I Want You To Give Well

Delivered on 5/19 in Stuart, FL
Delivered on 7/17 in Dallas, TX


Fair warning: by the end of this speech, I’m going to ask you to reach into your pockets and give me some of your money. In fact, I’m going to tell you how much to give and where to give it to. So brace yourselves! Are we ready?

Mister Toastmaster. Fellow members. Welcome guests and dignitaries. Imagine you’ve just bought an expensive outfit you’ve been saving up for. You decide to wear it out to a stroll in the park. As you’re walking along a shallow pond, you look in the water and you see a baby, gasping for air, just about to drown. You know you can very easily run in and save the child, but you’ll completely ruin your outfit. Raise your hand if you would save that child.

Now, if you’re like most people, myself included, you wouldn’t think twice about putting the life of that child over a few hundred dollars. But that’s exactly what happened to me today. I was walking here to Toastmasters after work, wearing these very shoes, and I looked into the water. I didn’t see a drowning child, but instead I knew there were people thousands of miles away dying from starvation, lack of access to clean water, and curable diseases. And I just walked away.

What I just described is a tough ethical dilemma, and it was proposed by Australian philosopher Peter Singer in 1972. He argues that for every dollar you spend on a starbucks coffee or another non-essential commodity, you’re doing the moral equivalent of walking away from that dying child in a shallow pond. That’s a very big ask that maybe makes you uncomfortable, and that’s okay. I also grapple with this, and I’m not here today to ask you to give all your money away and live like a monk.

Instead, let’s look at something more positive. Did you know that America is the most generous developed nation in the world? No matter if you’re in the top 1% or below the poverty line, the average American gives 3% of their annual income to charity. We’re gonna do some quick and dirty math here together, so stick with me. I want you to think about how much you make a year. If you don’t know exactly, just think of a rough estimate. Now divide that number in half. Divide in half again. Take away two zeros. Quick example: If I make 40,000 a year, I divide that by 2 to get 20 thousand. Divide that by 2 again to get 10 thousand. Take off a couple of zeroes and I’m left 100 dollars. The number you have left is how many dollars you would give to charity every month if you’re about as generous as your average Joe. That’s the number I want you to hold in your mind until the end of this talk. I promise I won’t make you do any more math!

Now, are you ready to save some lives? Giving to charity can be a very personal thing. Maybe you’re inclined to give to an animal charity because you like your own pets and those commercials tug on your heartstrings. Or you prefer to give to your church because you see those dollars in action in your own community. I don’t want to say that sort of giving is bad, but if you have a limited amount of money to give, wouldn’t you want it to have the biggest impact per dollar?

There are a million charity options out there, so how do you know how to get the biggest bang for your buck? Well, there’s a growing movement called effective altruism that seeks to answer that question. Scientists and experts analyze the data and try to find the cheapest and most reliable way to do two things: save a human life and increase lifespan by one year of quality living. The central hub of this movement is a website called GiveWell.org.

If you’re a nerd like me, you can go into Give Well and look at all the data points and do the math for yourself. But if you trust the experts, they have 5 charities they recommend giving to. Out of thousands of charities analyzed, these are the only 5 where all the experts agree you can be confident your money is going to save and improve lives effectively. And out of these top 5, the top rated charity is the Against Malaria Foundation, and that’s where I’ve given my money, every month, for the past two years.

Malaria is a painful and debilitating disease. It’s very common in poor countries near the Equator, and many people contract Malaria, sometimes multiple times throughout their lives. But because it’s so widespread and many people don’t have the resources to treat it, millions die each year after months of suffering.

Against Malaria Foundation does 3 things really really well. First, it buys mosquito nets: they cost $2.50 per net, they last 3 to 5 years, and they protect 2 people on average. Second, it distributes the nets to the people and places that need it the most. And third, it tracks how the nets are used over time with photos, surveys, and epidemiology studies. The delivery and tracking piece costs another 3 bucks per net. If you crunch all the numbers, it means that if I make 40,000 a year and I give just as much as the average American, I will save one life every 2 and a half years.

In the past six minutes, I’ve equipped you with the unique opportunity to do something about that dying child that is so often out of sight and out of mind.

I’m not asking you to be any more generous than your next-door neighbor--just give that number we calculated together. You have until the end of the month to get that money--no excuses, because we did the math together, so I know you can afford it. But here’s what I want you to do today, before you go to bed. Go to GiveWell.org and read more about Against Malaria Foundation to know exactly where your money is going this month. This is your chance to stop and help. Please don’t walk by. Thank you.