By Fabian Kuzmic
“What should I buy my family and friends this year for Christmas?” This question seems to get harder to answer with every passing year. As soon as the first signs of Christmas decorations appear in the streets and shops, the pressure to buy gifts becomes ubiquitous. Similarly, with the Christmas spirit touching our moods, we might feel an increased desire to spread joy to our loved ones.
Often, we catch ourselves buying last-minute presents and end up with yet another dull product. Why add to the large collections of simple objects your friends and family members have once gotten for Christmas and stored in some corner of their homes to never pick them up again? Instead of succumbing to the allure of Christmas consumerism and its faulty promise of fulfilment, there is a much more meaningful form of giving. While your friends might already have most of what they need, other people, in other parts of the world, might not.
20 euros for a gift will not get you far in the Netherlands, but for some people, it can make a serious difference in their lives — if spent effectively. There are multiple organisations that help you figure out how to do so. The Dutch public benefit organisation Doneer Effectief (ANBI) belongs to a global landscape of organisations following the principles of Effective Altruism, a movement that uses evidence and reason to identify the best ways to help others. Doneer Effectief has a donation platform, whereas other organisations, such as Give Well, Founders Pledge and Animal Charity Evaluators, focus more on community building or charity evaluation to find out how your euro can have the maximum impact.
Eva de Groot, a 2016 AUC graduate and board member of Doneer Effectief, explains that the goal of the organisation is to support the most effective interventions and the best charities in the world. It is possible to either go to one of the charities or interventions they recommend or donate directly on their website. “We can direct 100 percent of your donation to places where it can have multiple times the impact of an average charity with the same amount of money,” de Groot says.
Effectiveness depends on how you define it, and multiple times the impact of an average charity might sound like a gutsy promise. But de Groot assures that “our choices are based on scientific research, and not on marketing.” The factors Doneer Effectief considers in their research are scientific evidence, cost-effectiveness, growth potential, and transparency. Doneer Effectief is financially independent from donors and the charities they recommend and has only one paid position. Separate funding covers the costs of running the organisation. De Groot volunteers her time as a board member.
De Groot has turned effective giving into an annual Sinterklaas tradition with her friends. “My friends and I get together and do Sinterklaas, but instead of buying chocolate or wellness products, each of us finds an effective charity and donates to them on behalf of someone in the group.” In the end, they all reveal what they have chosen and their thoughts behind their gifts. De Groot highlights that she chooses from the three cause areas that Doneer Effectief focuses on: poverty and health, climate, and animal welfare and the food transition. The causes have not been randomly chosen. “The organisation has selected these global problems based on scale, neglectedness and tractability,” she explains. The problems their recommended interventions and charities tackle have the potential to save or improve many lives, while not having received much attention yet by the broader public.
Which concrete gift ideas follow from these cause areas? If your loved one cares about global health and development, they might be happy to know that on their behalf, a child is protected from malaria. Give Well states that it costs the Against Malaria Foundation less than 5 euros to buy one mosquito net under which children can sleep. Considering that every minute a child dies of malaria and the low costs of effectively preventing contact with malaria-carrying mosquitoes, this intervention is highly cost-effective. Plus, it is estimated that every euro spent on anti-malaria interventions in African countries contributes about 6.5 euros to their GDP.
Similarly cost-effective are vitamin A supplements for children in Africa. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, over 200,000 children die from vitamin A deficiency due to malnutrition each year. With a price of around one euro per dose, Helen Keller International delivers vitamin A tablets to support the healthy development of six-month up to five-year old children. “It’s a really special feeling to know that your gifts will help some of the people who are most in need,” says Tarmo Pungas, UvA student and one of the organisers of Effective Altruism Amsterdam. He has opted for effective donations because he knew his friends would not want anything material for Christmas.
If your loved one is concerned about global warming, you could consider donating to the Clean Air Task Force or Carbon180 as a gift for them. The Clean Air Task Force focuses on climate policy and tech innovation to mitigate CO2 emissions and Carbon180 works on scaling up the removal of already existing carbon in the atmosphere. Founders Pledge estimates that the most effective climate charities can abate a tonne of CO2 for less than 10 euros. For comparison, a typical person emits five to twenty tonnes of CO2 each year.
If your friend or a family member loves animals, you could choose to help enhance animal welfare and the food transition on their behalf. Within this cause area, there are big differences in the cost-effectiveness of interventions targeting certain types of animals. While housing an animal in a shelter costs 1000 euros, the same amount of money could improve the life of 1000 animals in the livestock industry. Animal Charity Evaluators recommends that two of the most effective charities are The Humane League, focusing on animal rights and influencing the food industry and politics, and The Good Food Institute, working on alternative protein innovation.
One might think it does not really matter where one donates small amounts of money to. “But exactly then, thinking carefully about what happens with your money is extremely important,” says de Groot. “As a student, you might not have a large budget, but you can easily multiply your impact with your choice of where to donate to.” While most people think that charities differ slightly in effectiveness, experts estimate that the best charities are up to 100 times more impactful. For instance, Giving What We Can, another charity evaluator, claims that providing deworming treatments is roughly 100 times more effective than merit scholarships for reducing school absences and improving education.
Christmas is the time of giving, not of consumerism. This year, venture beyond your usual gift choices and make effective presents that will truly help others.