A few years ago I read The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer: a thought provoking, challenging read. By comparing our reaction to seeing a child drowning (everybody would try to save them) to children dying from poverty in another country (as shown in the following short video) he made me rethink how much we (as a family) donate to combatting global poverty.
There is a personal and immediate response to seeing a child drowning but the millions of children dying from poor nutrition is too overwhelming and too removed from our own lives to have the same impact. He goes on to discuss some of the reasons people don’t donate and argues that we have an ethical responsibility to help avert as many deaths as we can from easily preventable causes (e.g., malaria, hunger).
At the end of last year we decided to donate 10% of our after-tax income for at least 2014 and 2015. As a way of encouraging our daughters to think about some of the issues involved and to develop a habit of donating themselves, we asked them to help decide how we would distribute the money.
I debated whether to talk about this in my blog. While the USA has quite a history of philanthropy, Australia doesn’t. In Australia, and I suspect in some other parts of the world, donating is generally considered a private matter and people rarely talk about how much they donate (and even more rarely discuss how much they earn). I decided to post something because I want to encourage others to think seriously about how much they donate to worthy causes.
Because our main priority is addressing global poverty, we’ve decided to donate the largest proportion (about 75%) to Oxfam. (You can read why we support Oxfam here.) Oxfam also works in Australian Aboriginal communities, which we think is important given Australia’s history of colonisation. Smaller amounts will go to:
- GetUp, a group who develop online campaigns addressing a range of issues we care about (e.g., climate change, welcoming refugees, legalising gay marriage).
- A local charity (e.g., the Samaritans Foundation) to support local people experiencing tough times.
- An environment group (e.g., the Wilderness Society) to help address some of the serious environmental challenges we face. Although historically the Wilderness Society focused on protecting old growth forest, they have recently started to address broader environmental issues, such as climate change and coal seam gas. We are also very active (and thus donate a significant amount of our time) to Transition Newcastle.
- The Greens (a progressive Australian political party). This is the first time we have donated to a political party but the current government’s approach to the environment, refuges, foreign aid and other social issues is so worrying that we have decided we want to support an alternative voice in parliament.
- We’ve also kept 10% aside so we can donate to special appeals or causes as they come up through the year.
It was hard deciding where to donate, and to be honest the girls didn’t have much input into our decision (they were largely guided by our thoughts), but hopefully this will change as they grow older. We decided to limit how many groups we support rather than donating smaller amounts to more groups. One reason is we don’t want to get on to a whole lot of mailing lists that will keep sending us requests for more donations.
We believe it is important that there is public discussion (including with our kids), about the importance of donating because, if we don’t, there is a risk that giving and supporting causes we believe in may well diminish. (In the 2014 budget, the federal government slashed $8 billion from the foreign aid budget – the biggest cut in the budget.) While we are continually fed stories in the media of how Australians are doing it tough, the reality is we live in one of the richest countries on earth and most of us have a very comfortable life style. Many of us have ample disposable income to spend on frequent holidays, updating our phone’s and TVs regularly and many other luxuries. We surely could be giving more than $5 when the Red Cross volunteer knocks on our door, and instead make it a conscious, planned part of our spending.
How do you decide who to donate to?
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