One resolution fulfilled: my 2014 charitable giving

Exactly one year ago, I took the Giving What We Can pledge. It’s a commitment to contribute 10% of my salary to the most effective efforts to end global poverty.

This post details what I’ve done about it and hopefully encourages others to join the fun. 

My donations

It starts with actually working out what your income is, which in my case is complicated because I went part time and don’t have a perfect record of payslips. It’s around £33,000. This is before tax. Giving What We Can encourages members to give 10% of their pre-tax income, but it’s their choice. There may be years in which I cannot give 10% before tax, but this year I can.

So 10% is £3,300. With Gift Aid of 25%, that’ll add up to £4,125. The next step is working out where the money should go.

Happily, Giving What We Can (or the Centre for Effective Altruism, its parent charity) do the research here. A bunch of highly intelligent, committed researchers – in Oxford and around the world – are putting in the hours to work out how I can make the biggest difference with that cash. They assess both the types of intervention that exist – such as education, health or environmental – and then the charities within those fields. They’ve consistently found healthcare organisations to be the most effective – particularly with health interventions aimed at children.

Their current recommendations are the Against Malaria Foundation, the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (tackling bilharzia), Deworm the World, and Project Healthy Children. These charities typically fund large-scale, low-cost interventions (such as micronutrient tablets or malaria nets), which have positive effects for the rest of a child’s life. They’re pretty great. GiveWell make very similar recommendations.

To make it easier to donate, GWWC have set up a single trust account that you can donate to, from which they distribute the money between their top recommendations. As well as micronutrient provision, which hasn’t been quantified in GWWC’s rather fun MyGiving platform, my donation equates to:

  • 264 long-lasting insecticidal mosquito nets distributed
  • 1,826 neglected tropical disease treatments provided to combat Schistosomiasis
  • 4,511 deworming treatments provided.

The measurable bias thingy

I should admit that I’m not totally at ease with the idea that this is the most effective way to spend that money. I think there’s a bias towards the stuff we can measure, against some of the political change work that we can’t – and ultimately I believe that political solutions must be found to global poverty. That will mean global wealth transfers for global minimum healthcare standards, social security nets, guaranteed minimum incomes, that sort of thing. But right now, I can’t accurately point to organisations that are likely to create these outcomes.

I initially considered doing a 75% quantifiable, 25% unquantifiable approach, but that still seems too flakey, so for now the advocacy donations will have to be done separately. So, this year I’ve also made some token gestures in that direction, to 38 Degrees, the Green Party and a few others that I think are helping to create political change. I will continue to try to find organisations in this field, and urge the researchers at Giving What We Can to do the same. But for now, I don’t count these donations in the 10%.

My environmental impact

As a bit of an aside, I’ve also been thinking more about climate change this year – partly due to having a smart young Fossil Free advocate in the office and partly due to flying a lot more for work. I think there’s a moral imperative to offset both my personal carbon footprint and – in the absence of a workplace scheme – my work carbon footprint. We must all act to help prevent or mitigate the extreme loss of welfare that will come about as a result of climate change.

There are those who believe that offsetting is an outrageous process, akin to buying an indulgence from the Church. It ain’t. While we should all make constant conscientious efforts to reduce our footprints (mine’s about 50% over a sustainable level, according to this WWF calculator) – this is not going to happen overnight. In the meantime, we should be offsetting.

Choosing the right offset is difficult. There are plenty out there. My first thought was to do what the UK Government recommends – there was once an official ‘kitemark’ style thing on certain projects, but it appears to have been retired. My second idea was simply to copy Google – on the assumption that they’re quite clever about this sort of thing – but because they had trouble too, they brought their entire offsets system in-house to be sure that they were getting it right.

So… back to Giving What We Can. A couple of years ago, they did a small piece of research that tried to understand whether climate charities had the potential to be even more effective than their current health charity recommendations. They decided that health was still the best type of intervention, but in the course of their research found some promising organisations. My favourite of which Cool Earth, estimated to be the most effective of those GWWC researched. They’re also head-quartered in Cornwall and come with a testimonial from David Attenborough. What more could you ask?

Cool Earth work with indigenous communities to protect rainforest. This is vital, because not only does rainforest soak up carbon emissions, but deforestation produces vast quantities of carbon dioxide (deforestation makes up something like 20% of global emissions). So protecting rainforest is a double lock for carbon. Right now it is perhaps the most effective (measurable) action we can take to slow climate change. I have now helped protect a couple of acres of the Ashaninka rainforest in Peru, which equates to around 260 tonnes of carbon (the average European has a 10 tonne carbon footprint).

Obviously, it would be great if I didn’t have to worry about this and governments actually got together to take action on climate change – probably with a carbon tax. They don’t, so on top of this, I’m making a small donation to 350.org to support their political advocacy. The effects of that donation will be largely unquantifiable. There are other climate advocacy bodies out there, but 350.org seems among the most powerful. (If I’m wrong, please let me know.)

Next year…

…it all happens again. If you’d like to join me, and another 800 or so members of Giving What We Can, you can learn more here.

It’s 15 years since the declaration of the UN Millennium Development Goals. In New York this summer, new global goals will be set to try to eliminate global poverty by 2030. Let’s each resolve to do we can to help meet them.

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