On charity

At the end of the 2014, we posted the following on our Notes in Spanish blog:

“We are incredibly lucky to be able to continue to make a living from this business that we started nearly 9 years ago, and a few days ago we passed the sales figure we need to cover our cost of living for a year. So we’ve decided to donate the rest of the year’s sales (from 16.12.14 until 1.1.2015) to ACNUR, the Spanish division of UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency.”

We also wrote that it was increasingly difficult to know who to give money to these days, but that ACNUR’s campaign, “1€ = 1 dia mas de vida” – “One euro means one more day alive”, for the 1.2 million refugees in Africa who are currently at risk of dying of hunger, seemed a very worthy cause.

The result of this campaign

First of all people responded by buying things in our store, and the total sales, and therefore the total donation, came to 4,697 Euros – or 4,697 more days alive for refugees at risk of dying of hunger.

This campaign raised a number of questions and ideas for me…

Should we make giving public?

It would have been easy to have run this campaign privately, that is to say, to give the money to ACNUR from those two weeks of sales without telling anyone about it. But I think it’s important that businesses, whatever their size (we are small!), let others know that they are sending money to people who need it, as it is bound to encourage others to do the same. I call it the ‘Bill Gates effect’.

We all know that Bill Gates has given over much of his life to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and is channeling most of his fortune into incredible causes such as wiping out Malaria, Polio, and “to help the world’s poorest people lift themselves out of hunger and poverty”. He’s putting billions of his own money into this, and inspiring countless others, many with fortunes to rival his own, to send money in these directions as well. There is no doubt it is changing the world.

So I think that businesses should definitely publicise all donations. In the case of individuals, we probably should to – not in a ‘look how good I am’ way, and not necessarily every time, but there is no doubt that when I see others being charitable, it helps me to be charitable too. It’s the principle of social proof (I see many others doing it, so I’m more likely to do it), and whether the charity comes from individuals or businesses, it saves or changes lives.

What next? How to decide where to give

Secondly, we received lots of emails with suggestions about where to give money, and how to make that decision. There are many sites out there that tell you which charities are the most effective in terms of efficiently distributing the money they receive. The one that struck me most was thelifeyoucansave.org, set up by Peter Singer, whose very convincing TED talk on this subject I was sent by one of our listeners. I highly, highly recommend watching this talk:

Going forward…

1% is not enough. Many companies now donate 1% of their profits or sales to good causes. Amazon.com now runs Amazon Smile – if you are an amazon.com shopper you should look into it –  you can shop as usual on Amazon, and 0.5% of your purchase price goes to a charity of your choice. Great idea, but only if you shop from the smile.amazon.com subdomain, and only 0.5%.

Amazon could be as powerful a force for good as Bill Gates. What Amazon has done is wonderful, but they need to implement it in all their international stores, make it clear that you can opt-in on every non-smile sale, and consider increasing the percentage.

For our part, we’ll continue to run and publicise campaigns like the one above, and to maintain a fixed minimum of how much Notes in Spanish gives to charity every year – currently 5% of sales. I’ve set up a corner of the site to publicise this work.

This year we’ll also focus initially on one of http://www.thelifeyoucansave.org’s recommended ‘efficient’ charities, most likely Oxfam, as I like the diverse range of projects they support, and, on a purely emotive basis, I’m from Oxford and have always felt an affinity with Oxfam.

Last thoughts… The other person is you

Finally, I see that in the western world most of us have an astoundingly high standard of living. In the developing world, most don’t, and millions die unnecessarily, particularly children. The dictum ‘the other person is you’ is an undeniable truth. Any other human being is a collection of cells and energy and feelings and emotions and ideas and imagination, just like me or you.

If another human being somewhere else is suffering immeasurably then that person is not separarte from us. They are us. With a tiny amount of conscious generosity on our part, help moves from those that have enough, to those that are in real trouble. And that is a flow of a caring, loving energy on a global scale whose effects will be felt in the human consciousness for eons to come. In every way and on every level, as the other person is you, when we help someone else, we are helping another part of ourselves.

4 thoughts on “On charity

    1. Thank you Ben and Marina for being such lights. Ben, there is something about your writing that brings tears to my eyes. After reading your article for the first time I’ve decided to set up one of those automatic withdrawals to a charity. Gracias.


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