Who I donate to

Expensive value signalling

August 21, 2019 — May 31, 2023

Figure 1

1 Why this list

Some public goods I long for can best be achieved by outsourcing, i.e. I give someone else money to achieve them for us all. That is what charitable donation is. I mention my specific donations here because

  1. I believe in normalising donations as part of a healthy society. (This is a contingent stance; many of the causes I donate to have the goal of reducing the need for charitable donation, which I think is better than having a society which relies upon affluent guilt.)
  2. I hope that by highlighting the causes I donate to, I will encourage others to donate to them, so the publicity is useful leverage.
  3. For my own reference, I want a centralised list of who I am donating to so that I can stop my donations if I decide the recipient is no longer the best place to send my money. Maybe if donating to saving the planet becomes the new conspicuous consumption, then not only will I look fancy, I’ll even have a planet to look fancy on.
  4. Maybe you will have better ideas about whom I should donate to and will engage constructively on that topic to improve my strategy.
  5. I hope that you will think I am a nice person for giving money to strangers. (Maybe I even am a nice guy? You should probably demand more stringent proof if that is a matter of import to you.)

Good.

Figure 2

Listing organisations here should not be taken as my personal endorsement of any individual tactical decision made by any of the organisations or individuals mention, nor my blanket support of all positions they may adopt.

Unlike, say, classic, marginalist-style, Effective Altruist organisations donor lists, there is little mention here of mosquito nets. I am more interested in moon-shots and hail-mary punts and other high-variance strategies, which the Open Philanthropy people bill as hits-based Giving, whereas the default EA strategy is low-variance.

I am interested especially in organisations which aim to change the system to enable us humans to solve problems for ourselves, i.e. disruptive changers. That is, I mostly give money to lobbyists, builders of capacity, and builders of tools. This is, IMO, a higher-risk, higher-expected-reward strategy than (important, useful) concrete certainties like mosquito nets, and also, TBH, one that I more directly benefit from personally. Enlightened mutual interest is kind of my whole thing though. Further, we are at a point in human history where high-risk high-reward is pretty much the only wise strategy. Hail-mary bets all the way.

As a side order, I give money to some creators whose work I enjoy. This amount of money is somewhat smaller than the donations to political activity.

For reference, my current donation level is 4% of my income. Unless there is an exceptional burning emergency or matching funding from a donor, I attempt to give my donations as regular recurring payments, to provide budgeting certainty to both the organisation and to myself. Also, organisations that need to raise funding by alarmism learn some unhealthy habits around crying wolf.

2 Money donations

Because of my work and relationships, I have private information that suggests that some of these organisations are high leverage.

The next few are about confidentiality-respecting and/or open source computing infrastructure.

Various creators on Patreon I can’t work out how to link to en masse:

3 Time donations

For whom I do work using my specialised skills.

  • Progtech, the Progressive Tech network. I attempted to volunteer teaching data-science-for-campaigning to these folks, but they never allocated me any shifts. Progtech: you are welcome to get back in touch any time. I have run out of time to chase people begging for volunteer data-science shifts though, I’d rather just do data science with my volunteer time.

If your cause is righteous, you are welcome to pitch to me for a slice of my volunteer time. Send me a short paragraph making a case for what it will help (I tend to favour climate- and conflict-risk mitigation causes) and why you think it will be a high-leverage use of my time towards that goal.

4 Rent to first nations

A special category of donations, which I do not think is high leverage directly, but which might seed discussion.

Australia has a complicated and generally horrifying history regarding the treatment of the first people to live here. Putting that right is going to be long, slow and complicated and I am not expert in the nuances of policy to make it better. The institutions that might better the autonomy of Aboriginal people in Australia are not strong, at least not everywhere. It is not always clear how to act to make the best difference, in the sometimes-dirty power politics.

However, when it comes to paying Aboriginal people for the use of land in Australia, I think things are relatively straightforward. I am not Aboriginal, but I have common cause with the Aboriginal people of Sydney in struggling against the nascent landed caste system that is choking us all, and moreover, Aboriginal people are on average worse off than I because of it.

I argue that, in institutional terms, we need a credible threat that screwing people over will be punished in order to disincentivise future screwing over of people. I do not know the ideal details of such system of punishment. I do not think that personal “reparations” provide such an incentive mechanism, however — that is merely a cash transfer from the affluent to the visible.

But! I can just about persuade myself that there is an argument for making a personal gesture if I use it as a discussion point here. Also, if I can increase the diversity and accessibility of housing to Aboriginal people in urban Australia it will also help me, personally, by getting me a more interesting, diverse and affordable place to live; we can think of that as a gentrification levy if we want.

The Pay the rent movement is in part about that.

So, to whom should I pay the rent to accomplish these goals of starting-conversations-about-fixing-equity-for-Australians? Ideally there would be an equitable system for collecting and allocating land rents to aboriginal land custodians, but that institution does not exist at the moment. This is a substantial problem — we do not have good incentive alignment in the institutions we cobble together to cover that gap and this voluntary payment does not well approximate the redress that I am suggesting would be ideal.

OK, but I am not the guy to build those hypothetical institutions. What do I do? The governing Aboriginal land council where I live, the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council does not take donations.1 For now, the best I have is Original power, an Australian-Indigenous-led campaign for self-determination through clean energy. I will revisit this choice periodically.

Here is a handy reference to finding the traditional owners of land in Australia.

5 Incoming

Footnotes

  1. but do consider hiring out their campsite; it is lovely. Also, they are champs.↩︎