The GiveWell Blog

The 2006 Holden Awards

OK, maybe I got a little carried away in my last post, as Elie is more than happy to point out. I’ve been screaming about “low prices,” when the truth is that curing an obstetric fistula or cleft can be worth the extra $-per-person for a variety of reasons.

Something you’ll see a lot of on this blog is me ranting/raving/foaming at the mouth about the cause of the day, even if it isn’t my personal favorite. That’s because I think there are a lot of great causes that might appeal to different people, and I want to promote all the good ones. But something that’s very important–and that I think most people don’t do nearly enough of–is deciding between the many good things you can do with your money.

I think it’s crazy to make 10 small donations when you could make 1-2 big ones. None of your small donations will solve the problems they’re attacking (i.e., there will still be plenty of the problem left), so why not spend all the money on the most important one? Plus, big donations get you attention: they give you the opportunity to tell a nonprofit what you do and don’t like, and have them listen. The most important reason to concentrate your giving, though, is exactly the reason that most people don’t want to: it forces you to make hard decisions. And that forces you to raise the stakes, learn more, and think harder. And that leads to better decisions and totally sweet websites.

So, after raving about the great deals on malaria and cleft and diarrhea and fistula like a kid in a (nightmarish) candy store, let me put my 2006 giving decisions front and center. There are a lot of great places to give. These are the ones I determined (based on about .01% of the information I wish I had) to be the best.

$5000 to New Visions for Public Schools. As cheap as it is to save lives in Africa, I see improving U.S. education as the most difficult and important problem of all. This country is rolling in it. It should be a utopia, for crying out loud, and it isn’t close. Poorer countries are eventually going to be this wealthy, but unless we figure out how to promote true equality of opportunity, that wealth isn’t going to translate into what it should. And New Visions has the most promising approach I’ve seen in this area: go straight at the public schools (eliminating the selection bias of charters), and go at them with extreme systematicity and rigor. Read the review for details.

$2000 to Interplast. Cleft was the cause I specialized in researching over the last few months, so this was partly a relationship-building donation. But I also think corrective surgery is the cheapest and most concrete way I’ve seen to convert a full life of misery to a much more reasonable (if still poverty-stricken) one. There’s a good chance I’ll change my mind as I learn more about fistula, child slavery, etc., but this is what I’m confident in for now.

$1000 to the Children’s Aid Society, also promoting equality of opportunity in the U.S., though in a very different way from New Visions. They’ve received my biggest donations in the past; they’re good (though New Visions now excites me more); and I want to maintain a relationship because they could be great if they did a better job tracking their activities and results.

$256 each to four smaller causes: two with personal connections, one as a thank-you to Alliance for Smiles for being open and helpful (though I ultimately went with Interplast), plus alma mater.

And that’s it. $9000 in tax-deductible donations (so between $5000 and $6000 of actual money). I could have protected people from malaria, helped fight global warming, fed the hungry, saved the children, or even bought some books for affluent communities. I chose to support two organizations trying to break down inner-city obstacles to opportunity, and one correcting deformities for those who can’t afford it. And I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t give every penny I have. So, how did I do? For my take, tune in next time. For yours, post a comment.


  • The GiveWell Blog - Exploring how to get real change for your dollar. » Our first content-less meta-post! on March 24, 2007 at 5:58 pm said:

    […] Lately I’ve been very focused on the business strategy end of the GiveWell project; I haven’t had time to do much actual research and learn more about the world’s problems. So a lot of my posts have been on abstract philosophy of giving/evaluation. That will change somewhat over the next few weeks, as I am visiting two Holden Award-winning charities: Children’s Aid Society and New Visions for Public Schools. Elie will probably go with me, and we plan to absolutely grill these people and come back with much more knowledge of what they do. You’ll hear about it. […]

  • The GiveWell Blog - Exploring how to get real change for your dollar. » BRB on May 5, 2007 at 12:13 pm said:

    […] BRB […]

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