tent. (Default)
As of two months ago, I'm living on £500 a month for the first time in nearly five years. For the rest of those five years it's been £300 a month, broken only by a small amount of money I inherited when my grandmother died - most of which went on getting stuff I needed and hadn't been able to afford, like psychiatric treatment. The increase in income is a breathtaking relief, but still not enough to actually cover my own rent, and I need a lot more therapy before I'll be functional enough in this country's society to get any better off. So... yeah. I may be overwhelmingly privileged by rural African standards, but relative poverty still leaves you living on other people's charity.

Tithing is an interesting concept; I'm not sure where I stand on the whole faith and charity issue. As a pagan, cultural imperialism has its own horror for me, and I see a lot of my role in addressing those issues as being about personal growth and better understanding what assumptions I've been taught that make me think I know better than other people about their own lives. Avoiding repeats of history, if you will. I also find the whole issue of charity choices complicated. For one thing I belong to a minority community which really needs activists, volunteers and money to improve its lot, and I find it hard to justify putting what little time and money I can spare into unrelated things. For two, even if I did choose to walk away from my own community, there are issues right here on my doorstep - British children suffering malnutrition because of spiralling food prices while supermarkets are destroying usable food by the tonne, for one example - that I could be helping with or even volunteering time to.

I guess my solution to post-Imperial guilt is to look to my own house first.

Date: 2012-05-16 10:21 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] ciphergoth
ciphergoth: (Default)
If what's important to you is doing the most good you can with what you give up for yourself, I really recommend reading the 80,000 hours blog:

http://80000hours.org/

Date: 2012-05-16 01:18 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] cm
I second the recommendation of 80,000 hours.

And also think it's totally OK for people to look after their own basic physical and mental health before giving money away, even when that involves consuming goods and services that are inaccessible to the majority of the world's population. I haven't given at times when I haven't been working at least four days a week at above minimum wage.


... better understanding what assumptions I've been taught that make me think I know better than other people about their own lives.

Do you hold that aid to developing countries necessarily or usually involves thinking you know better than other people about their own lives? I know that's something some people believe, but I'm not clear on whether that's what you're saying here.

The most effective interventions in the developing world tend to be led by local people, with people from rich countries just doing the bits we're good at (like providing money or sharing expertise in healthcare). There's quite a good blog post about this here.


For one thing I belong to a minority community which really needs activists, volunteers and money to improve its lot ...

Are there members of that minority community in the developing world? If so, the most effective way of helping it might be to concentrate on them.


... even if I did choose to walk away from my own community, there are issues right here on my doorstep ...

That's true, but I don't understand why anyone would choose to make a small difference to a small number of people in this country when they could make a huge difference to a huge number of people in another country. Any advantage to you living locally is dwarfed by the relative expense of helping people in the UK.


I guess my solution to post-Imperial guilt is to look to my own house first.

I think the problem with putting the UK first is that there isn't really a 'second'. We will never live in a society where no-one has any problems that can't be allieviated by time or money.

It feels like a huge cop-out to refuse to fund interventions for the benefit of and led by the victims of colonialism because you are worried it will somehow perpetuate colonialism. Directly or indirectly providing money (e.g. by donating or volunteering in a charity shop or fundraising office) to high quality, locally led projects, is a low risk way of mitigating colonialism's negative effects.

Date: 2012-05-17 10:43 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] twigletzone
twigletzone: Red and white striped socks clothes-pegged to the guy rope of a tent. (Default)
It feels like a huge cop-out to refuse to fund interventions for the benefit of and led by the victims of colonialism because you are worried it will somehow perpetuate colonialism. Directly or indirectly providing money (e.g. by donating or volunteering in a charity shop or fundraising office) to high quality, locally led projects, is a low risk way of mitigating colonialism's negative effects.

Colonialism's negative effects are not what worries me - because as you quite rightly say the best solutions to the problems it created are provided by the people we colonised, not by us. I think it's far better to take a hands-off approach to that kind of issue. And as I said I'm not in a position to offer money, and I don't have any specialist knowledge about healthcare or anything like that.

Are there members of that minority community in the developing world? If so, the most effective way of helping it might be to concentrate on them.

Right... but then what about the people right here in my town who are being treated like scum by the NHS? I help run a support group and I hear some really, really horrifying stuff. Why is it better for me to "help" similar people who come from a culture I don't understand and can't afford to support financially in any meaningful way? If what I want to do is make a difference, and I'm seeing the problem right under my nose, why do you seem to be trying to tell me that I should ignore my local community and give my energy to countries I can't be any use to?

Date: 2012-05-17 11:48 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] cm
I think that most people *can* be of use to the developing world, and that in most cases, that's the most effective thing they can do to make other peoples' lives better.

Here are ten effective things that people with no spare money and no specialist skills can do, though I do appreciate they're not possible for everyone.

1) Lobbying charities to evaluate their work better, to publish the results of their evaluation, and generally to publish the information needed to make valid cost-effectiveness comparisons. For example by submitting a question to Oxfam Connects, or just sending an email.

2) Volunteering for an organisation that evaluates charity cost-effectiveness, like Givewell or Giving What We Can.

3) Lobbying the Government to spend more on aid, not to cut aid, to concentrate on the most effective kinds of aid, to evaluate their aid, to publish the results of that evaluation.

4) Joining one of Oxfam's campaigns. I haven't checked them all out, but for the most part they seem to be pretty sensible.

5) Volunteering in a charity shop that sends money to cost-effective projects.

6) Volunteering for a cost-effective charity in whatever other capacity they need people.

7) Spreading awareness of cost-effectivness issues using social media.

8) Doing a sponsored event for a cost-effective charity. (nb I am highly ambivalent about sponsorship, so I'm not sure I endorse this one, but it's an option for some.)

9) Gaining skills that will help you to help cost-effective charities in the future.

10) If you work, persuade your company to support more effective causes.

***

I think one and two are the most effective at the moment, otherwise they're in no particular order. Eight has disadvantages as well as advantages.

Having said that, there are usually exceptions and so there probably *are* people who can spend their time most effectively on UK causes, and you might be one of them. But I think that most people who think they are, aren't.

Plus I think it's valid to value your own happiness highly as well as happiness in general (I certainly do). It's quite possible that you enjoy volunteering for local causes, and believe that the increase in your own happiness from doing that rather than something more effectively altruistic outweights the lack of effectiveness.

Balancing how much of one's time/money/energy to spend on altruism and how much on personal-happiness-increasing-stuff is something that it pays to think about carefully, I think. Sometimes the answer is to spend a lot of time on things that are slightly altruistic and moderately personal-happiness-increasing, but there are often better ways of doing it.

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