Giving away money should be easy. By definition you aren’t expecting any financial return and you only have to look around to see that there is tremendous need, whether it’s trying to alleviate poverty or disease or harm to our planet. Despite that, my hunch is that if you ask most people how satisfied they feel with their donations, you won’t get a very positive answer.
The first issue is that the choice is overwhelming – nearly 200,000 registered charities in the UK plus thousands of other social enterprises doing great work. The next problem is the difficulty in measuring effectiveness: how do you choose between 5 or 10 charities each doing similar types of work? And let’s be clear: it IS important to differentiate. Some charities are much more effective than others, while some, despite their best intentions, actually do harm!
A good starting point is to read NPC’s excellent guide: What makes a good charity. Also Doing Good Better: Effective Altruism and a Radical New Way to Make a Difference, by William McAskill and It Ain’t What You Give, It’s The Way That You Give It by Caroline Fiennes. If you want a shorter read then our Giving is Great booklet will take less than 30 minutes.
Consider joining a network of other donors where you can share ideas. The Funding Network, founded in 2002, holds regular live crowd funding events for carefully selected small charities which are now available via video link. Even if you don’t donate to any of them it’s usually insightful to read the reports produced and hear the questions posed by others.
Do you already have a strong sense of the types of causes that tug at your heart strings? If so, then try to understand the issues involved. If possible, try to set up conversations with people on the front line of those causes but always be mindful that time spent with you means less time doing good work.
Are you interested in volunteering? Not only can this be a highly fulfilling activity in itself, it will also provide you with greater insight on the organisation and the nature of the issues being tackled. Volunteer Match is an organisation dedicated to matching volunteers to causes. A word of warning though: when you volunteer the charity is doing you a favour, not the other way round. Be respectful of their values and procedures.
Armed with the experience of these activities, start to make donations. If possible, set up regular donations; charities spend far too much money on fund raising and we all have a responsibility to try to keep those costs down. Then periodically review if the charity is still effective and in line with your preferences.