July 02, 2019

Organizations I've supported in 2018 and 2019 H1

Early in 2017, I committed to support a number of nonprofits and civil society organizations, particularly focused on climate change. I wrote about the organizations I planned to support and why - Organizations I'm supporting (2017) and I wrote a follow-up of what I ended up doing - Organizations I've supported in 2017.

In 2018, I wrote an updated plan - Organizations I'm supporting in 2018. I added a number of non-proliferation and think-tank organizations in preference to direct assistance and I slightly biased in favor of local and regional organizations relative to national ones.

I'm writing to share what I've been doing / what's worked for me and highlight organizations or types of organizations worth thinking about out.

In 2018, I donated 321 individual times to 68 distinct organizations. Donations were skewed - the top 7 organizations received > 50% of all donations, the top 12 received 75%.

2018 overall
2018 Overall

2018 75+
2018 75%

2018 50
2018 50%

Top organizations -

  • Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Environmental Defense Fund
  • Pro Publica - Nonprofit investigative newsroom
  • RENEW Wisconsin
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Brennan Center for Justice
  • Northwest Immigrant Rights Project ( > 50%)
  • GiveWell
  • EarthJustice
  • Ploughshares Fund - Grant-making nonprofit focused on nuclear nonproliferation
  • ACLU
  • National Immigration Law Center ( > 75% )

I’d like to highlight RENEW Wisconsin and Fresh Energy - both state-level organizations advocate for cleaner energy generation and access in Wisconsin and Minnesota respectively; I think they are high-leverage organizations given the carbon intensity of the MISO region and the possibility of state-level climate action. Both were new to the list in 2018.

In 2018 I also opened a Donor Advised Fund (DAF), presumptuously named Memorial. A Donor-Advised Fund is a designated account at a “nonprofit”, often associated with a financial services firm (I use Fidelity’s, for example); contributions to the fund are considered 501(c)3 donations and may be invested and later donated to a separate non-profit. DAF’s do have associated fees; these fees may mean they are not a good choice in all circumstances. I’ve chosen to invest in a balanced mix of US stock / US bond index funds and do not use Environmental/Sustainable/Governance (ESG) funds, though they are available.

I use a DAF for two reasons - 1) Better recordkeeping and 2) To defer year-end donations into the following calendar year, to take advantage of annual corporate donation matching.

Total direct donations in 2018 were 92% of 2017’s total; including pre-funding the Donor-Advised Fund raises that to 107%. As a percentage of my total income, this was between 11% and 14%, again depending on whether the pre-funding was included.

In 2018, I found out about the Effective Altruism (EA) community; EA aims to apply analysis to philanthropy - where can a dollar do the most good (by a common metric, years of life, quality-weighted, per intervention), with an emphasis on measuring outcomes and the good a marginal dollar can do. EA-favored nonprofits have focused on public health (ex: malaria control) and existential risks in the recent past.

I am convinced the EA approach is valuable, but the metric undervalues indirect work civil society may do, such as advocacy or informing policy.

In October 2018, I took the EA-associated Giving What We Can Pledge:

“I recognize that I can use part of my income to do a significant amount of good. Since I can live well enough on a smaller income, I pledge that for the rest of my life or until the day I retire, I shall give at least ten percent of what I earn to whichever organisations can most effectively use it to improve the lives of others, now and in the years to come. I make this pledge freely, openly, and sincerely.”

I missed this target in 2018, though I gave 3.8% overall to GiveWell, GiveDirectly, Against Malaria Foundation, Future of Life Foundation, and No Lean Season.

In 2018, I contributed to a number of state and federal election campaigns; contributions can be viewed through the FEC site but are not included above.

In 2018, I also purchased 20 metric tons of CO2e offsets, via methane flaring, from a private provider.

In the first half of 2019, I’ve donated 135 individual times to 48 distinct organizations. Once again, donations were skewed - the top 5 organizations received > 50% of all donations, the top 15 received > 75%.

2019 Overall

2019 50%

Top organizations -

  • Oregon Climate Trust - Oregon organization administering Oregon Carbon Dioxide Standard, undertaking offset programs
  • Fresh Energy - Minnesota energy transition / clean energy organization with a long track record (~1992). Was involved in the closure of the Sherco I and II (coal) generating stations in Becker, MN
  • RENEW Wisconsin - Wisconsin advocacy organization, focuses on interfacing with PUC and supporting "Focus on Energy" program
  • Union of Concerned Scientists
  • US Climate Action Network
  • Against Malaria Foundation (> 50%)
  • GiveWell
  • Pro Publica
  • Midwest Renewable Energy Association
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Climate Solutions - Oregon and Washington
  • International Refugee Assistance Project
  • Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Center for Civilians in Conflict (> 75%)

In 2019, I've focused on state- and regional- clean energy and climate organizations (Oregon Climate Trust, Fresh Energy, Renew Wisconsin, Wind on the Wires, Midwest Renewable Energy Association, Climate Solutions...). There have been too many failures of large climate projects, from regional transmission projects, to carbon taxes (Washington has failed to pass three times), to Oregon's HB2020, to V.C. Summer's abandonment. At the same time, there have been and state- and regional-level successes; focusing on the organizations that have made them possible buys space and time and window for larger-scale projects, I think.

Total direct donations in 2019 so far have been 90% of 2018’s yearly total and 84% of 2017’s total. As a percentage of my income so far, this has been between 16% and 19%, depending on whether Donor-Advised Fund contributions or outflows are credited.

I've met roughly 10% of my Effective Altruism Giving Pledge target this year. I plan to at least meet 2018's mark, though am hoping to meet the whole target.

I haven't purchased any carbon offsets this year; I am not sure as to whether or how effective they are; I'd appreciate any thoughts about them.

I've enjoyed this three-year-long giving project; I'd appreciate any thoughts about what I could be doing better/differently and anything else I should check out. I'd appreciate any thoughts about how I might contact and chat with the non-profits I support and what sort of metrics would be appropriate for climate or civil organizations. Or any thoughts about how to present this data better!


Posted by vsrinivas at July 2, 2019 09:41 PM