Use Your Birthday for Charity

A good friend came up with this idea recently that I thought was pretty brilliant: when your birthday comes around, rather than ask for a gift for yourself, encourage potential gift givers to donate to a charity. My thinking is that even if this idea caused only one person to donate where they wouldn’t have otherwise, then it was worthwhile.

Well, my birthday is coming up soon and so this seems like a good time to try to spread this fine idea. I considered recommending an environmental organization like Sierra Club, but I think that the folks at Against Malaria might be doing work that would benefit from more immediate attention. I also think that even small donations go far with them.

Putting Charities to the Test
According to Guide Dogs of America, the cost of training a dog is around $42,000. So if you had $42,000 to give, you could greatly improve the life of one blind person.
But what if instead, you spent that $42,000 on eye surgeries for people with trachoma in Africa? Helen Keller International, which works to prevent blindness, says trachoma surgery costs as little as $25 per person and is 80 percent effective. That same money, then, could restore the sight of 1,344 people.

Mark  Very good! Every little bit helps. I was just thinking about the unnecessary stuff we accumulate and how hard it is to get rid of.
John  I would give, but I heard that Africans are afraid of getting shots and all the money goes to warlords. Plus, even if you *did* save someone, think of the quality of life they’re likely to have after! And, how do you even know that it works? These things are so poorly tracked.
Clifton  Well, John, the money would not easily end up in warlord hands as it goes to purchasing nets. People generally aren’t that afraid of nets.

As for the quality of life, I think the going-in assumption is that people would rather live than die, regardless of the attendant hardships. Given that this is true for most people, we might go a step farther and assume that the average child doesn’t want to die from malaria.

This is from a section on the web site where efficacy is published for Ntcheu District, Malawi: “Malaria incidence, compared to the same month in the prior year, is 50% lower in Mar 2012, 50% lower in Apr 2012, 45% lower in May 2012, 45% lower in Jun 2012.”

John  Well, what about the Syrian refugee crisis? Isn’t that more important? I read somebody calling it the worst humanitarian crisis since Rwanda. And, why not donate within the USA?

Clifton  I think people can donate wherever they like. If you can spare a few dollars a month to Against Malaria, you might very well save somebody’s life. Does it matter that it might not be an American life? Not to me. I imagine that even if I lived a long, fulfilling life, that nothing I ever accomplished would be more significant than the one person’s life I was able to save through negligible personal loss.

Joseph  Yeah, but if they don’t like Amurka, they can geeeet out. Wait …. that doesn’t work here. All right, I’m in, Clifton.
Clifton  I think I should clarify something: when I said that I think people can donate wherever they like, I really meant to say that, when they do so, they should do so carefully. I think that if you’re going to give, it should be to organizations that have the best plans, best transparency, and a proven track record of efficacy. Even if you’re tithing, I think you should try to figure out where the money is going. Consider that a few years back, an accountant at a Cornerstone church just two miles from my apartment was found to have embezzled $400,000 before being discovered. Who’d’ve thunk it? So, I highly recommend checking charities through GiveWell or Charity Navigator or however else you can.
John  Sorry for the tone here, but I’ve gotta ask: if you care so much, why don’t you go volunteer *in* Africa?
Joseph Tickets are pretty pricey and now with the extra baggage fees, forgetaboutit.
Clifton  I’ve actually thought about that a bit. A quick check on the web shows a round-trip flight from Phoenix to Nairobi as being $1,400 on the low end. A malaria net costs pretty close to $10. The average annual salary in Kenya (where malaria kills around 30,000 children under 5 annually) is about $1,700. These data, to me at least, suggest that traveling to distant places to do charity work might not be the best use of resources.
Mark  You are never going to give if you wait to see who you find worthy of your change. Keep up the good work, Clifton.
Clifton  Yeah, Mark, I could see how thinking about it too much could cause a kind of charitable paralysis. This happened to me after I had been donating to Save the Children for a year or more. I discovered that around 10% of donations go to administration. That’s fine, of course, but there are organizations that are charities in name only where 0% of your money goes to actually helping people. It is possible, unfortunately, to actually do more harm than good by giving. So, I just want to encourage people to spend the extra 30 seconds to look up their charity before giving.

Thanks for bothering to comment, by the way. I don’t imagine that I’ll cause more than one or two people to take any action, so it’s nice to at least be able to lay out the arguments. I do believe that even small actions and good ideas can have some kind of positive ripple effect, planting seeds in people’s minds. And, I think that selfless giving is a very good idea.

Mark  I actually started giving in the Marine Corps. They had a sheet that had just about everything you could think of, and if you had a dollar a month taken out you would get a 3-day weekend.
Trevor  I’m in for $30 to The Against Malaria Foundation, enough for about 10 nets. Happy birthday, Clifton!

I am comfortable giving here because of the well-researched endorsement of

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