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Large charities embroiled in scandals have brought charitable giving into disrepute, from Oxfam staff who sexually exploited victims of the Haiti earthquake, to harassment at Save the Children.
But the failure of these charities should not put you off donating.
Indeed, the philosopher Peter Singer argued that ‘if you are living comfortably while others are hungry or dying from easily preventable diseases, and you are doing nothing about it, there is something wrong with your behaviour’.
According to Singer, we can all live without 10 per cent of our income and use it to become an ‘effective altruist’.
For Singer being effective means optimizing your charitable donations so that they have the highest impact possible. The effective altruism movement also tends to put causes that support the most basic needs for survival first.
And how can you make your giving more effective?
Some charities are good at calculating exactly where your money is going: Sightsavers, for example, lists how much of your money goes to sight-saving trachoma treatments or cataract operations.
So does the Against Malaria Foundation, which provides long-lasting insecticidal nets, primarily in Africa; as well as Dispensers for Safe Water and the Deworm the World Initiative.
Another option is to donate to services you already use for free – and I don’t mean Facebook, which cashes in on your data.
But take Wikipedia, or podcasts you can download such as ‘Philosophize This’ by Stephen West, whose listeners can pledge $1 per episode.
Equally, you could support causes on justgiving.com or gofundme.com.
Finally, consider what’s really needed in your local area. In California, philanthropists donated millions to a museum of Star Wars memorabilia; meanwhile, LA’s budgetstrapped public schools remain woefully inadequate, leaving millions of children without an arts education.
An effective altruist would do better.
This column was originally published in Money Observer, May issue 2018