Why I am not donating to the most effective charity | 

GiveDirectly has the strongest case of any organization for a donation. It works and has the evidence to back up the claim.

Knowing this, I did not give to them this year.

I, like many other Americans, wait until the end of the year to do my charitable giving. As a person who covers the humanitarian sector I read a lot of organization’s reports, pitches and research studies.

Armed with this knowledge, it would seem that choosing where and how to give is easy. It is not. I tend to worry too much that it will be wasted. I debated sharing where I am giving this year and justifying my decision.

Ultimately I decided to write this because of my belief in the importance of transparency. I should disclose any possible conflicts of interest with my reporting. I do not think that my decision constitutes any conflict going forward, but erring on the side of transparency makes the most sense to me.

This happens to be a moment where major humanitarian emergencies (Philippines, Syria, Central African Republic) require a lot of money and when better information on impacts of programs make it easier to know what is the most effective way to give. Continue reading

Donors wants to know which charities make the grade | 

It’s the giving time of the year. When 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. Continue reading

Charity Navigator CEO battles for the soul of the nonprofit world | 

We often cover aid critics here at Humanosphere and often, they raise great points. But there’s something that gets tedious about constantly criticizing the people who are actively engaged in very difficult development work.

A few big things, though, distinguish Ken Berger from those critics. First, he worked for thirty years with charities that helped the homeless in New Jersey. Second, he’s focused on the American context – the state of nonprofits here in the United States – not the Global South.

Ken Berger
Ken Berger

Most importantly, he’s not an author hawking a book, a professor or anything resembling an armchair critic. As the CEO of Charity Navigator, the best-known ratings index of nonprofits out there, evaluating and scrutinizing charities is his full-time job. Berger was in Seattle this week for the annual meeting of Global Washington.

So when Berger says things like this, we think people should pay attention:

  • “Why are there are so many [charity] CEOs who are ripoff artists?”
  • “We really need a rethink of what the nonprofit sector is and what a public charity is in this country. It’s really out of control.”
  • “The nonprofit sector takes in $1.5 trillion a year. It’s the largest nonprofit sector in the world… And the amount of oversight is pathetic.”
  • “We would like to change the paradigm from, the nonprofit that does the best marketing wins, to one where the nonprofit that helps the most people, is the most effective, gets the best results, wins.”
  • “If they had a more robust system of measuring and managing what they were doing, a lot of those people would be alive today.”

Everyone should listen to this. Before we talk with Berger, East Coast correspondent Tom Murphy and I discuss the scope of Typhoon Haiyan’s impact on the Philippines, what to watch out for in media coverage, and suggest some Filipino organizations worth supporting. And we’d love to hear your reactions to our analysis and to Berger’s incendiary remarks in the comments.

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Video humor: Let’s Save Africa – Gone Wrong | 

Norway, like other Scandinavian countries, is widely recognized within the humanitarian community for its steadfast and significant support for aid and development efforts in Africa. It is also a country that sees the humor in some of these efforts. So here, from the same Norwegian comedians who gave you Radi-Aid, is another send-up of the appeal to charity:

Bornstein calls out charity: water for simplifying clean water solutions | 

Daniel Ek, founder of Spotify, pumping water at the well that bears his name in Giramagogo, an Ethiopian village.


Daniel Ek, founder of Spotify, pumping water at the well that bears his name in Giramagogo, an Ethiopian village.

Despite what some may say, solving the world’s water crisis is not so simple.

David Bornstein picks up on a recent New York Times Magazine article that profiled a trip of high profile philanthropists with charity:water. The organization that has managed to move millions for clean water receives a rather soft treatment from the piece that raises some questions for Bornstein. He points to promising examples of clean water solutions and criticizes the way that charity:water has simplified the problem.

The organization’s fundraising is guided by the imperative of giving its donors a satisfying experience. However, to do this, Charity: Water has had to simplify the problem and narrow in on one piece of the solution — the piece with the most potential to deliver that experience: individualized water projects, like wells or purification systems, that can be photographed, located on Google Maps, and commemorated with plaques featuring donors’ names. To get the work done, the organization identifies partner organizations across the developing world with track records of delivering results, and provides flexible funding to meet local needs.

To be fair to charity:water, the organization has undergone a lot of learning since it was founded. Founder Scott Harrison is working closely with veterans in the clean water space and the organization made changes in the past to its claims in order to more accurately reflect its impact. Further, charity:water is getting in on the tracking game by installing computer chips to track whether wells are actually working and being used. Continue reading

Charity does not end poverty | 

Charity will not end poverty, says Rev. Robert A. Sirico, Founder & President of the Acton Institute. He makes the case in this short video that it is business, innovation and jobs that will transform lives.

“Poverty does not end because people are charitable. For all of the charitable institutions that we’ve seen in the last century, these things do not account for the rise out of poverty of the poorest of the poor in the world. And, what is so ’scandalous,’ to many people, is that what accounts for this rise out of poverty is business. It’s enterprise. It’s the application of human intelligence, of human action, of human will, of ingenuity into the economic sphere.”

Charity is a broken concept, says Warren Buffett’s Son | 

bio-picPeter Buffett, son to billionaire Warren Buffett, describes how he came to understand the nature of and the problems with philanthropy and charity. He describes in the a New York Times OpEd how he was introduced to the sector when his father established three foundations for his children to run.

The musician had little experience in charity work, but soon learned of what he called ‘Philanthropic Colonialism.’ Donors act on an urge to save other people that often involves implementing solutions without regard for social norms, culture or even physical location. This can lead to problems or actually make matters worse for the people who are supposedly being helped, says Buffett.

However the problems of charity go much deeper. He makes the case that philanthropy and charity perpetuate the very systems that allow for widespread poverty. The very people who benefit from a warped global system are the ones who later turn around and give away their money without ever really changing the fundamental reasons that massive inequalities exist.

As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.

Continue reading

America’s worst charities blow money on for-profit fundraisers | 

UntitledFinancial digging by the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting revels a list of the American charities that spend the most money on paid solicitors and get little in return. The list calls the group the worst charities in America for the wasteful spending.

At the top of the list is the Kids Wish network who paid solicitors $109.8 million over the past decade to raise a total of $127.8 million. All that spending for $18 million. Less than $0.03 of every dollar raised is spent on actually helping children.

According to the TBT and CIR, 6,000 charities pay for-profit companies to raise money. The bottom fifty that make the list payed nearly $1 billion to the money raising industry over the past decade.

The five worst charities in America, as ranked by money lost on soliciting costs, are:

  1. Kids Wish Network
  2. Cancer Fund of America
  3. Children’s Wish Foundation International
  4. American Breast Cancer Foundation
  5. Firefighters Charitable Foundation

Continue reading