Time to donate! (and why animal causes are a great choice)

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This is the time of the year when organizations receive the biggest part of their donations from their sympathizers and supporters. It’s the time when we all can help them to further our common goals.

I’ve written before about the importance of money, and the importance of organizations. Campaigning for animals – or for any other cause – can be done at a grassroots or volunteer level, and that’s awesome. But we also need bigger organizations to make a difference. They need to pay their staff; they rely on the work of experts; they need to finance advertisements to get the word out, etc. The more money they have, the better.

Many people are cynical about donating, believing (or often using as an excuse) that their money won’t actually be used for anything good, but will get stuck along the way and just pay overhead, or pay for bloated organizations. There is undoubtedly some loss, and there are inefficient organizations out there, but there also many great ones, where people work their asses off to make a difference, and where the leaders think strategically, in terms of generating as much impact as possible.

Effective Altruism, a young movement and philosophy, is about identifying the best causes, organizations and interventions, and donating to (or volunteering or working for) these. Within the Effective Altruism movement, there are meta-organizations (see below) that do research about who and what works best. The recommendations these meta-organizations come up with are our best leads for making effective, life-changing donations.

Comparing good causes and organizations should not be a taboo. When we buy a computer, we make an investment in something that we expect works. The same goes for our donations: we want to make good investments. Indeed, if there is any domain where we should insist on great return on investment, it’s the domain of decreasing suffering and saving lives.

Here are some criteria that people who identify as “effective altruists” use to choose the causes and organizations they support:

  • when choosing a cause, look at the amount of victims and at the intensity of their suffering. Malaria, for instance, kills more people than rare neurological diseases. And some problems are more horrible than others.
  • look at the need for funding and the added value of your donation. A lot of money was collected for the disease ALS with the incredibly successful Ice Bucket Challenge. Maybe it’s time to donate to something else…
  • give to organizations working for or in poorer countries, where your money can have a lot more impact because costs are lower there.
  • look up the advice from experts who’ve done the research for you. Organizations that recommend charities to give to are Givewell, The Life you Can Save, and – for animal causes – Animal Charity Evaluators.

From an Effective Altruism viewpoint, farmed animals are a great cause to give to. Not only are there a huge number of farmed animals who are suffering immensely, but also this cause is very neglected. Of all the money from US donations, only 1.5 percent goes to animals, and of that tiny bit, only 1 percent goes to farmed animals. So, farmed animals get 0,015% of donations in the US.

Donations in the US (source: Animal Charity Evaluators)

Lastly, when you give, let it be known. We put a lot of stuff on our Facebook walls that may be giving people a laugh, but we’re often shy about sharing our good deeds, because we think that’s not done. But people take their cues for what is good behavior from other people. When they see many people around them who donate, they will be more inclined to donate themselves. Conversely, when they don’t see that behavior, they will think it’s fine not to donate. So, when you donate, tell other people about it, to help normalize giving. To set an example, I yearly give away ten percent of my income, which amounts to 2500 euro. This year, I gave, among others, to Give Directly and The Good Food Institute. I just posted that on Facebook. It’s a bit hard, because you open yourself up to the criticism that you want to show how good you are. But as you understand, it’s not about that.

Maybe you don’t have any money to donate, and you do volunteer work. That’s great. And, maybe you don’t have time, but you do have some money. That’s great too, because with your money, you’re paying for other people to invest time in making the world a better place.

Thanks for whatever you do, and happy holidays!

12 thoughts on “Time to donate! (and why animal causes are a great choice)

  1. About 24 of the 25 farmed land animals the typical person eats each year are birds. If someone were to avoid bird flesh, even if they replaced that spot on their plate with the same amount of pig and cow flesh (no actual decrease in the amount of meat eaten required) they would still spare 24 of the 25 farmed land animals the average person eats each year. The all volunteer One Step for Animals is advocating for animals with this harm reduction as their main point and gets my support and work for that reason.

  2. Hmmm…

    Effective Altruist says, “I’ve done the calculations and I’m going to donate to malaria rather than a rare neurological disease*”.
    *Translation – “I’m a privileged person (middle class, professional, affluent, etc) and I don’t worry about getting that rare neurological disease because 1) I live in a country with a socialised healthcare system, 2) I have health insurance to buy health care/better care, 3) I have various resources that mean I wouldn’t be left struggling on welfare if I have to stop working”.

    Effective altruist says “I’ve done the calculations and I’m going to donate to poorer countries*”.
    *Translation – “I’m a privileged person and I have all kinds of resources, so it is unlikely that I am going to be amongst the poor in my own country, so I don’t need to care about charities working in my country. Anyway, the poor in my own country aren’t really poor, they are only poor in a relative sense, so as long as they aren’t actually starving in the streets I don’t need to care so much about them – and anyway, if they were starving in the streets it would probably be the result of their own fecklessness, so they wouldn’t be deserving of my concern”.

    Effective altruist says, “I’ve done the reading and I like Effective Altruism*”.
    *Translation – “I am a privileged person who feels a bit guilty. I like something like EA that makes me feel good without forcing me to see that my privilege rests on poverty and suffering, both in my own country and in poor countries abroad”.

      1. I am not sure what you mean by “arguing straight”. Although my comment was satirical/sarcastic, I don’t think it was disingenuous, etc – it was, I think, pretty clear what I was trying to say. So, again, I am not sure how I was not “arguing straight”. Unless you mean addressing privilege is a type of privilege – which makes me think that the least privileged person must be one who can see nothing except nice, altruistic people are being nice and altruistic. Or perhaps you think that the only people who can critique the privileged are the absolute poorest, so anyone who actually eats one day to the next is barred from being critical.

        Tobias – why aren’t you concerned about privilege? When you suggest people donate to poorer countries, do you also figure that rich countries (e.g. the US and West) are rich, at least in part, because they suck resources out of poor countries, because they set things up in ways that are disadvantageous to poor countries? So, altruistic middle class people in rich countries (and I assume EA is still predominantly middle class) donate to poor countries from which resources are sucked to keep rich countries rich and support the standard of living of altruistic middle class people in those rich countries who then donate…

        Why aren’t you concerned about “giving”privilege? You say that people without money can volunteer. That makes it sound all equal. But it isn’t, if the person volunteering time and labour is unlikely to ever be in the position where they can just give money. And you encourage people to talk openly about giving money – how does that sound to people in your society who are struggling to make ends meet and are struggling to look after themselves and those closest to them? Why aren’t you seeing privilege, Tobias?

        I am not saying, and I have not said, that people shouldn’t donate. But these calculations about effectiveness seem like John robbing Peter to pay Paul, and John is in a position to say “I think my money is better spent on Paul in a poor country with malaria than Peter in my own rich(er) with a neurological disease”. How did John get into such a position, and how is his position actually resting on the inferior positions of both Peter and Paul? I don’t think we should be surprised if Peter or Paul silently despise John and his oh-so Effective Altruism.

        1. you’re pretending to know what the people you are talking about feel, and how they reason, leone. that’s not very charitable. just like you think you know what i think – or whether i see or not – privilege. anyway, i’m not really interested in discussing this further. you’ll have to go on guessing, i guess.

          1. It is possible that I might have some insight into some of the types of people I have been referring to. And I did say my first comment was satirical/sarcastic.

            Actually I would be surprised to find out that you rejected the concept of privilege. But that’s just the concept …. Espousing a “philosophy” predicated on individuals giving money almost inevitably raises some queries, don’t you think?

            Here’s an article criticising EA – the author states that EA is “particularly pernicious”.

            1. @Leone Plane

              I can understand your view, but what is your solution? What are the consequences if the EA-Movement is aware of his priviliges? Should the Movement spent their money to the poor in their own country or to more rare diseases?

              I understand that the EA-Donator is priviliged and if he would be really consequent he has to deny any medical healthcare for himself, because the costs of his medical treatment is much higher than the costs of medical healthcare of poor people in poor countries.

              But we don’t live in a world which is perfect altruistic. And it is a mathematical fact that more people benefits from spending money if EA-Rules are used.

              You can say it is hypocrite, but in fact it helps or saves more human/non-human lifes. The world would be more worse if everyone would reject EA, because they don’t want to apply this rules to 100% to themselves.

              Try to look at it at this way. The EA-Movement could be helpful to act more altruisitic in general. The more the EA-Movement grows the more grows the willingness to pay higher taxes or higher healthcare charges, which helps the own (poor) countrypeople with rare diseases.

              1. Leone is offended because EA does, according to her perception, not care (or not care enough) about the poor in rich countries (or anyone who needs help in rich countries). However, if you want to take the concept of privileges seriously, you have to accept the fact that the (relative) poor in rich countries are privileged in comparison to the (absolute) poor in less privileged parts of the world. The inequality researcher Branko Milanovic has found that 60 to 80 percent of one’s lifetime income is determined by the place where one was born. So all sources of privilege that we typically think about (like race, gender, parents’ income, education…) _taken together_ are less significant than one other factor alone (nationality).

                Of course, privilege does not only have to do with income, but I think there is good reason why this caveat makes the real differences between poor in rich countries (who are able to enjoy at least most of the public goods in these countries) and absolute poor in poor countries even more striking.

                So I think becoming aware of one’s privileges means wanting to spend at least part of your energy on alleviating worldwide suffering, rather than only caring about the poor in your own community – whether you “believe” in EA or not. Whether donations are the best way to do that, I don’t know. But I think people who give to causes abroad have a far better understanding of the inequality of opportunities worldwide than those who give exclusively to “local” causes.

                Also, the comment linked above by Leone says that EAs only care about “mild” political reform, which apparently includes everything except for overturning capitalism (the argument can thus be used against basically any form of activism). Apart from the fact that it underestimates the effort needed to lobby for criminal justice reform or animal liberation (“mild” reforms, reallly??), these problems wouldn’t be solved if we abandoned captitalism (whether you think that would be a good idea or not). Animal exploitation predates capitalism by thousands of years and has also been present in communist countries or small socialist communities.

        2. With that said….we do end up donating small amounts to organizations. Here and there I’ll donate money to organizations that have a focus on political action…..so in terms of animal issues in the US that pretty much means The Humane Society. My wife donates some small amounts to various organizations that I don’t ask much about….I usually see 1~2 charges each month on our credit cards.

          But hey….its the holidays. As a gift to Tobias I will donate $100 to the Humane Society later tonight.

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