The Giving Season

Over at Popehat, in the spirit of the Christmas, Ken White has suggested three charities you could donate to this season. Although I have no problem with donating to any of them, I thought I’d offer a few suggestions of my own.

To start with, I’m a regular donor to the Reason Foundation. This is the parent organization of Reason magazine, which is the flagship libertarian outreach publication, spreading ideas about free markets and free minds. Donating to them could help nudge us toward a world that is vibrant, prosperous, and free.

(I’m pathetically trying to draw their attention to my tiny little libertarian blog, so if you donate, tell them Windypundit sent you. Or don’t. It’s up to you. I am a libertarian, after all.)

If you’d prefer a charity that helps people directly, one of the most effective is probably the Against Malaria Foundation. They are consistently near the top of GiveWell’s list of best charities, and they have one single, simple mission: Giving out mosquito nets by the tens of millions to people in malaria-plagued regions. The nets cost only $2 each and will protect a pair of sleeping people from malaria-spreading mosquitoes for three or four years. Statistically, it takes fewer than 1000 nets to prevent a fatal malaria infection, so if you make regular annual donations, there is a good chance you will save someone’s life. Donating to AMF (or one of the anti-parasitic worms charities) will put you in the fight against humanity’s deadliest enemies.

If you’re looking for something in the middle ground between the philosophical Reason Foundation and the direct efficiency of AMF, check out GiveDirectly. Their approach is to carefully identify extremely poor people…and then give them money. It won’t be a lot by American standards, maybe $500 to $1000, but with it they’ll be able to replace their home’s thatched roof with a lightweight steel one, or buy a farm animal they can raise and sell, or…whatever they want. The idea — a very libertarian idea — is that the recipients will know their specific needs better than any aid worker ever could, so we should just give them money and let them figure out how to spend it.

I also donate to the Sex Workers Outreach Project, which advocates for the rights of sex workers and provides street-level outreach that, unlike so many “rescue” operations, does not involve law enforcement. Instead, it supplies help that sex workers actually need.

Yet another place your donations can make a big difference is your local charitable bail fund. (Here in Chicagoland, that’s the Chicago Community Bond Fund.) Many poor people are stuck in jail because they’ve been charged with crimes and can’t put together enough money to post even a small bond. Charitable bail funds post bond to get them out of jail, allowing them to return to their families, friends, jobs, and communities. Studies show that people out on bail are better able go fight the charges, and get better deals if they plea bargain. So donate to your local bail fund and help someone get home for the holidays, and maybe stay home. As a bonus, after their case is over, the government releases the bail funds back to the charity, where they can be used to bail out someone else.

Finally, helping people doesn’t have to be a big operation. If the opportunity arises, one of the most effective forms of charity is helping someone directly. Find someone in your community who needs help, and help them. Depending on your resources, you can let them move in with you for a while, give them a job, or just quietly put an envelope of money in their mail box.

It’s all good.

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