BT is donating $100,000.
We live in a great time for helping others.
It is easier than ever before to make a difference in the lives of other people, thanks to advances in philanthropic thinking and data-driven charity evaluation. For less than the cost of a bicycle or a leather couch, we can save children from death by malnutrition, cure blindness caused by parasitic flies, or distribute hundreds of malaria-stopping insect nets. These opportunities are too good to pass up.
Butler Tobin is giving away $100,000. This is a big deal for our six-person law firm.
This is what we want to do.
This is Peter Singer’s TED Talk on ‘effective altruism,’ which inspired us.
Over the last several months, we asked charitable organizations to apply for the funds by sending a written application and a short video to firstname.lastname@example.org. News of our application process appeared on MarketWatch, in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, in the tweets of Dr. Peter Singer, and in many other places. We were overwhelmed by the response.
We can confidently say this: the world is filled with people who want to make a difference. People working abroad for nonprofits (like our own Jenny Kafer did); people founding nonprofits; people turning their organizations into machines for efficient, effective altruism. We would like to offer all of the applicants for BT’s 2018 grant a heartfelt THANK YOU. All of them have put others’ needs above their own. Our world is better off because of them.
Choosing a charity was hard. In the end, we decided to split the money three ways. We relied heavily on the evidence-based analysis of GiveWell, which conducts the most rigorous analysis of charities that we know of. (It was founded by people who left high-paying Wall Street jobs to start a charity evaluator.)
We absolutely LOVE the three charities that we chose. All are dedicated to helping people who really need it. All are dedicated to squeezing every bit of good from the donations that they receive. All rank among GiveWell’s “Top Charities,” the list of the nine most effective charities in the world.
Each of the following will receive $33,334 from our firm:
1. Against Malaria Foundation. AMF distributes long-lasting insecticidal nets (“LLINs”) in the parts of the developing world where mosquito-borne malaria kills thousands and cripples many more. Each LLIN costs less than five U.S. dollars, and has the ability to save a life. AMF even allows each donor to see where the nets that he or she bought have been delivered. (Analysis.)
2. Evidence Action’s “Deworm the World” Initiative. Parasitic worms in the developing world afflict children and adults primarily through unclean water. Certain parasitic worms cause schistosomiasis, a disease that can cause learning disabilities and delayed development. But fixing the problem is affordable: a child can be treated for less than fifty cents per treatment. (Analysis.)
3. GiveDirectly. GiveDirectly is beautifully simple: it gives money to families who need it most. Many well-meaning charities accidentally misdirect money by funding things that don’t help communities in need, like building schoolhouses where there are no teachers. GiveDirectly fixes that by letting the recipients decide what they need—and the evidence says that it works. (Analysis.)
About These Charities
Why are yall doing this?
We want to help people. It’s why we got into this business in the first place.
Today, the opportunities to help others are unparalleled. That is because although the problems that people face in the developing world are very serious, many of them have simple and inexpensive solutions. Polluted water causes fatal diseases that minimal filtration could prevent. Parasitic flies cause blindness that simple, inexpensive surgery could cure. Malaria causes deaths that $5 mosquito nets could stop.
We have the opportunity to do something about it. Organizations like the Gates Foundation and Georgia’s own Carter Center have provided insight into what the biggest problems are and how they might be solved. Charity evaluators like GiveWell allow us to give money wisely, where the money will be most effective, and have alleviated concerns over fraudulent charities. We live in a time, more than any other, in which everyone has the opportunity to make a meaningful difference. You don’t have to give like Bill Gates—an extra $5 buys another net that even the Gates Foundation, with all its millions, didn’t buy.
This is too good an opportunity to miss.
We help our clients every day, and that is a deeply rewarding experience. By also giving philanthropically—and doing so wisely, with a focus on results—we see an opportunity to double down.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why aren’t you giving this money away to local charities, or your law schools, or political candidates who will help us right here in the United States?
We do give to those causes, although not in this amount. The reason that this money will probably go to the developing world is that we’re trying to get the most bang for our buck.
Money given to assist people in abject poverty can go a long, long way. In other words, it is the most cost-effective way to make a positive difference. Generally, seeking the maximum return for your dollar means giving money overseas because, for all of the serious problems we have in the United States, the problems in the developing world are more severe and comparatively cheaper to solve. Rampant malnutrition, river blindness, famine, and murderous civil wars are not common in the United States. In other places, they are.
In his book The Life You Can Save, Peter Singer argues that you can save a life in the developing world for $1,000 or less. We don’t mean to diminish the importance of domestic giving, but when it comes to our firm’s big give, we think we can do the most good for the most people by giving abroad. In parts of the developing world, a $5 mosquito net can be the difference between life and death.
Givewell.org already offers great suggestions on where to give money. Why don’t you just take this webpage down and follow their suggestions, or give the money to the Gates Foundation and let them distribute it?
This is a good question. There are two main reasons.
First, we want to publicize what Peter Singer and others have called “effective altruism”—that is, the practice of giving money away in such a way as to maximize its positive effects. We hope that by publicizing this giving process, we maximize the chances that someone else who is going to give money away will do so in a manner that is also calculated to provide the most help for the most people. We further hope that someone who might not otherwise have given money away will be inspired to do so.
Second, we want to spread the word about our law firm. Of course, we have self-interested reasons for doing that—it’s good marketing (although if our only goal was marketing, we could think of more efficient ways to spend $100,000). But spreading the word about our firm will help others in the long run because this will not be the last time that BT gives away a significant chunk of money. By bringing more cases to our law firm, we increase the amount of money that we’ll be able to give next time.
I know you, and this is a surprise—are you really so wealthy that you don’t have anything else to do with this money?
We are comfortable, in that all five of the people who work at our firm have roofs over their heads, food on their tables, and no crushing needs. We also have mortgages or rent payments, and some of us have children to take care of. But an income of over $32,400 per year puts us in the top 1% of earners globally, and we think that statistic speaks volumes about the needs of others, particularly in developing countries. Somewhere, a mother is watching her child starve—if we can prevent that, we should.
Next time I see you, are you going to judge me for driving a nice car or buying Starbucks coffee?
Nope. We aren’t claiming to be icons of charity or moralistic philosophers, because we’re not. Jeb still spends too much money on whiskey and Darren still buys fancy metal collar stays.
We are trying to take a step in the right direction. The bottom line is that when we turn eighty and take a hard look in the mirror, we want to see somebody who made the world a better place. It won’t matter then whether we drove Ferraris or stayed in five-star resorts, but it will matter that we took our responsibilities as humans seriously.
Why are you trying to save lives when overpopulation is already a problem?
We think lots of people have this question, but are afraid to ask it. We think it’s a reasonable question.
First, studies have shown that the best way to reduce population growth rates is by educating women in developing countries, where birthrates tend to be highest. (Click here for Singer’s explanation from his book The Life You Can Save, beginning at the word “Nevertheless . . .”) That is most definitely a type of giving that we would consider with this money.
Second, charities that address health conditions—such as those that address malnutrition, or work to prevent malaria—contribute indirectly to the advancement of education and society as a whole. On the most basic level, that’s because women don’t spend time in classrooms if their children are starving or dying of malaria. So you have to address problems like malnutrition or malaria before you can do meaningful work on education or social structure, which in turn leads to lower birthrates.
Third, some of the charitable causes that we’d consider—such as curing river blindness or repairing obstetric fistulae—don’t save lives directly, but do help people move from being nonproductive members of their communities to being productive members. That helps their communities and societies as a whole. That, in turn, is a good thing from a population perspective because more advanced, more sophisticated societies tend to have lower birthrates.
Wouldn’t it be better to give your time, not your money?
This is another question that we think lots of people have, but sometimes don’t ask because they don’t want to be impolite. We think it’s a good question.
We do give some time to charitable causes, as noted on our Community page, but we spend far more time practicing law. We think that’s a good decision because we’re better at practicing law than running charities, and by doing what we’re best at, we’re able to generate money that we can donate to people who are best at running charities. Those people can use the money efficiently, and can accomplish more good than we could if we tried to do their jobs.
Peter Singer explained this really well starting at this point in his TED talk (this clip begins at 8 minutes, 38 seconds):