Donating to charity is a selfless act that is always to be applauded. If the world’s top 500 businesses donated 1% of profit to charity, many people think we’d be able to cure world hunger. But that will never happen, so let’s just focus on the donations that do happen for now, highlighted by the below infographic.
Julia Belluz created the interesting display in 2011, concerned that donations to ALS via the Ice Bucket Challenge were not the most efficient way for donators to hand over their well intentioned cash. It shows the amount of money donated to a choice of eight major charities in comparison to the amount of deaths from that disease in each in the US.
The infographic and accompanying article were intended to critique celebrity/popularity driven campaigns where, she argues, people were donating based on what was cool, not what needed the money most. The Ice Bucket Challenge raised $22.9m for the ALS Association in 2011, up from just $1.9m the year before. The donations came so thick and fast that the charity reported being unsure of what to do with the money.
Let’s be clear, money donated to the ALS Association is not money wasted. The disease dealt with by the charity is Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after a baseball player who quit the sport after being diagnosed with the disease in 1939. It causes a slow, painful death as sufferers nerve cells stop working. 75 years after Gehrig went public with the disease, it kills people within two to five years and we don’t know what causes it or how to cure it.
The differences highlighted by the graph are striking but don’t necessarily represent the whole picture. While just 7,683 died of HIV/AIDS in the US, over a million are killed by the disease in Africa every year. Developing this point further, William MacAskill, founder of 80,000 hours, suggest people simply need to think slightly harder about where their money goes. He claims that “Donating money to the best developing world health charities will reach at least 100 times as many people than if you donate to developed world health causes.”
The centre of MacAskill’s arguement is the idea of a quality-adjusted life year. Applying the concept to a $56,000 charitable donation, it would provide one quality-adjusted year to an ALS sufferer. But send that money to a country with high levels of malaria and your investment would return 500 quality-adjusted life-years in the form of bed nets to protect from mosquitos.
There are charities set up to assess which charities are most likely to touch the maximum number of people per dollar spent. Givewell are the market leaders, conducting “in-depth research aiming to determine how much good a given program accomplishes (in terms of lives saved, lives improved, etc.) per dollar spent.”
So while donating is always a good thing, maybe next time have a think about where the money goes. Some charities plough their money into advertising, others concentrate on saving lives!