Charity and linked data

Peter Singer lecturing at Washington Universit...
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I have been reading Peter Singer‘s book The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty. It’s interesting – but somewhat challenging. It’s hard not to approach it with feelings of guilt (“I don’t give enough”) and self justification (“anyway charity doesn’t work”).

Singer deals with these issues and makes a good case for the effectiveness of charitable giving without it being burdensome to the average person.

However, an issue which I think is very relevant to most people is the selection of a charity to give to. Most of us do want to give – but we don’t want to just throw money away, or give it to the wrong people. We want our aid to be effective.

[As an aside, I do realise that for some people charity stops at the personal feelings of good they get on giving without any concern for the consequences. As long as they give they feel virtuous whether it saves lives or not.]

Diversion of charitable donations

Singer quotes data from Giving USA‘s report on USA charity. Apparently  “the largest portion of the money American’s give, fully a third of it, goes to religious institutions, where it pays the salaries of the clergy and for building and maintaining churches, synagogues and mosques.” Less than 10% of this “is passed on as aid for developing countries.”

Tell me about it. In New Zealand we all give this sort “charitable” aid to the religious because of the way that charity is defined for tax exemption purposes (see How to lower taxes). I certainly don’t want my voluntary charitable donations going there as well.

In the USA “the next biggest sector is education, including universities, colleges and libraries.” That may not be so true in New Zealand.

Anyway, my point is that I would like to choose the recipients of my hard earned donation dollars. I want  to “save that life” rather than finance the proselyting activity of ministers, priests and missionaries or provide for their pensions and buildings. Nor do I want to pay for unnecessary bureaucracy and administration.

Ranking NZ charities

That choice requires information. I would like to see some objective measures of the performance and effectiveness of different charities. This reminds me a bit of the NZ blog ranking exercise I have been involved in. The data must be available. Someone should be able to extract it, put it together and enable the interested public to see a rating of charities they are considering according to different criteria they may be interested in. I accept that some givers may be more interested in “saving souls” rather than saving lives. Others may be more interested in women’s issues, children, clean water, malnutrition, eye disease, etc.

Singer describes the organisation Charity Navigator – an independent, non-profit organization that evaluates American charities. (See the Wikipedia entry for more information). It’s aim is to help the giver “find a charity they can trust.” I would love to see a similar organisation, and a similar informative web site and data base, for New Zealand charities. I am sure it would help improve the charitable giving of New Zealanders.

This could be a worthwhile exercies for an internet geek. The information must be available. Much of it must be readily available and in a readily linked format.
Talking about linked data have a look at this talk by Tim Berners-Lee. He invented the World Wide Web and leads the World Wide Web Consortium, overseeing the Web’s standards and development. He now says the next big step in the internet is linked data.


See also: Video of uncut interview of Peter Singer by Richard Dawkins. This is very interesting. They discuss vegetarianism, speciesism, animal rights, abortion and the origins of human morality. Wee worth a look.

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4 responses to “Charity and linked data

  1. so that the donation can be received by the right target, it may need to have a system that involve community directly as an information sources and donation can be distribute without the bureaucracy…


  2. Within NZ there is a public register of charities, which includes the formal descriptions of their purposes, annual returns, etc., which goes a little way towards this. (The Charities Commission:

    In NZ, charities wishing to claim tax exemptions have to register with the Charities Commission.

    Wasn’t there something on the TV recently about a website that you could nominate your charity, etc. (I wasn’t following it, but perhaps this might jog someone’s memory.)


  3. Yes, the NZ Charities Commission site its interesting. I have spent some time going through the rules (available on the site) for those organisations getting exemption under the definition of religion as a charity. I am convinced that one could set a pastafarian church and qualify because there are “spiritualist” organisations who do. And what about all those trusts whop are providing for the pensions of religious ministers?

    We subsidise these through their tax exempt status.

    I didn’t see that TV item – but it is becoming quite topical as there is legislation going ahead making it so much easier to give. (Churches will love this as all it will take is one incident of arm-twisting to get a parishioner to sign the form request her employer to deduct 10% of her wages every week.) However, many preople would probably find this a painless way of giving – after they had established that their chosen charity was worthwhile.


  4. Regards setting up an internet service, if someone would pay me… Just kidding.

    On another note, one thing I find—for me at least—is that I favour a charity that I understand, in the sense of understanding the issues first hand in one way or other. Ideally, I like to have a first-hand feel for the organisation too. (In fact I limit my charity to a very small number of organisations that fit both bills. Besides, I’m not wealthy enough to be tossing money around!)

    I avoid giving money to religious charities. They invariably have religious aims in addition to whatever honest charitable work they do.

    I wouldn’t mind doing some first-hand charitable work myself, but unless you are in a “practical” area of science, your skills aren’t really wanted outside of big cities, etc. (Somewhat closer to my skills and interests, I had an interest in setting up an internet service to aid those seeking information about rare diseases, but NZORD serves that purpose now.)


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