what I gave in 2017
I began recapping my altruistic activities in February of 2016, after just over a full year of commitment to effective altruism. The following January's reflections showed big changes to my priorities and my focus, and now this year, once I sorted through my uncharacteristically lax accounting, it became clear that this year's altruism was not so much about what I gave myself, but what impact I really had when using all my resources.
What do I mean? Matching gifts.
Thanks to a brief period of eligibility for matching gifts with a corporate employer, I nearly doubled an entire year's worth of giving.
What I gave: $2,320.60
My total impact: $4,431.20
During my time as a professional fundraiser, I tried to hammer this point home as much as possible: employer matching gifts are a huge deal. I always told people not to forget about those programs, to ask their HR representatives about them, even to give me the contact info and I would ask their HR reps for them. But it hit home for me when I was the one to read, "Your contribution has been verified, and a check has been cut." As an artist and general freelancer, I never thought I'd be able to make an impact in that way. It was amazing to see it happen.
My giving priorities
As in the last few years, I've focused my attention on not only the most effective charities out there, but also the most important causes both to me and on a global scale. Why focus on medical interventions? Because it is ridiculously, unbelievably cheap to resolve medical issues in the developing world.
For my compatriots here in the U.S., it's hard to believe that any medical intervention can cost less than a few hundred dollars, but it's true. $50 cures blindness with Seva. $30 transports a woman to a hospital with Fistula Foundation. Just $2.50 provides a bed net with Against Malaria Foundation (source). We can make astonishing impact with the right priorities and the right providers.
Building my commitment
Since discovering effective altruism in 2013, I've been committed to doing the most good I can do. At this point, I'm not so concerned with the exact dollars and cents given as much as I'm committed to giving a bit more whenever I can.
Whenever I've had to renew a credit card for one of my monthly gifts, I've added on a few dollars. When a charity gives me the option to pay for the processing fee on my gift, I take it. If I have a few extra dollars when a charity has a matching gift challenge, I make an additional donation that month. Small things add up.
To-do list: increase your impact
If you don't know where to start, just start. Learn as you go. Contact your charity, and ask them lots of questions. Steward your investment.
Read up on how your charities perform: NOT with Charity Navigator, but a reputable source like GiveWell or The Life You Can Save. Impact is not about how much is spent on so-called "overhead" (itself one of the most damaging myths for the nonprofit sector), but how many lives are saved, and how much it costs to save them.
- Find matching gifts: not just from your employer.
Charities often have days (especially Giving Tuesday and throughout the month of December), when generous donors or grant-making organizations will offer to match donations made for a certain period of time. Join their email list to stay up to date.
If you run in a like-minded circle, challenge friends to give with you. Share what you are doing, especially if it's a small donation. De-stigmatize the money conversation, and let other people know that we can make a greater impact together.
My to-do list this year includes increasing all my monthly gifts to $50, and opening a donor-advised fund for major gifts. More importantly, I want to stay connected to these causes: learning, giving, and sharing as much as I can.
In my last apartment, I kept all the thank-you notes and impact stories that charities had sent me and taped them on my door so I would see them as I left. It reminded me of why I work, save, and do all of this. Even one life saved, one cure, one surgery, one vaccine – just one of any of these is worth it.