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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- Peter Singer Discusses Ethics of Giving in New Book (takepart.com)