Review by Minal Bopaiah, Communications Manager, PSI
Once in a while, you read a book that opens doors in your mind.
For those of you unfamiliar with Peter Singer, he’s an ethicist and philosopher, whose previous book “The Life You Can Save” launched a movement and a foundation focused on “effective altruism.”
Effective altruism, according to Singer, is a “philosophy and social movement that applies evidence and reason to working out the most effective ways to improve the world.”
Effective altruists are not just compassionate – they’re numbers people, too. They’re looking for ways to do the most good with their dollar (or pound, euro, rupee, rand… you get the idea). Singer lists a number of ways effective altruists “act” in the world:
- Living modestly and donating a large part of their income – often much more than the traditional tenth, or tithe – to the most effective charities;
- Researching and discussing with others which charities are the most effective or drawing on research done by other independent evaluators;
- Choosing the career in which they can earn most, not in order to be able to live affluently but so that they can do more good;
- Talking to others, in person or online, about giving, so that the idea of effective altruism will spread;
- Giving part of their body – blood, bone marrow, or even a kidney – to a stranger.
“The Most Good You Can Do” plots the storyline of a number of effective altruists — from a philosophy major who forwent graduate study at Oxford in order to work on Wall Street and then donated half his annual earnings (a six-figure sum) to charity to a man who had to convince doctors and hospital to let him donate a kidney to a stranger.
The stories are mesmerizing while also being eyebrow-raising. Taken individually, it can seem that Singer is advocating for a pretty radical lifestyle. But when read closely, Singer assuages our perfectionist guilt and advocates not for doing the most good possible, but simply the most good you can do.
The penultimate chapter in the book is titled “Choosing the Best Organization,” and here Singer takes up an issue close to PSI’s heart – the myth of low admin costs. For a number of years, sites like CharityNavigator and others have ranked nonprofit effectiveness based on the percentage of funds used for administration and overhead – that is, people working for the organization and the costs of running an operation.
When simply rating nonprofit effectiveness, potential donors may be faced with this choice:
- Donate to Charity A, where 8% of revenue goes to administration and fund-raising and 92% to programs; or
- Donate to Charity B, where 28% of revenue goes to administration and fund-raising and 72% of programs.
But an effective altruist can’t know the impact of either charity’s programs on its beneficiaries. That’s why Singer argues for measuring impact, not admin/program ratios.
PSI, one of the “effective charities” listed on TheLifeYouCanSave.org, whole-heartedly agrees with Singer’s emphasis on measuring impact, and goes above and beyond to provide those numbers for our programs and our donors. We do this through jargon-laden terms like DALYs and CYPs, but here’s what the effective altruist needs to know:
- PSI estimates that with the services they provided in 2014, they added over 59 million years of healthy life and provided protection against unintended pregnancy for 19 million couple years (CYP).
- In 2012, PSI spent approximately $35.54 to give a mother and her child one year of healthy life, and $11.29 to protect a couple from unintended pregnancy for a year.
- You can calculate the impact your donation can have by country with our impact calculator.