Posted by: CJ | December 21, 2009


I just found out about an interesting organization. GiveWell is a small group that studies the effectiveness of various non-profits and reports on them. They generally find that non-profits don’t perform particularly well. But they had a number of interesting statistics and blog posts. Generally depressing, but remarkably honest about the difficulties of improving lives. They also are quite direct in noting that charity in the US and in developing countries mean two different things. In developing countries you’re trying to save the lives of people dying from easily and cheaply preventable causes, while in the US you’re, at heart, generally trying to improve the socioeconomic status of people compared to where they would have been without the intervention.

Unfortunately, their website is somewhat poorly designed, but here are some of the interesting pages I’ve found on it.

  1. Their About page mentions that, annually, individual donors give 100 times as much to charity as the Gates Foundation, and 6 times as much as all foundations combined.
  2. They have excellent overview of why most charities are not nearly as effective as they sound, and another overview of social programs that don’t work. (Or at least haven’t been made to work despite numerous attempts.) I think acknowledging these failures to meet hopes is important for improving programs, or ultimately determining what we can and can’t hope to accomplish.
  3. A short table showing how donated money has a bigger impact overseas, in developing countries.
  4. They have some interesting posts about the limitations of better schooling. One points out that the achievement gap between socioeconomic classes starts before kindergarten. Another more forcefully argues better education isn’t the key to improved life outcomes. Those posts focus on domestic issues, but they talk about international educational charities as well, coming to similarly depression conclusions.

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