Wednesday , October 21 2020

Ask HN: Which charities do you donate to ?, Hacker News


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Most of my giving is to GiveWell’s top charities, to be disbursed at their discretion. I think that as an incredibly high-earning, incredibly wealthy person by worldwide standards, I have a duty to help relieve the burden of global poverty.

It’s not tax-deductible, but I do give a little bit of money every year to scihub. I’d like to start giving to someone that fights industrialization’s assault on biodiversity, but I don’t know who that would be.



As an analytical person I understand the value of maximum economic efficiency and value measured in these terms. On the other hand when it comes to humanitarian concerns, the human element can be somewhat more expensive and less efficient than (for example) airlifted bags of grain, but far more valuable and encouraging to the recipients. Programs like child sponsorship with letter-writing are expensive and not nearly as efficient as straight up meal delivery, but the impact, as evidenced by the children’s handwritten replies, seems to be significant in non tangible ways.



I don’t think GiveWell would rule out a charity because it considers the human element in a way that makes it less economically efficient.

The question is just, is it overallmore efficientat broadly “bettering people’s lives” in a way they can measure? That’s it. If you can show that letter writing is a worthy trade-off by e.g. looking at long-term impacts, I’m sure they’d be for it.

Perhaps you object to the fact that they require measurement. Fair enough, the best things in life are free. But the “bags of grain” (really, “bags of malaria pills”) approach is already at a disadvantage to the “give someone a flock of chickens” approach, because the latter tells a story and tugs at our hearts. That doesn’t mean it’s worse, but I think GiveWell’s thesis is, that also doesn’t mean it’s better.



Charity Navigatior and many similar sites fixate on unhelpful stats like the percent of the budget “wasted” on admin expenses and overhead to an unhealthy degree. To operate effectively charities need to spend money on high quality leadership and support staff, and while doing good motivates many to accept lower pay they can still be pricey.

Furthermore, the more complicated what the charity is doing the more it generally costs to hire competent employees. If a charity wants to hire employees to rigorously evaluate whether their interventions are working, this will also add to overhead.

More controversially, I think the fixation on charity CEO pay is also misguided. They still generally earn less than they could work for similar non-charitable organizations, and being good at CEO-ing is a difficult skill. Hiring a bad CEO can tank an organization. (It’s definitely also possible to spend a lot of money on a bad CEO, it’s not a guarantee of quality.)

In fact, higher overhead (a negative factor in Charity Navigator’s score) correlates with a better Givewell recommendation.

>The mean of the fundraising expense ratio for charities (the money spent on fundraising divided by the total expenses of the entire organization ) that earned a gold, silver, or notable rating by Givewell (41 charities) is 0. 073, while that of the charities reviewed by Givewell but not ranked well (253 charities (is 0.) (p-value of 0. 05, ie, statistically significant at the 95% level). The mean of the administrative expense ratio for charities that earned a gold, silver, or notable rating by Givewell is 0. 102, while that of the charities reviewed by Givewell but not ranked well is 0. 092 (p-value of 0. 35). Adding administrative and fundraising together, the mean ratio for charities that earned a gold, silver, or notable rating by Givewell is 0. 174, while that of the charities reviewed by Givewell but not ranked well is 0. 147 (p-value of 0. 11).

(Note that I weakly suspect this person might be misusing p-values, and should be less confident in the causal nature of this However, that is still sufficient to prove that overhead isn’t inherently evil)

http: / / / 06 / 09 / why-ranking-charities-by -…



My two top (by dollars and attention) are:

– Walker School ( – special education and behavioral care for children and their families. Why Support? This is a local organization that serves a population of young children that often, but not always, have endured tremendous trauma and / or abuse, and typically have no where else to go. The Walker School helps them recover and rehabilitate and find them a permanent, safe home to re-enter mainstream society and become productive happy kids and eventually adults. A $ 1 to help get a kid back on track early saves a $ 100 supporting someone through adulthood.

– Museum of Science ( – if you are ever in Boston, please make a trip halfway across the river and check it out. It is one of the best science / engineering museums in the country. Why Support? Not everyone is going to be a scientist, engineer, mathematician, etc, but the Museum offers vital community outreach to show what these disciplines can offer society. We can’t all play for the Patriots / Celtics / Bruins / etc, but a lot of people can enjoy watching them and enthusiastically support them. I see the museum as the “Local Sports Team” for STEM.



Doctors Without Borders just because of their ability to get care to almost any part of the world. I consider my contributions to it a form of compensation for my tax dollars that go without my consent to fund our hungry war machine.



They help people without access to traditional loans fund businesses, farms, etc. Whatever is paid back is easy to put right back into another loan.

I also plan on donating to the local LGBTQIA organization this year on behalf of a friend who requested it for her birthday.



Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (https: // First heard about them through local talk radio that does yearly fund raisers with matching donations. Then found from work more than one coworker who has a child cared there. This is the only “for the children” I subscribe to.

St Vincent De Paul Georgia ( /). Grew up Catholic so I knew about them, have local donation center near me that I contribute items and time too. Simply put, these small town points are where people get help. It is far better to help at this level instead of the #support that far too many subscribe to



Compassion International. It gives impoverished children food, education, and hope. The third may be the most important. Over years of sponsoring children, we have seen some that went on to post secondary schools and even became professionals.



1 for Compassion International. We’ve been sponsoring children through them for 20 years. We get to know the children personally with cards, letters and Christmas gifts.

We were just contacted by one of our first children from Nigeria. She “aged out” of the program, and we hadn’t heard from her in years. She found us on FB (unique last names have an advantage). It’s been great catching up with her again. Watching her go from a little girl to a mid-twenties woman has been wonderful.

I can’t recommend them enough.



I donate to the local food shelf that serves people in my neighborhood. Donating money to food shelves is about 10 x as effective as donating the equivalent amount of goods purchased at retail.



I donate to the Dublin Rape Crisis Center (Ireland) ; I was drawn to do it after two rugby players of world renown more or less got away with assaulting a girl.



– Wikipedia (I use it very often, I also edit it too, which is a time-donation that everyone should do!)

– LLS (Leukemia Lymphoma Society, they have had decent success in supporting some drug candidates, my family member works at LLS so I have some good perspective)

– 350 .org (climate change is a huge threat, 350 is one of a few that is fighting against it)

– Sam Harris’s podcast (not really a charity but … AI safety, meditation, rationality, identity politics, religion in society, he covers a lot of interesting topics).



Regularly, I donate to Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in London. Animals, I feel, are thrust into a poor situation and have less means to help themselves (not at all implying some people aren’t also in this situation).


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