That giving makes us feel good is an undeniable truth. We love knowing that we have contributed to making a difference around the issues that are most important to us. If we are going to give our money away, however, it is only natural that we want our donations to be as beneficial as possible. With the current lack of information on the “science of philanthropy,” this type of knowledgeable giving can be very difficult.
Many large-scale donors make massive contributions to various causes, only for it later to be discovered that their donations did virtually nothing to achieve positive change. This was reportedly the case with Mark Zuckerberg’s recent $100 million donation to Newark, New Jersey schools. This money could have been put to better use with proper investigation into the ultimate utility of the donation.
Researcher Caroline Fiennes has set out to investigate the effectiveness of large-scale charitable contributions to find which types of donations work best. She has discovered hat the size of a contribution does not necessarily determine its effectiveness. This means individuals or organizations that invest huge sums of money in any particular project could be better off spending less money and paying more attention to specific details.
Fiennes also contends that human bias plays a role philanthropic efforts. When fundraisers choose who should receive their donations or grants, they often rely on experts to assist them in finding the best recipients. These experts are liable to make errors because of their own feelings or potential personal biases.
Philanthropists need more data on which type of contributions are most effective and which recipients would best help to achieve their goals. My making philanthropy more scientific in this way, donors would be able to avoid human bias and maximize their impact.
Several studies and initiatives have already sought to move philanthropy in a more scientific direction. The Shell Foundation used a detailed study to find that their projects were more effective with greater involvement from the charity itself. The Center for Effective Philanthropy discovered the inefficiency of handling several smaller grants instead of one larger one.
While the compassion inherent in humanity leads to philanthropy, the bias also latent within us threatens its effectiveness. By investigating the effects of philanthropy with scientific vigor, we can seek to maximize its effects.