How to maximize the impact of your donations

In these consumerist times, it obviously feels good to do some philanthropy. But it is also worth taking the time to evaluate the impact of our generosity, and to look into investing where the needs is greatest.

Marjan Justaert
Marjan Justaert De Standaard, Belgium
Source: De Standaard
How to maximize the impact of your donations - NewsMavens

Why this story matters:

For over a decade, the national radio station Studio Brussel has been organizing a charity initiative called the 'Warmest Week' on the week leading up to Christmas.

Last year the initiative raised a record 7,8 milion euros for approximately 1,300 organizations. Radio stars are stationed in an outdoor tent, and they play requests for everyone who donates.

"Warmathons" are staged in every provincial capital, and impressive crowds often gather in the national capital. Volunteers bake cakes and biscuits, organize auctions or do other creative things to generate some cash.

In these consumerist times, it obviously feels good to do some philanthropy "between lobster and champagne," as one might put it. But it is also worth taking the time to evaluate the impact of our generosity, and to look into investing where the needs is greatest.

According to the Scottish philosopher Will MacAskill -- and other co-founders of the effective altruism movement -- we should donate wherever the positive impact will be the greatest. 

Reason and evidence must be our guidelines: we should ask ourselves how many many health-adjusted life years we can buy with the amount we're willing to donate. 

Some experts on effective altruism also encourage calculating life years with a well-being adjustment, meaning deducting years lost to hardship from overall life years.

According to this criterium, the best investment one can make is probably the purchase of mosquito nets against malaria -- the deadliest disease many African countries. Studio Brussel lives up to MacAskill's standards: mosquito nets against malaria was the "Warmest Week"'s charity goal a few years back. 

Overall, Belgians seem to give more if they know the organization, if it's not too far away from home and if it's attractive or cute. There's nothing wrong with that. But there's no harm either in looking into how far your money goes.

Christmas time is charity time in Belgium

  • Compared with neighboring countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium is not a very generous country.
  • However, every year before Christmas, a radio station organizes the 'Warmest Week' by Music for Life, during which everyone can donate their favorite good cause.
  • Every year donations reach record-breaking amounts.
  • The most popular causes are local.
  • According to the effective altruism movement, it's best to support investments with the greatest impact, for example mosquito nets against malaria in Africa

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