Thursday, June 25, 2009

Collaborative Charity

Donating money to worthwhile causes seems like a good idea, but doing it right requires knowledge, wisdom, intelligence, time, and of course money. I have at most two of those things. The traditional solution is to rely on "experts", but that has its own problems.

One of the great things about the Internet (other than the obvious) is that it enables people to collaborate in new ways, and each contribute little bits of their time and knowledge. Wikipedia is probably the best example of this, but I think it's possible to do much more. I'm not quite sure how to make this work, but I expect that in 10 years we will have much smarter "collective" systems that leverage small bits of time, knowledge, etc from large groups.

This is my first experiment in solving this problem. Actually, in some ways it's my second experiment -- a few months ago I posed a question about the "best use of money", and although it was only meant as a thought experiment, people also provided a lot of specific suggestions. That was rather encouraging.

Now I'm trying it for real -- I have a lot of ideas, but not much time, so I'm starting with the simplest solution that I could find. It may not work, but it should be interesting.

Here's how it works: I'm going to donate a bunch of money, but I want random people on the Internet to decide where it goes.

Here are the rules:
  • The money MUST go to an IRS recognized public charity. No exceptions.
  • Don't contact me. I already don't read the email I have -- I don't need more.
  • I've created a topic on Google Moderator where people can submit and vote on ideas. I've never used Google Moderator, but someone told me that it's good, so hopefully it works :)
  • Ultimately, this is just a recommendation and I may completely ignore the results if they are stupid, so don't bother spamming.
  • I also created a group on FriendFeed where people can submit links and discuss ideas.
  • I'd like to see broad support (from real people, not spam accounts) along with some evidence that it's a good idea, and perhaps endorsements from knowledgeable people.
In terms of which causes I'd like to support, I'd consider anything, but am probably most sympathetic to health, freedom, and education. In terms of solutions, I'm very skeptical of centralization, one-size-fits-all solutions, and people who are certain of the answer. I also prefer to support things that have tangible, objective outcomes (where you could say, "this money was used to purchase X" or "this money was used to fund study Y, which will be published this fall").