A donor wrote to us recently with a question (paraphrased):
Is it better to help people who cannot currently live a decent life or to help those who might be better off to start with but have more potential to live enjoyable and meaningful lives?
Ideally the answer to this question would be “let’s help everyone get to the point where they can live enjoyable and meaningful lives.” Realistically, though, resources available for charity are not unlimited and there are trade-offs involved in choosing where to give.
Recently, we’ve been internally debating the question above, which said another way is: “If you had similarly strong opportunities to help different groups, who do you help to do the most good?” and we have some differences of opinion. For example:
- Holden believes that the ultimate goal, the highest moral imperative, is to achieve and help others achieve their full potential, i.e. help them do something great with their lives.
- I believe that the ultimate goal is to reduce suffering and create happiness.
Holden and I agree, though, that these goals often lead to similar intermediate goals:
- Fulfill people’s basic needs
- Create environments in which there are plenty of good opportunities and people can choose for themselves what is best.
Where we tend to differ is the populations we are most concerned with helping. Given the choice, Holden would prefer to help those with high potential to do great things with their lives (one frequent example that comes up is young people in fast-growing, democratic India), whereas I most want to help those in abject poverty who suffer from hunger, disease, and uncertainty (this tends to be people in isolated, rural areas in developing countries).
That being said, Holden and I agree that within our current known charitable options, we choose to give to VillageReach. VillageReach’s case for impact and ability to use additional funds to have additional impact is significantly more compelling to us than that of any other organization we’ve found. If Holden had a similarly strong option to help, say, Indian youth, he would likely opt for that, but as it stands, VillageReach continues to be the best option we know of for helping any population.
We will continue to search for strong options for donors who most want to help different populations. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this debate in the comments section below.