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Doing Good Poorly...


In a typical year I volunteer 4-6 times for various charities usually in half day increments or so. I have a charity auction in November, and just started running a Charity Hackathon in the spring. I also spend a decent chunk of time organizing a Meetup group where the wife and I donate time to various "pay it forward" activities (though not necessarily "charitable" in the strictest sense).

I think these things are important, and I always extremely happy to participate in each. I have however become increasingly distressed about the true utility of my contributions. I have various reasons for this, but the troubling one is that charities don't seem to be solving their problems the way other organizations solve their problems (businesses, governments, etc).

Here's a real world example => the next time a charity asks you for money, tell them that you would love to contribute to their cause. However that you only donate time, and you will not donate it to sales or manual labor.

I've been doing the "real world example" now for 1.5 years. Talking to probably 40 or 50 people from various charities. The result is almost unanimous, in that they have nothing for me... keep in mind, I'm a software developer, that knows quite a bit about sales/ sales training, marketing, management, construction, journalism, project management, accounting, food service, and manufacturing(a little bit). In other words... I'm pretty useful.

But for these organizations there are no activities that I can perform (outside of manual labor or helping to convince more people to donate money) to help there cause.

What gives? Why is this even a thing?

I have 2 theories behind this situation:

First I think donors only want to donate to "desperate" causes. Disease, famine, acts of violence... or whatever it is that makes them feel like they are fighting the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Starving Kid in Africa! Awesome! lets do a walk-a-thon and send them a care package! But in contrast... cleaning up a database that will help do better analysis on public policy? No...no that won't do at all. We aren't having an "impact"!

Basically, I could see it being hard to get a charity off the ground if people don't think its charitable (non-desperate work).

Secondly, I think (most) charities in the western world are still thinking in terms of physical/ analog... and they only know how to request donations in terms of these things. In other words: give us money, and/or manual labor. Which is similar to the way businesses used to function- business being primarily about building "stuff", or doing physical things for people/organizations. Which is no longer the case.

I suspect Not-For-Profit organizations are struggling to evolve into entities that build and grow Intellectual Property (using a "slant" definition here)... efficient, non-human solutions to human problems.

And if this is true... think about how massively limiting this is to all of human society and our causes...

Yes. We do still have "physical" problems, such as providing access to clean drinking water in the world, or curing illnesses. With that being said many of our formerly "physical" problems are no longer what they were.

As an example, "starvation" is currently not a problem of producing enough food. We have excess food, in storage, in the US, but we have no way to get it to the people that need it. And so far as I understand it, there are other challenges from a business/ accounting standpoint that penalize any organization that would want to re-appropriate their excess supply. That is to say, food shortage is really a supply-chain-management problem and that we need technological, political, and infrastructure changes more than we financial provisions.

This is across the board though... Mothers against drunk driving could knock out drunk driving with autonomous cars. Malaria could be eradicated via mosquito killing lasers, or crisper editing. And so on.

From the perspective of someone that is very thankful for his fortune, and wants to give back, this is extremely disheartening, and I don't have a solution, or even a desire to take more time to analyze the problem. But I know that this is a problem... and a big problem. As a society if we refuse to leverage our technology, and our raw intellectual talent, to combat the root cause of these problems the only end is needless suffering and struggle from people that should never have to go through it. Or as its been said before: Sometimes the greater evil is the indifference of good men.


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