The GiveWell Blog

Tears of straw

It’s very unlikely – maybe impossible – that the Straw Ratio bothers you as much as it bothers me. So I’m going to try to spill out all the ranting I have left on this topic over the next few posts, and then we’ll completely be done with it, at least until the next time I tell someone about our project and they go “Oh yeah, I’m really into giving intelligently. Like have you seen these websites that show you how much of your dollar REALLY goes to helping people?”, causing me to completely black out with rage and do things I can’t remember days later, like write incoherent blog posts or light Form 990s on fire. (FYI, this happens about 2x per day on average.)

So. My last post focused on one component of those evil, evil administrative expenses: salaries. Another common administrative expense that jumps to mind (although “administrative expense” is subject to some interpretation, as has been pointed out to me) is information technology. This is something I haven’t seen from the inside, but anecdotes about the generally poor state of nonprofit tech abound. Here’s a pretty good example: Today I Cried, an aborted (as of a few days ago) blog by a nonprofit IT director.

“I think I’m done with nonprofit. I’m looking at corporate – the bigger the better.”

“So much energy wasted on bull[bunnies].”

“Do you know what a modem-router is?”


But the most relevant post here is Non-Profit Technology vs. For-Profit Technology. First overarching difference? “Money (restricted/unrestricted funding; discount pricing; used/donated technology; Tech Soup; technology grants)”. What do you know. Those dollars that you’ve so diligently been marking “FOR NEEDY CHILDREN ONLY” made it past that greedy tech department after all.

Ever try to do good work with bad technology?

Is that what you want to be funding?


  • I don’t know what CSR the big IT companies (e.g. HP, Dell, Sun etc) get involved with, but wouldn’t it be nice if they supported technology in the NFP sector.

    For me, an IT company that says it helped kids in Africa doesn’t make as much sense as an IT company that says they provide *IT support* for a charity that helps kids in Africa.

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