This year, Giving Tuesday fell out on December 1st, kicking off the season of holiday giving. Last year, 31% of all charitable giving occurred in the month of December. What this likely means, is that you are probably – right now – in the process of considering where and how to contribute this year.
With the recent release of the book, Doing Good Better, the philosophy and social movement of “effective altruism” has been receiving a great deal of attention in the media and philanthropic community. Effective altruism, or “generosity for nerds,” is an interesting philosophy on giving.
Arguably, when we give to charity, we have one central goal: to make the world a better place. Effective altruists take this one step further. They contribute based on evidence-supported data of how their contribution will have the greatest impact. Their goal, backed by science and reason, is to determine how to do the most good.
In doing so however, sentimentality (to a degree) often goes out the window. An effective altruist might eschew giving to an organization dedicated to raising money for research for a particular illness suffered by someone near and dear to them, in favor of contributing to a cause where their dollars might go further — such as a charity dedicated to eradicating malaria in Africa that provides inexpensive mosquito nets to those in need. They weigh causes where their dollars will have the greatest impact over the causes that they might feel a personal connection to.
Most effective altruists are millennials. Even Harvard has a dedicated campus group for undergraduates committed to this philosophy of giving. They not only make decisions on how to give by following the tenets of effective altruism; they also determine how to work.
One of the principles of effective altruism is the concept of “earning to give.” Take, for instance, the story of Matt Wage: a young man who determined that he could do more good by taking a high paying job as an arbitrage trader and donating half of his yearly earnings than by attending a prestigious graduate program and taking a job as an aid worker.
Even the author of “Doing Good Better” will be donating all of his profits from the book to “the world’s most effective charities”.
With effective altruism, “you have an additional ethical obligation to ensure that the money is used in the most effective way possible.”
This philosophy of effective altruism is alienating to many who contribute their time and money to charities. Some are even concerned about what this style of giving might mean for the future of the arts.
GiveWell, a nonprofit think tank touted as a resource by effective altruists, is “dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities and publishing the full details of [their] analysis to help donors decide where to give.” But they promote giving to just four charities.
In contrast to this philosophy, is the concept that emotions are tied to acts of kindness. We often give to make ourselves feel good. Psychological studies support the premise that we are more likely to give to causes we feel an emotional connection to, and that those who have positive emotions tied to giving will continue to give. Giving is an expression of our values and ties to community, as well. Other studies show that giving to a cause you feel a personal connection to could reduce your stress levels, and may even extend your life.
Effective altruists challenge us to think logically about they way we give. But what ultimately drives us may vary from person to person. A strong case can be made that – when it comes to giving – empathy and logic are not mutually exclusive.
During the holiday season, and throughout the year, we each have our own reasons driving our determination of how to give. Why do you give? What do you think about the philosophy of effective altruism and the concept of “earning to give”? How do you determine where your money and/or time is best contributed?
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