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Participating in Donation Matching

October 21st, 2016
giving, donation_matching  [html]
My office does a donation matching thing each year, where employees get together in groups to sponsor charities, offering to match donations. There are signs up around the office with phrases like "double your impact", but that's misleading because most of the sponsors would donate regardless. I'm torn about whether I should sign up as a sponsor: on one hand I want to raise money for great organizations, but on the other hand I don't want to contribute to a culture of donor illusions.

Offers to sponsor specific charities in our culture are almost never counterfactually valid: the sponsor will send the same amount to the charity whether you give or not. But they're often presented in a way that incorrectly implies that you can count the impact of the sponsor's money as if it were your own. This makes me sad, and is something I would like effective altruism to fix eventually. But where does this leave us in the mean time?

I'm conflicted about what organizations should do [1] but I think for individuals it's generally fine to participate in existing donation matching programs. It's a way to say "this is something we care about and are willing to use our resources to support, will you join us?" Most people don't care about "counterfactual validity", they're just excited about turning the conventionally solitary activity of donating into a social one.

(If someone asks "would this money get donated otherwise", however, we should be honest and take the opportunity to talk about counterfactual impact.)


[1] GiveWell decided not to use donation matching to raise money for their top charities because it felt dishonest to them, and I think that was a reasonable decision for them. Pushing the message that you should give because your donation will be matched would be inconsistent with the rest of what they stand for. Other EA and EA-aligned organizations have run matching campaigns, however, because offering matching funds does bring in more donations.

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