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 supporting 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.