Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Your chance at fame has arrived

A photo of a New York police officer giving boots to a homeless man has gone viral. The New York Times reports that while on duty, Officer Lawrence Deprimo spotted a man in the cold without shoes. Deprimo talked with the man, found out his shoe size, and left to purchase a $100 pair of boots in a nearby store. He returned and helped the man put on his new boots. Now that's a good police officer! A tourist snapped the now famous photo of the scene. It reminded her of her father, a police officer who she witnessed giving food to a homeless man when she was a child.

This touching story immediately reminded me of someone too: my compassionate friend Leanne. She keeps her car stocked with bottled water and granola bars, so any time she drives past someone on the side of the road holding a sign that says "hungry" she is in a position to help. Any day now, someone will snap a picture of Leanne's good deeds and she will be just as famous as Officer Deprimo!

I think the kind-hearted acts of police officers like Lawrence Deprimo and that tourist's dad and people like Leanne are so moving to me because they seem rare. I hope that acts like these become so common that their note-worthiness falls somewhere between folding laundry and serving cake at a birthday party.

But until that time comes, YOU have an unprecedented opportunity to achieve viral internet fame!! Your next act of compassion could be the next Gangnam Style. Or "Call Me Maybe" might be a better analogy. Anyway, what I'm saying is, compassion is hot right now, so take advantage of the moment and up your charity game. Keep an eye out for lost animals, be alert to signs of domestic violence and human trafficking, and pay attention the next time you see someone living on the street who needs help. Follow through on every do-gooder moment that presents itself, even if the only help you can give is very small. Officer Deprimo is famous for buying a pair of boots. Whatever, you can top that no sweat. Better get to it. Can't let this chance at fame pass me by.

-Selfish Blogger

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

New Charity Endorsed by Givewell

Givewell, a charity evaluation and ranking organization, has recommended a new charity: GiveDirectly.

GiveDirectly transfers money directly from you, the donor, to poor people in Kenya to spend as they choose.

I'm excited to see Givewell add a third charity to their recommended list - one of my big objections to Givewell is that they are too small to evaluate a suitable number of charities. I find it fascinating that they have endorsed a very young charity. GiveDirectly is less than two years old. After listening to one of their conference calls, I've learned that Givewell believes direct cash transfer requires a lower burden of proof for effectiveness than other interventions (like vaccines, or clean water programs).

Still, endorsing a charity with less than two years of data feels like a big departure from Givewell's work in the past. Essentially, the leadership at Givewell believes in the theory of change behind GiveDirectly and is impressed by the GiveDirectly leadership. This is the same way that most donors and foundations decide on their giving. On a certain level, I don't object to Givewell doing the same. But Givewell has purposely set themselves apart from the wider philanthropic world by claiming a superior evaluation model and process that almost assures their recommended charities do more good with your money than other charities.

It will be interested to follow the response to Givewell's endorsement of GiveDirectly, and I am eager to learn more about the impact of direct money transfers.

-Selfish Blogger

It's Giving Tuesday!

Good morning! Have you ever found yourself sitting around the house thinking "I need a good excuse to give some money away"? Well today is your day! Giving Tuesday is here! Now you can give away your money with bunches of other people on the same day. Lookayou!

And if you find yourself saying "I don't have any extra money to give away," consider one of these quick money-finding tips: skip Starbucks, make your lunch a PB&J, sell that thing you've been meaning to put on Craig's List. With any luck, you've scrapped together $5-10 that you can donate to the worthwhile charity of your choice.

I might make a gift to The Adventure Project, or perhaps The Fistula Foundation, or maybe even International Planned Parenthood Federation... Where will your money go?

-Selfish Blogger

Monday, November 26, 2012

Never Be Silent

I recently had a chance to visit some folks I had not seen in four years. They live on a quiet street in a three bedroom mobile home that houses three children, eight teens/adults, four dogs, three cats, and two turtles. Seven people in the home are of working age. Two are unable to work due to physical condition. One is employed. When we arrived to visit the 3 year old and 4 year old kids, we saw the largest of the four dogs in a crate. He had sad, defeated eyes. He had been bad, we were told. I suspected he had not been taken on a walk in a long time.

We took the kids to the park. There, I talked with the kids about their dog.

"Does doggie go on walks?"
"Do you think he's bored?"
"Do you think he was bad because he doesn't have the words to say he's bored?"
"When we get home, do you want to take doggie on a walk?"

I was worried doggie might not have a leash, but he did. When we arrived back at the house, the kids asked the adults if we could take doggie on a walk. He's bad on the leash, I was told. I promised to hold his leash myself. We grabbed a plastic bag to clean up after doggie, and off we ran! I went into a full sprint but couldn't keep up. He pulled me up and down the block for nearly an hour. I used all my strength to keep my hold on the leash. The kids watched doggie blast past them and cheered. Doggie was elated! No one had ever seen doggie panting before.

The 3 year old boy wanted to run with doggie too, so we held the leash together and doggie and I slowed our pace significantly. I asked the little boy:

"When you grow up, are you going to be a good runner?"
"Are you going to take your doggies on runs?"
"Are you going to take your doggies on runs everyday!?"
"Good for you! Doggies need to go on runs everyday to be happy!"

After our short outing, we brought doggie in and we proclaimed to the room how much doggie loved going on walks!

I left for the airport to head home.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals launched a new campaign this year called "Never Be Silent." It is an inspiring campaign that calls on us to say something whenever we see abuse or exploitation of animals. It seems like a simple enough request, but it is exceedingly difficult. Will I say the right thing? What if I make it worse? Am I being a rude guest? Will I damage a relationship?

I have had a few opportunities to "Never Be Silent" this year, and I have not been able to rise to the challenge. In this case, I didn't say much of anything to the adults. I didn't know what to say, or how it would go over. But I did manage to talk to the two children. And I feel like that was a very important first step for me. And at the very least, doggie had one moment of sheer joy instead of one more hour of endless boredom in a dark, crowded house.

Everyday, we are faced with instances of injustice and cruelty. And we get to decide how we will respond. Will you be silent, paralyzed by fear or social convention, and do nothing? Or will you say something, however small and imperfect that "something" might be? I want to become a person who responds effectively where ever I find injustice and cruelty. My guess is I will never become that person like I have arrived at a destination. I suspect I will have to continue becoming that person is a lifelong pursuit that is honed and crafted over time.

My response was not perfect, but it was better than no response. Because I couldn't find the courage to politely talk with the adults, I left the animals to count on two preschoolers. I hope they can rise to the challenge where I did not.

-Selfish Blogger

Sunday, November 25, 2012

80,000 Hours

"How can I make the world better?" is a question every compassionate person has asked themselves - sometime in response to a very specific situation that involves the suffering of another, or sometimes in the abstract. For me, career choice has been part of my answer to that question. I saw two possibilities in front of me: either I make a lot of money in the for-profit world while helping (essentially) no one, or I make less money in the nonprofit world while helping others.

The compassionate individuals behind a new nonprofit called 80,000 Hours have offered a third option: make a lot of money in the for-profit world, and give most of it away.

In the your life, you will spend about 80,000 hours at work. Shouldn't you use that time to make the world better? I've chosen to work in the not-for-profit world so that my 80,000 hours are put toward helping others, rather than increasing my own wealth. But lots of compassionate people are drawn to the nonprofit sector. Even with the low wages, I've not seen charities struggle to fill open positions. But every nonprofit struggles for money.

What if more compassionate people were to take high-wage jobs, then fund the salaries of nonprofit employees? Instead of accepting a $40,000 annual salary and directly delivering services at a nonprofit, I could accept a $120,000 annual salary in the for-profit world, keep $40,000 for myself, and give $80,000 to pay TWO people to directly deliver services at a nonprofit. I could double my impact!

I haven't posted in the last year because, in addition to working full-time, I've been going to night school and studying for my CPA license. I may be leaving the nonprofit sector, and I may be earning a six-figure salary in a few years time. How I spend the rest of my 80,000 could be drastically different, and much further removed from helping others. Will I have the self-discipline to give most of my money to charity, and continue living a modest-wage lifestyle?

-Selfish Blogger