Last August, I decided that I wanted to give to charity, and I started working with Holden and a few other friends researching non-profits. We thought that with a little legwork, we’d be able to find the best organization in a given cause (clean water, say) by asking each organization two very basic questions: 1) what are you trying to accomplish? and 2) what’s your evidence that you can accomplish it?
Last fall, I asked those two questions to about 20 different non-profits working in the generic “clean-water for Africa” cause, and got three types of responses:
1) Hostile: why are you asking these questions? who do you work for? why would you want to know this? do you work for our competitors?
2) Dumbfounded: do you work for a giant foundation – they’re the only ones that ask these questions? I’ve never heard these questions from any private donor before – why do you want to know this?
3) Grateful: These are great questions. I met with the board today, and told them that we need to be able to answer these types of questions. Thanks!
All of these responses are unified by one striking theme: no one was used to answering these two simple questions. That’s how I knew that the GiveWell project wasn’t just going to be a way to make my decision for the year, but something that I needed to do.
After a few months of work, I decided to give to Population Services International because they adequately answered those two questions. PSI is the best I found, but they’re far from perfect. And, as Holden’s written, two of the achievement gap-related organizations we’ve reviewed and he’s donated to, while adequate, still leave a lot to be desired. I don’t want to settle for adequate next December.