12 December 2013

The effective altruist revolution is changing the philanthropy game

It’s the giving time of the year. 

A combination of the emerging winter and holiday season converge into a moment of fleeting caring in the US. It also happens to be the end of the tax year.

Charities make a significant amount of money during this time. An estimated 18% of all money raised during the year happens in December, that is more than double nearly every other month.

American University student Scott Weathers wants to know that his donations have the greatest impact possible.

The second year student (he shuns the label Sophomore since he plans to graduate in three years) began his philanthropic journey in high school.

His teacher would email leading humanitarians in order to engage his students. One such outreach to Howard G Buffett, son to Warren Buffett and agriculture philanthropist, led to an invite for Weathers and sixteen fellow students to fly out and discuss poverty with Buffett in person.

The experience of charitable giving inspired him to raise money for groups like Partners in Health. It also led to some questions about why he was supporting certain organizations. He wondered whether he was making an informed decision about his giving.

“I want people in high school to give the charity and do it to places that work,” he said.

There is an emerging trend in the business of doing good. Donors are starting to ask whether programs actually work. Charity raters are casting aside using administrative costs to evaluate charities, but donors are asking for more.

Some are going as far as to ask what is the most effective way to give. They want organizations to show that what they are doing is having an actual impact.

“A lot of people are excited about evidence-based giving,” said Michelle Hutchinson, executive director of Giving What We Can.

Giving What We Can brings together young people to create a life-lifelong culture of giving. Starting to think about giving away a certain percentage of one’s income at an early age makes it easier to continue doing so later in life, said Hutchinson.

An important part of the program is to encourage effective altruism. Giving to charities is one thing, but it is important to give in a way that maximizes impact. Doing so means that even the smallest donations can make a difference.