I recently wrote a book, Reinventing Philanthropy: A Framework for More Effective Giving, which has just been released. I hope it is a valuable contribution to the effective altruism movement.
The genesis of the book stemmed from wondering why the vast majority of charitable giving goes to mediocre causes. It seemed almost self-evident to me that charitable donations should be done in the way that provides the greatest expected benefit for the world. But this clearly isn’t obvious to everyone, as demonstrated by the charitable giving behavior of most donors. If I wanted to influence people to give to more effective causes, I needed to understand the obstacles and directly address them. Some of these obstacles include:
1. Most people are not honest with themselves about the tension between giving to the causes they are personally connected to and having a high impact. It shouldn’t take much thought to realize that restricting your giving to only a small set of causes—the university you attended, health-related causes that impacted your family, and charities in your neighborhood—is likely to exclude the most high-impact areas. But donors often don’t think like this. They need a resource to help change their mindset.
2. Most professionals in the nonprofit and philanthropy industry are unwilling to challenge donors to think hard. Society is reluctant to question the current practice that charitable giving is primarily “heart” and very little “head.” The idea of ranking charities by the amount of good they do makes people uncomfortable. They find it awkward to provide criticism of donors, even those who give to mediocre charities; all donors get praised, as they did more good than if they spent the money on themselves. There needs to be open debate about the existing norms of charitable giving in more high-profile forums.
3. There are few resources for effective altruists. People who want to pursue charitable giving with an EA mindset must carve their own path. The largest charity rating agencies continue to assign scores virtually unrelated to the quality of the charities’ results. There are a very small number of charity evaluators that approach giving with an EA mindset, and those that exist (like GiveWell) are still in their infancy and not well known. If you don’t agree with their approach, then it is excruciatingly difficult to do alternative research yourself. There needs to be more resources to help donors who want to maximize the impact of their giving.
I thought that writing a book on charitable giving may be able to address each of these issues and break down barriers to improve the effectiveness of charitable giving. My book attempts to provide donors with an honest, authentic perspective on charitable giving to help them understand how their giving decisions affect the impact of their donations. It challenges the norms of giving and provides a more robust way for donors to approach how they decide where to donate money. Hopefully, it will influence readers to want to pursue higher impact strategies and gives them some of the tools to start doing so.
The first chapter of the book is available for free on my website.