Note from Elie: I don’t stand by this post, and it’s been left up only as a matter of historical record.
This post was made very early on in GiveWell’s history, when GiveWell was a part-time project and Holden and I saw the blog as a place to experiment, have fun, give exaggerated versions of our thoughts, etc. The blog has since evolved to focus more on clear communication on issues important to GiveWell, but early posts should not be interpreted in that light.
I value the welfare of animals significantly, though less on a per-individual basis than the welfare of humans.
See also Holden’s April 2010 followup on this post in the comments below.
The Charity Navigator blog, and this post in particular, is a great resource for the conventional view of charity. What makes me say that? Trent Stamp writes about a Scottish charity that created an ad campaign criticizing (and that’s putting it delicately) people who give to animal-charities when there are poor people who are in need. Here are some excerpts from his latest entry:
I’m not saying that I necessarily agree with the sentiment here, and I’m even less sure that it’s a good idea for charities to start bashing other charities missions or to try and steal their donors.
I really don’t understand why anyone would waffle on this issue because it seems incredibly clear. In case anyone forgot, we eat animals; we use them for hard labor; we keep them as pets. We don’t generally assign animals the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Why? Because they’re animals. Supporting organizations which help people over organizations that help animals seems like an incredibly easy choice, and I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t “agree with the sentiment here.”
When you start telling people that some charities are more important than others, you run the risk of losing your supporters when someone convinces them that their cause is worthier than yours.
This is the conventional view of charity – don’t criticize others because they may criticize you, and your cause may lose support. But, why is everyone so afraid of criticism? Perhaps, through criticism, some organizations will go under, but it will be because they’re not as good. And perhaps, through open debate and criticism, the best organizations will prove themselves. Wouldn’t that be terrible. And maybe, just maybe, a few more people will live happy lives and a few more animals won’t. I think I can live with that.
Plus, based on their popularity in this country at least, picking on the animal charities and their supporters might not be the most brilliant strategy around for those who want to stick around for the long haul. Those people don’t play.
If we criticize those who choose to give to animal charities, they may stop giving altogether. Well, that may be true. And, if it is, I don’t think it’s that big of a loss. We’ll return to this topic later, but a central tenet of the conventional view of charity is that giving is good in and of itself; that’s wrong. Giving is good when it effects good. Giving to charities that help people effects good; giving to charities that help animals effects almost no good.