Picking the right charity can be overwhelming – so many exist focusing on a myriad of causes. In this post I argue that collaborating with others to determine a donation portfolio is an underrated activity.
In the past two years, I have invited friends to join me in determining the best way to allocate my annual donations. This workshop donation approach is sometimes referred to as a “Giving Game“: For 1-2 hours 10-20 people compare charities on characteristics such as effectiveness, neglectedness, and room for funding. At the end, people vote which charity should receive the prize money – typically a few hundred dollars.
I first heard of Giving Games in 2018 and was enamored with the concept. However, I felt that 1-2 hours were insufficient to really dive into the important concepts and considerations. I wanted to create space for a more elaborate version and also increase the stakes. So in 2021 and 2022 I organized such “immersive” Giving Games and I am happy to report that the two events were a huge success on many levels!
We allocated a total of ~€50k, 30% of which came from participants. More notably, everyone agreed that they had significantly improved their understanding of how to do good in the world with money, regardless of their prior experience with donating. And I am pretty certain that my donations were allocated substantially better than without the events.
Core lessons learned from two donation workshops (Giving Game Events) allocating ~€50k with groups of 10-15 people over 1-3 days:
- Charity Portfolios Over Single Choices: If you allocate a lot of money between charities I encourage the use of portfolios instead of single choices. This approach made it easier to change minds and allow participants to accommodate their personal preferences.
- You can actually change people’s minds: Almost everyone moved at least 20% of their portfolio to a different organization during the event, many changed 50% or more across sectors.
- Charity Assessment is hard: Charities should make it easier for donors to assess them by providing summarized yearly reports with quantified theories of change, but also very concrete and up-to-date funding needs for projects.
- Tax Deductibility: This was a major issue, but we managed to mitigate some problems via donation swaps (I applaud organizations like Effektiv Spenden for expanding the ability to donate to charities worldwide from Germany.)
In November 2021, we as a group of 15 people spent a weekend in an AirBnb. I seeded the event with €10k, but my friends threw in money as well and we reached €20,080 (later we got an additional €10k from individuals I shared the results with). Discussions happened about preselected charities during four parallel world cafe sessions in the morning and afternoon. Each session was guided by someone with relevant experience in either the organization or the charitable sector. Participants then announced their personal portfolio , i.e. distributing the money across charities rather than being limited to one (you can see this in the picture at the top of the post). We then had time to convince each other to re-optimize our respective portfolios during a change-my-view discussion – and it worked! In the end we averaged out all portfolios (giving equal weight to each participant) to determine how the donation pool would be allocated.
In 2022, on very short notice, I decided to do another giving game. With the help of Thomas at Effektiv Spenden I designed it as a full day workshop with a seed amount of €25k. Although the structure was similar, I increased the number of charities from 9 to 14 and skipped the “Charity X” category from 2021, where individuals could propose an additional charity.
At both events, roughly half of the participants had previously investigated donating themselves, while the other half had not. However, everyone agreed (myself included) that they had never thought so deeply about donating money. I learned a lot, even through preparing for the events. Topics we discussed included marginal impact, funding constraints, personal relationship biases, established orgs vs experimental charity startups, and more.
If you’re looking for a truly fun and unique experience, go for a giving game workshop.
Adopt & Adapt
Recommendations if you want to set-up a Giving Game yourself:
- Utilize Existing Resources: Feel free to use the documents we used as a template for inspiration or those of others.
- Timing and Scheduling: Aim for late November, as this is typically the giving season. Schedule early; perhaps you might even send a quick message to a friend right now who could help you organize a Giving Game Weekend. The total effort / event for me was probably around 5-10h.
- Seek Expertise: Try to include people knowledgeable about different donating areas. The Effective Altruism movement has some really good resources on donating and charity evaluation, as well as local groups worldwide one can reach out to.
- Have fun: Good food, walks, and games like the Trolley Problem card game are highly recommended.
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