Doing good better by William MacAskill

There are about 165,000 charities registered in the UK. The ones you know tend to be headline charities that do a lot of media advertising, junk-mailing, and have administration teams worthy of a FTSE 100 company. We all like to support  family members and friends who run marathons, cycle trek across Europe, jump out of planes and abseil down cliff faces, especially if they are supporting a worthy cause. If the charity they are Doing good bettersupporting is looking for a cure for cancer, financing guide-dogs for the blind, giving holidays for deprived city kids or protecting wildlife, or any of a thousand different very worthy causes, it will make us feel good about putting our hands in our pockets and donating.

As you get into MacAskill’s book, you may be forgiven for thinking that he is a bit of a party-pooper. He is very analytical in his view of charities, and asks uncomfortable questions about the real value and effectiveness of charities that pull at our heart strings. The author is not just an academic teaching at Oxford University, he has also co-founded two not-for-profit ventures to help people donate more effectively and to find careers for people who have the welfare of others at heart. This book has a very powerful message, though you may not agree with everything he says. But if you tune into the general intention behind the analyses, it will make you think very carefully about the charities you donate to in the future.

Do you donate to salvage your own conscience? Are you looking for the feel-good factor? Or do you think carefully about the effectiveness of every pound/dollar you donate? Many of us are naturally drawn by the close ties of friendship and blood relatives, and we like to support them in their ventures. If a close relative dies of cancer, it’s a natural reaction to raise money for a cancer charity. But are these the right motives? Do we need to be much more calculating before we part with hard earned pennies?

Some of the answers can be found in Doing good better, but more importantly it raises the difficult questions we all need to address.


About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on January 4, 2016, in Book reviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I am exceptionally careful about how I donate. 85/15 or better (favoring the charity). Foundations that make the principles rich beyond lunacy (The Clinton Foundation for Political Money Laundering would be one) drives me up a wall. Great post, I’ll have to check that book out!

  2. I expect that was a good read and I’d agree with a lot of his points. Personally K and I only support charities we know well through having worked for them at some point

  3. Sheila Cakebread

    Interesting review, Frank, I have added it to my ‘to read’ list. I have been thinking about researching some of the charities which bombard me with requests for donations, to check their effectiveness, particularly the ones which send unwanted ‘gifts’.

  4. Some 2 years back I donated to a fund set up to help a guy who needed a new liver. With no NHS in the USA it was his only hope. He was an American blues guitarist. The fund was set up by the wife of a British blues guitarist who had played together with the American. The $75k target was reached in 48 hours and went on to raise some $250k. The extra money helped improve his condition – and delay the operation! He finally received the new liver, and had to learn to play his guitar again due to weakness. The joy of hearing him on BBC Radio 2, thanking those who helped save his life and to play again at the London Blues Festival, was the ultimate reward. I’m not sure any form of registered charity could compare.

  5. A mixture of both, with the heart for pals, with the head for larger amounts.

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