Giving money to effective charities is one of the ways we can have the biggest positive impact in the world. If you've been thinking about giving to GiveWell's top-rated charity, the Against Malaria Foundation, but haven't gotten around to it, perhaps this will help: make a donation of up to $2K and I will match it 100%. I'll match up to $20K this way.

(Any money left over at the end of the year will also go to the AMF. That makes this a donor illusion, in that you're not actually affecting the amount I give them this year.)

I made the same offer on my blog

New Comment
30 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:48 AM

This is great! (If you're matching donations immediately, that does affect when the money you're donating actually gets to AMF, which is something.)

Maybe you should instead donate any leftover money to CFAR, so as to avoid the donor illusion. Also, that way everyone who doesn't donate gets to feel a warm glow, too!

I'm curious as to what people think about the hypothetical ethics of jkaufman expecting to donate leftover money at the end of the year to AMF, but not announcing the fact and only committing to the matched money. This seems to me like it would be ethically okay but I am interested if anyone thinks otherwise. (In particular, one reason this seems ethical to me, is that it seems to me that the state of having a public commitment to do something importantly differs from the state of not having such a commitment, and differs even more under the outside view. Another reason it seems ethical is that the results are both good and nonselfish, hence subject to less suspicion than usual :).)

Maybe you should instead donate any leftover money to CFAR, so as to avoid the donor illusion.

He could start a giving war by setting up a fund for AMF and a fund for CFAR. At the end of the year, he could donate a total of 30% of his income to both charities, splitting the fund in proportion to how much each charity raised in the giving war.

To get a real war going you want some advantage to escalation. Simply spitting it in proportion to the total giving diminishes the value of a marginal dollar. Maybe an all-pay auction (like a dollar auction) would be better: whichever of AMF and CFAR got more donations would get the full match from me. Among rational mixed-strategy-utilizing donors this should result in $X moved by an $X pool on average, but people being imperfect I would expect to see more than $X moved.

I can definitely see the argument for that, but I think there's just too much of that going on in charity today. "I'm going to fool you for a good cause" is the justification for a lot of shoddy practices supporting what usually turn out to be pretty mediocre causes.

I think it's worth keeping a higher standard with appeals to rational charity. There's long term benefit in a complete renunciation of the dark arts.

donate any leftover money to CFAR, so as to avoid the donor illusion

Then there would be a partial donor illusion if people thought they were causing money go to effective charity that wouldn't otherwise when they're really just influencing how I divide money between the AMF and CFAR.

(This is all assuming I think CFAR is about as good as AMF. I haven't looked into CFAR enough to have a good idea on that account.)

I'm curious as to what people think about the hypothetical ethics

Let's move one step further in that direction. Now hypothetical-jkaufman commits to match donations ... but what he doesn't say is that he fully expects to have a shedload more money available for giving, and for every $1 he matches he will give $2 less of that shedload. So now if you give $1 and tell hypothetical-jkaufman you're doing so, the charity gets exactly the same as if you had done nothing at all. (And less than if you'd given and not told.)

That seems pretty damn unethical, and so far as I can tell by introspection (which is of course VERY UNRELIABLE) that's because hypothetical-jkaufman is seriously misleading people about the consequences of their action: they expect it to result in more money going to the charity, and it doesn't.

In Eliezer's hypothetical, people are being misled about the consequences of their giving-and-telling in a similar sort of way. There isn't the same actual sign reversal, but it seems like someone could easily prefer, say, $2 to AMF > $1 to [other-charity] > $1 to AMF, in which case hypothetical-jkaufman could be fooling them into an action that by their lights makes the world worse.

In practice it seems more likely that the choice would be $1 to AMF versus $1 of selfishness, and that for just about any potential donor the former is actually better (even if not matched) although they wouldn't have chosen it without the prompting. So I think Eliezer's hypothetical is ethical roughly iff stealing from potential donors and donating the money is ethical.

(Not quite; actual stealing has other consequences, such as making people feel insecure, taking up police time, etc. So make it stealing almost undetectably from potential donors.)

not announcing the fact and only committing to the matched money

Since the donated amounts are usually public, the conspiracy will be blown eventually.

This happens on occasion in more public cases, with the unconditional donation clause buried in some fine print, though I can't find any links ATM (was it Wikipedia? 2010 Olympics?). I recall that when something like that makes it into the media, there is a bit of grumbling from the small donors about being tricked into donating, but never too much fuss.

From a consequentialist point of view the worst thing that can happen is that the donors read the fine print the next time a matching drive is announced and some might refrain from donating if the matching part is fake. Or they might assume that it is a ruse and not donate because of that. So it might be somewhat unethical in that sense (you get more donations now at the expense of unspecified future matching drives, probably by someone else).

Since the donated amounts are usually public, the conspiracy will be blown eventually.

While I make my donations public someone else could easily make an offer like this and only publicize their matching donations.

Some people have demonstrated how telling a very similar lie, but for any case other than a "good cause," is clearly unethical. I definitely agree with that

As much as I'm reluctant to say it, though... I think "The Ends Justify The Means" comes into play, though. If hypothetical jkafuman didn't mention that he would ALSO donate that same amount if you DIDN'T donate, I wouldn't blame him. (In fact I may thank him, possibly.)

(I'm not advocating purely utilitarian morality - I think the morality is ultimately a balance between "don't mislead people" and "save lives from malaria")

This is interesting. People who are vulnerable to the donor illusion either have some of their money turned into utilons, or are taught a valuable lesson about the donor illusion, possibly creating more utilons in the long term.

I've donated $100.

Thanks! I'll send my share this week. (I'm waiting to batch yours with others so as to reduce their processing effort.)

I thought I was about to put you to the test, before you admitted it was a donor illusion. My tithes have been accumulating for about a year waiting for AMF or Give Well to gain tax exempt status in Australia. I asked them both whether it was more efficient to donate 30% less now (my effective tax rate), and they said to wait. Matching funds is a different story, though...

Thanks for doing this. Donating $300.

Awesome; thanks! I'll let you know when I send in my match.

How much money do you have to donate, if you don't mind my asking?

Let's say a $50 minimum.

In the end, I think you interpreted pp's question correctly, but that the pronoun is "you" rather than "I" and the disclaimer "if you don't mind my asking" suggests that the question is how big is your donation budget. One answer to that is in the original post, $20k available for this offer. Another answer is here.

(The disclaimer seems to me to require a strong update, but my prior is even higher.)

You would be correct. Thanks for the link.

Ah; sorry!

I'm planning to donate 30% of my pre-tax income this year, which I expect to be about $55K.

(Douglas_Knight's link also includes Julia's planned donations, which are $43K.)

I'm a bit surprising "honest" matching isn't more common. It seems like in some cases individuals would be ambivalent on how to trade off between their selfish and philanthropic desires, and could decide to sponsor some kind of matching to avoid making the decision and spur more donations from others.

BTW, Jeff, I'd like to thank you on the behalf of the 8-9 Africans whose lives you can expect to save.

ambivalent on how to trade off between their selfish and philanthropic desires

Imagine I offered a real match, pulling from some pool of money that wasn't yet allocated for giving or self-spending. The leftover money would go into my self-spending pool. Then I need to not adjust future years self/giving division based on this extra self money.

This only works because I have carefully divided self-spending and giving pools of money. Otherwise while you and I both might think I was providing a real match, in reality the money might have been going to end up being donated anyway a little later.


Will bitcoins do?

I'm set up now. If you send bitcoins to 1MtLKoe8H1mJraCy9jiZ2Cpd19Hqm1dy9U [EDIT: don't send money there; no one did at the time and I don't have the key anymore] I will send money to the AMF (that I wouldn't otherwise donate) at the current Mt. Gox exchange rate.

I'm willing to move up to $500 (25 BTC) this way.

I don't think the AMF accepts bitcoins, unfortunately.


Can you forward donations? I am more likely to donate in BTC, regardless of donation matching.

Can you forward donations?

I haven't used bitcoins, but have been meaning to get set up for it. This seems like as good an opportunity as any. Sure!

(I need to go read up on how to set myself up to receive them.)

Why not donate to people promoting neocolonialism, if you are really concerned about efficient malaria eradication and the well-being of Black people? I for one refuse to donate any amount of money to treat symptoms rather than causes, at least in in the case of strangers; it is an inefficient allocation of resources.

I'm all for efficient allocation of resources, but could you describe more why you think distribution of insecticide-treated antimalarial nets is inefficient?

(I'm not sure what neocolonialism entails, and am even less sure after trying to read the wikipedia article.)

New to LessWrong?