The knock at the door was more cheerful than normal.
Great. It’s another charity worker seeking a donation. Not the ‘loose change’ sort of donation either, but one that involves clipboards and direct debits.
She’s young and smiling, with a lanyard around her neck. In a distinct French accent, she introduces herself.
“Hello, my name is Clarice.”
I want to reply with my best Hannibal Lector impersonation, “Hello Clarice,” but I don’t fancy another call from Sergeant Steve.
Still, Clarice should have been warned about this house. I’ve been known to ask prodding questions. Start spontaneous lectures. Perhaps she missed the briefing.
Getting straight into it, Clarice tells me about the great cause she represents. Though in truth, I’m not fully listening. Something about children, education or animals. Education for young animals, I think.
I would have asked for more details, but today I was short of time. So I respond in a way that often ends these encounters.
“Sorry, I don’t feel comfortable donating to this charity right now.”
“Oh, okay.” is the common reaction I get and the person walks away questioning their life decisions.
But Clarice returns with a question she might later regret.
“May I ask why?”
Oh Clarice, where to begin…
For a start, there are more than 50,000 registered charities in Australia (more than 1 million in the US), all competing for funding. And the fragmented marketplace has left everyone disillusioned.
Giving to charity is, of course, a great thing to do. But often, in modern society we only make a donation when we’re prompted to do so, effectively allowing others to decide where our money goes.
And when we do try to make a choice, on our own, we’re easily swayed by emotional stories and pictures, or choose charities that we have a personal connection with or that benefit our local community. Or we just choose charities we like.
And while some of us question the efficiency of large charities and want to know where our money is going, we don’t do any real investigation.
When it comes to charity, we should be using our heads, actively planning our decisions with as much effort as we put into buying a new phone or washing machine. We should rely on evidence and careful analysis to identify the most pressing issues, and concentrate our philanthropic efforts on the most effective charities. That’s how we end poverty. And abolish illiteracy in animals.
And it’s not like any of this is even that difficult. Independent organisations like The Life You Can Save and GiveWell already give us all the information we need to make informed decisions. We just need to think.
Overwhelmed by everything I wanted to say, I decided Clarice needed to hear it all. I’d bring her a comfy chair and a selection of snacks, if that’s what it took.
I took a deep breath and readied myself—when my phone started to ring. Slightly flustered, I quickly say to Clarice “Sorry, I have to get this.” and I close the door. Lecture cancelled.
I answer the call.
“Hello, this is Michael from Save the Children.”