This page provides a history, as best as I can reconstruct, of my charitable donations.
See also my pages on effective altruism and GiveWell and my August 2011 GiveWell guest post that goes into more detail about my early donation history.
2007 and early 2008
I made a bunch of donations between October 2007 and May 2008:
- $25 (October 23, 2007) and $100 (February 22, 2008) to the WikiMedia Foundation
- $10 (January 5, 2008) to PlanetMath.org
- $15 (January 19, 2008) to Mozilla Foundation
- $25 (March 20, 2008) to Creative Commons
- $25 (May 18, 2008) to Grameen Foundation
I treated these as one-off donations rather than the basis of recurring annual donations — the rationale being that this was the sort of price I would pay for buying these services once to use for a lifetime (this is considerably less than the value I get from them, but that’s also true of the many services for-profit companies offer me).
In July 2008, I started making regular monthly donations to Children International. I first learned about them after being solicited by a street vendor in downtown Chicago. I did not donate on the spot when solicited, but went back home and read a bit more Although there is nothing wrong with them, I believe that this decision reflected some poor thinking and prioritization on my part. When I started making the donations, I was not familiar with the ideas of effective altruism and had not even heard of GiveWell.
More details of my donations (totaling $587 for the year):
- $462 as monthly sponsorships: Total of two $22 child sponsorships for six months, two $22 child sponsorships for four months, and one $22 child sponsorship for one month
- $125 as gifts: Total of five $25 gifts to sponsored children
Throughout the year, I continued making regular monthly donations to Children International. More details of my donations:
- $3388 as monthly sponsorships: Sponsorship of five children at $22/month for the whole year, sponsorship of two children at $22/month for 11 months, and sponsorship of 8 children at $22/month for 9 months
- $500 as gifts: Total of 20 $25 gifts to sponsored children across the year
In December 2009, I encountered a Bloggingheads diavlog (video conversation) between Peter Singer and William Easterly. I believe this was the first time I heard of charity evaluator GiveWell. I may have heard of them earlier, though, but had at any rate not paid sufficient attention to investigate them.
In February 2010, I terminated my monthly recurring donation to Children International. At that point, I was sponsoring 15 children a month at $330/month, so I spent a total of $660 on Children International in 2010.
I made donations of $1250 on January 16, 2010 and $2000 on May 22, 2010 to VillageReach, then GiveWell’s top-rated charity, through GiveWell’s website.
Around August 2010, I got in touch with a researcher and talked about partially funding some research related to low-cost private education in the developing world. We had extensive correspondence and phone conversations and in September 2010, I made a donation covering part of the costs of a new research project, with the understanding that any cost overruns would be covered by him. The project was successful (albeit with cost overruns). My contribution to the project was $7500.
On December 22, 2010, I made a donation of $5100 to VillageReach, my largest to the organization, bringing my total to-date donations to VillageReach at $8350. After donating, I talked over the phone with VillageReach employee John Beale about VillageReach’s activities, to help me in future donation decisions. There is more detail on the donation process (as well as why I didn’t make a followup donation in 2011) at https://blog.givewell.org/2011/08/05/guest-post-from-vipul-naik/
This was my first time making such a large donation using my debit card. Predictably, it led to some back-and-forth with the bank because the transaction was initially blocked for security reasons. I later realized that it would have been better to use a check or ACH, as it would have saved on something in the range of $100+ in transaction fees, while also reducing the need for back-and-forth with the bank.
The rather huge amounts of money I donated in 2010 left me with fewer finances to make large donations in 2011. I also made a small investment in a for-profit company in September 2011, and this further weakened my financial position. I made only one charitable donation that year, to The Seasteading Institute, for $520, on May 31, 2011.
My interest in The Seasteading Institute began with my general interest in alternate governance and experimentation in government; I learned of seasteading as part of the general cluster of ideas and work financed by Peter Thiel. On April 30, 2011, I sent an email to The Seasteading Institute expressing interest in making a donation and asking some questions. I had further email back-and-forth in the thread with Randolph Hencken of the Seasteading Institute, as well as a long phone conversation. I found The Seasteading Institute’s work generally interesting, but was not totally convinced that they should get a large donation. I made my $520 donation on May 31, 2011 primarily as a form of compensation for the effort that they put into answering my questions and connecting me with other resources.
I computed the $520 amount as $500 + an estimated transaction overhead of $20.
In 2012, my financial position had still not recovered from the huge expenses in 2010 and 2011, and other expenses of mine had also increased (I was working harder and longer hours, and handling a number of other responsibilities, so I tended to eat out more often, for instance). However, I was still committed to the idea of effective altruism. For these reasons, I decided to still make a donation, but with a budget of $500, that was low compared to previous years. On December 24, 2012, I made a donation of $500 to GiveDirectly.
My reasons for selecting GiveDirectly: GiveDirectly was at the time rated #2 by GiveWell and they hoped to raise money in a 7:2:1 ratio for their top three charities respectively, but I believed that the actual skew of funds raised would be biased against GiveDirectly because of its relatively less tested concept. My $500 donation was therefore a corrective to what I perceived would be an imbalance in the way money would flow to the top charities, and a suspicion that AMF would end up raising more money than they could allocate in the short term. Both suspicions turned out to be true (see GiveWell’s summary of money moved and GiveWell’s removal of AMF from its top charity list in 2013, due to concerns about lack of room for more funding).
My savings rate through 2013 was low because of an increase in other regular expenses (such as more take-out eating, as well as higher web hosting costs for my sites). Around the end of 2013, I also decided to embark on Cognito Mentoring with Jonah Sinick, something where we didn’t expect to make money initially. I had to draw on some long-term savings of mine and also asked my parents to send me some money to create a financial buffer within which I could experiment. Due to all these considerations, I chose not to make any donations in 2013.
2014 through 2017
By 2014, my thinking on charitable donation had shifted in a direction away from donating now, and towards saving money (you can read two related Effective Altruists Facebook group discussions, here and here respectively).
I have not made any donations between 2014 and 2017 (inclusive) but might be making a small donation again in 2018.
Some people, such as Peter Hurford, include contract work sponsorship in their donations list (in particular, some of Peter’s donations with listed organization as “Rethink Priorities” are actually sponsored contract work). Using this definition, I have “donated” in the range of $75,000 for contract work as of January 2018; you can get a full breakdown here. I do not accept this definition of donation; in this respect, because payment is in exchange for work that I directly control. Tax authorities generally agree with me on this front when discussing tax-deductibility of donations. For this reason, when incorporating Peter’s donations into the (preliminary, un-vetted, use-at-your-own-risk) Donations List Website, I have explicitly excluded contract work sponsorship.
At the end of 2018 (specifically, on December 22, 2018), I donated $3,000 USD with the following allocation:
- $2,000 to GiveWell for discretionary regranting to top charities, by check
- $500 to the $500,000 EA Donor Lottery by check, on behalf of Issa Rice. This means that, in the 0.1%-probability case that I win the lottery, he will choose the allocation of the funds
- $500 to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute by ACH, on behalf of Issa Rice
I elaborate on my reason for donating at this time, donating this amount, and selecting these recipients, in the blog post My 2018 donations (cross-posted to my blog and to the GitHub working-drafts repo).
On Sunday, March 31, 2019, I donated 3200 GBP, which cost me $4,306.41 USD, to the EA Hotel fundraiser on GoFundMe. I blogged about the decision in detail in the blog post My Q1 2019 EA Hotel donation (cross-posted to the GitHub working-drafts repo).
On Saturday, December 14, 2019, I sent a check of $3,000 USD to the Free Migration Project, a nonprofit that I’m on the board of. I thought of this as a one-time donation to discharge my responsibility as a board member to financially support the organization, given my limitations in contributing in other ways. I see it as the equivalent of sending $500/year for 6 years, which is the duration of my board tenure. There isn’t a very specific reason for the timing, other than the fact that at the end of the year, I’m thinking about donation opportunities and in particular looking at donations that I have some sense of “obligation” to make. The check was deposited and the money was withdrawn from my savings account on Thursday, December 19, 2019. I’m not planning to make a followup donation in the near future, since this donation discharges my responsibility; any further donation decisions will be based on the same sort of extensive analysis that I subjected my EA Hotel donation to.
I did not make any donations in 2020. This was part of a deliberate decision to be financially conservative, for several reasons:
- Rent collection challenges: Some of my housemates were backlogged on paying their share of rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I expected them to continue being backlogged through the first few months of 2021. I wanted to defer discretionary expenses until rent collection was mostly caught up.
- Possibility of exercising stock options: I was considering exercising my stock options, and wanted to keep a large amount of liquid cash for that.
- Not enough time to think about philanthropic opportunities, and no opportunities compelling haste considerations: I did not find any opportunities with compelling haste considerations, and did not have time to fully evaluate philanthropic opportunities (relatedly, I did not make as many updates to the donations list website as I had hoped).
- Long-term trajectory uncertainty: I’m not sure I will continue to stay in a high-paying job for a long time. This increases the value of having more savings now.