Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Charitable Giving in 2017

I don't know if I've mentioned it on this blog but a while ago I took the Giving What We Can pledge to donate 10% of my pre-tax income every year to efficient charities.

In general I'd recommend following Givewell's recommendations fairly closely.  In past years I've strayed beyond them a bit, in particular giving a bit extra to charities that provide micronutrients in poor countries on the theory that allowing kids to grow up healthier is investing in the future and maybe I ought to prioritize that over saving as many lives as I can right now.

On the other hand, Givewell's top charity is the Against Malaria Foundation and we, that is humanity in general, have been making huge strides against Malaria recently.   It isn't an impossible project to eliminate it in the wild.  I'm too young to have helped with the elimination of Smallpox but this would be another ancient enemy laid to rest.  The Against Malaria Foundation is a finite entity and might not be able to absorb all the money that everybody donating through Givewell can muster.  But if they can't Givewell will trickle the money down to other, nearly as important, charities that can use is so I gave the money to them to use as they see fit.

If I were emperor of the world with all resources at my command I would be careful to distribute my money through a variety of causes and means in case one was mistaken and independent analysis could show that.  But as just one person among many I feel comfortable contributing to the one organization I trust the most.

In previous years I've tended to double up my giving by year.  Donating in January of, say, 08 then again in December of 08 then January of 10 then December of 10.  I give as much as I intend, roughly, per year but I get to double up my charitable deduction while in off years I take the standard deduction on my income tax.  This year with the new tax bill passing I'm not confident on this working out for me so I figure I'll do the simple thing and just donate for the year I've saved in, before my bracket and standard deduction change.

Also, while I may think that giving to the most efficient charity I can find is the best use of my money overall I still feel bad when someone asks me for money on the streets of Cambridge and I don't give them any.  In theory I wouldn't mind them having a few dollars from my pocket but I also feel bad if I give money to the people who are willing to stand out in public all day asking for it while not giving any money to the the people who don't.  To assuage all my feelings of guilt I donate $5 to the Greater Boston Food bank whenever anybody asks for money from me on the street, which comes to $210 this year.

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