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Giving Game Writeup

June 7th, 2016
giving  [html]
Julia and I [1] recently ran a giving game with a group of young liberal-to-leftist activists at a religious center, and I thought it would be interesting to write up where people decided to give and why. The session started with Julia giving a ~1hr presentation on effective altruism, followed by questions. Then she introduced three organizations:

In addition to Julia's verbal descriptions, people got a one-page handout with summaries of the organizations. These included that AMF is currently GiveWell's top recommendation, and that they previously rated both NFP and IPA as "standout" organizations. It also included GiveWell's cost-effectiveness estimates for AMF and NFP, but no one seemed to use those in their comparisons.

We broke into five groups of five people each, and I sat in on one group for part of their discussion:

  • They didn't like IPA, because it seemed like paying people to sit around when there was real important work to be done making the world better.

  • They wanted to avoid being a "white savior", and thought going into other countries to try to fix things wasn't their place.

  • They didn't like the idea of exercising control over what other people do with their resources via giving them nets etc, because it's not our place to decide for other people what they need. One person gave the example of worrying that homeless people might buy alcohol with the money you give them, saying that the person should be able to buy alcohol or not as they want.

  • They wanted to give locally so they could see the impact.

  • They pushed back on the idea that the poorest people in other countries were poorer than the poorest people in the US. One person said that there were people living less than an hour from their house (in TN) who had dirt floors and no running water, and that poor people in other countries also often have dirt floors and no running water.

  • One had visited a poor community in India and, while they did think the people there were poorer than anyone in the US, they had also seen the NGOs working there being widely seen as useless and wasteful.

Then we went around the room, with the groups saying where they had decided to give the money and why:

  • Group 1 (NFP)
    • We should invest the money in defense contractors to grow it first, and then donate it! (joke; very anti-war group)
    • Give to NFP, reluctantly.
    • Mostly thinking about donor behavior, thinking about what's underresourced.
    • Gates is doing malaria, so that's probably set.
    • Not enough details on IPA to really say.
    • Reading about how AMF does "monitoring and enforcement" was worrying.
  • Group 2 (IPA)
    • Blurbs aren't normally the way we would choose; we want to give where we have personal connections, we're familiar with their work, and we've seen their impact.
    • Felt more or less ok with giving to any of them.
    • Decided on IPA, because they would be contributing to research and long-term solutions.
    • We know researchers and feel like they should get paid.
    • Lots of long term change could happen if only research could be better funded.
    • IPA could improve organizations like NFP and AMF.
    • In general, the possible savings from improving other organizations are dramatic.
    • Worried about feeding the charity-industrial-complex where a $5 donation turns into more than $5 wasted on thank you notes and solicitations.
  • Group 3 (come back to us)
  • Group 4 (NFP)
    • (This was the group I sat in on)
    • Significicant reservations about all three organizations.
    • Strong distrust of international and corporate/big structures.
    • Hard to justify interfering in drastically impoverished communities.
    • Decided on NFP, but didn't like the assumption that poor women would be worse mothers needing extra help.
  • Group 5 (AMF and NFP)
    • Not funding IPA because Yale has enough money and should fund it.
    • Split funding $11 to AMF (to buy two nets) and the remaining $9 to NFP.
  • Group 3 (NFP)
    • To improve efficiency and cut down bureacracy, we decided to give to whichever organization was most supported by the other four groups.


[1] Well, mostly Julia; I spent the whole first half chasing Lily around, and then was in and out with Anna.

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