Here’s how I’m donating in 2016.
After the election, I set up a recurring $20 donation to the ACLU. Normally, my moral foundations other than harm/care are fairly quiescent; however, loyalty and sanctity started kicking up a fuss after the election, and I have chosen to indulge them with a small donation. I am confident that the ACLU is aligned with my values and that the average dollar given to the ACLU does a great deal of good. I like that the ACLU works on many issues, because I think they will be able to respond fluidly to whatever unpredictable nonsense the Trump administration attempts to push through. I am highly uncertain if they are funding-constrained or how much value the marginal dollar given to the ACLU purchases. I am very interested in pointers to funding-constrained charities which focus on civil liberties and anti-authoritarianism (in the US and globally).
I am giving $100 to Tostan. Aceso Under Glass wrote an excellent blog post about why she believes more people should donate to Tostan. While I don’t have a firm opinion on the underlying issue, I think that not enough people do independent charity research, and in particular not enough global poverty effective altruists do independent charity research. While GiveWell is an amazing organization, it’s important not to have a single point of failure; a diversity of viewpoints means that we’re more likely to notice their mistakes and things they overlook. And since effective altruism has major talent gaps, it’s good for people to try to fill them. Therefore, I am giving to Tostan to encourage more people to do such research. I will probably give to other charities recommended by particularly impressive blog posts, until it seems like there is enough independent charity research.
The rest of my donations ($2032) I will donate to GiveWell. I do not currently have any particular expertise in charity evaluation. I don’t predict that I will acquire such expertise in the near future, and I am concerned that if I save my money until I have acquired this expertise then all of the tastiest low-hanging fruit will have been plucked by the time I get around to donating. GiveWell seems to me to be highly competent as an organization and to agree with my values; therefore, I think they are a reasonable proxy for what a hypothetical version of me who knew more would donate to.
I think many people in my position pick their favorite of GiveWell’s top charities; this is certainly what I did in the past. I have decided not to do this because it feels intellectually dishonest, the donation equivalent of the apocryphal story about housewives wanting cake mixes where they have to add an egg because then it feels like they’re actually cooking. If you add an egg you’re still using a cake mix, and if you choose between Give Directly and Deworm The World you’re still letting GiveWell allocate your money; it makes you feel like you have agency, but you actually don’t. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using a cake mix or a charity evaluator if you happen to be unskilled in baking or cause prioritization. But I prefer to have an accurate model of exactly how much agency I have.
I am giving to GiveWell’s operations, because GiveWell gives its excess funds as grants; thus, giving to operations is the best possible way to make GiveWell make all my decisions for me.