Charitable Giving 2019

Tim Morton bio photo By Tim Morton

So it’s the end of the year, when we all gather together and appreciate the true meaning of the season - tax deductions. Oh, and also peace, goodwill, and all that jazz.

In the past, I’ve generally followed Givewell’s recommendations, and donated through them to a “most good per dollar” charity. I still think they’re a great option. But this year I’m doing something a little different.

The Center for Election Science (~45% of my budget)

The CES advocates for better voting systems - specifically, approval voting.

I’ve been following Ezra Klein’s podcast, and I’ve become deeply concerned about polarization in politics. Two sides, with their own hardcore fans, their own media, and their own facts. Approval voting can’t solve the whole issue, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The other serious voting reform effort is FairVote, which advocates for ranked choice voting (RCV). I looked at the case for RCV, and it doesn’t address my concern - in fact, it may make polarization worse. The problem is the “center squeeze” effect. If there is a compromise candidate, acceptable to most voters, I want that candidate to win - even if they are no one’s first choice.

I thought long and hard about directing some of my “charity” budget to a political organization, instead of the truly poor. It’s a long-term bet, with very uncertain benefits. I think it’s justified, because a more functional government in the US would be a huge benefit to everyone.

Evidence Action (~45% of my budget)

Here’s my money for global poverty - my attempt to do the most good, for the most people, right now. One EA program is a GiveWell top charity.

I gave directly to EA, without directing my donation to a particular program. To qualify for Givewell’s endorsement, a program needs seriously proven effectiveness. That takes time and money. EA runs several programs, including their “accelerator” which tries new small-scale initiatives. More importantly, EA is committed to doing the most good possible, and they have shut down programs that failed to show results. I’m trusting the folks at EA to place bets where reasonable, and double down on the programs that work.

Other Small Donations

I gave a few other donations, but I consider these closer to “buying things” than giving to charity.

  • Givewell - for their own expenses.
  • Coalition for Rainforest Nations - They fight climate change by preserving rainforests. By some calculations this donation offsets my family’s carbon footprint several times over. While carbon offsets are mostly BS and climate change is mostly a political problem, this eases my guilt over my lifestyle.
  • Mother Jones - I started donating here after reading their in-depth reporting about prison conditions. We need journalists doing these investigations, and they take time and money. I don’t know if I’ll continue this donation, because Mother Jones has an editorial “tone” of strident partisanship. While that isn’t always wrong, I’m not sure it’s helpful.
  • A local animal shelter - Warm fuzzy feelings about warm fuzzy animals.