🌧 Rainier Ababaolast updated: 10/29/21
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Thoughts on giving and one underrated trick to double your donation

Rainier Ababao · June 10, 2020 · 10 min read

In this context, giving is primarily about giving money to non-profits and charity orgs.

I'd like to avoid this essay from sounding like a humblebrag. If it ends up sounding like that, I'll bite the bullet for goodness's sake (uh, pun intended?).

Instead, this is an invitation to give, and a look into my internal thought process, which I will concede might not be completely internally consistent, but at least it gives me meaning.

Now that we have the meta out of the way...

Ways to justify not giving (at all) (or right now)

My main reason for giving

When I look back, I want to have made a good impact on the world. Tons of people I know say the same thing, and they'll say stuff like the above. I'm fine with people who come to different conclusions than I do; I don't like imposing lifestyle choices on others. Some of these points have pretty compelling arguments behind them, depending on your taste. I believe how much one gives is a pretty personal choice, and I value my relationships over winning an argument/moralizing in this lifestyle area.

Anyway, I believe I can impact the world now and that it can start small.

This is what my character arc for changing the world looks like:

  • between 19-23: Mentor others, help friends and talented folk get internships, start student orgs that increase students' meaning and purpose, and make as much sense of the world as I can so that I can get better at those things. The principle/platitude I tried to live by during this time is "Be who you needed when you were younger".
  • between 24-27 (writing this as I turn 25 in two months): As my general sense-making and communication skills improve, increase my leverage through writing and building great products. Donate what I can without sacrificing my productivity or a lifestyle that makes me happy (including the ability to weather a financial storm), and amplify other people's donations without letting it feel like a huge burden.
  • 27 and later: Keep doing the above, but make grander moves on the "building great products" front. Keep building as a technical lead or coordinating projects as an empathetic manager, sponsor others, start a business, angel invest, etc.

There are tons of ways to do make the world a better place: building, teaching, curing, feeding, helping directly "on the ground"—and then slightly more detached but probably still effective ways like allocating capital more efficiently, increasing the world's GDP (to some extent), and then giving! Specifically giving money to non-profits or charity organizations who would allocate the capital to people who need it or to resources intended to help those who need it, including the labor of people who are helping directly.

My plans and criteria for giving

The plan is to start small. About 1000 USD to selected causes I care about this year, and then to roughly double that year-over-year—or until a personally capped percent of my net worth at the time is met.

How do I choose which organizations to give money to? The weighting of each criterion is a bit fuzzy and by no means perfect (but better to give some than none at all, that is, to not let "perfect be the enemy of the good"):

  • Financial accountability
  • Transparency
  • Long-term impact
  • Directness
  • Personal taste for cause—does this give me meaning? (Subtext: Would this make others think I'm a good person, and even encourage others to donate?)
    • This is important if you want to motivate someone to give at all: Some of my friends would get more meaning out of personally handing twenty bucks to someone in demonstrable need, and my dad would love to surprise a family that is as poor as we once were with a brimming cart of organic groceries from Costco, all paid for.

I'll also use resources like Charity Navigator and GiveWell to assess the factors above for a given charity.

It's feels conflicting to part with your money

It feels weird to part ways with your money at first. What else could I have done with the money instead?! Real estate investing! My future child's school expenses!

In some cultures, it's considered disrespectful to not give some money back home (especially first-gen immigrants to their original country), and family resources are held to the highest importance. I truly empathize with this view. This bit is a little personal, but I recently talked to my parents about how much I've been giving and I'm honestly relieved and feel fortunate that they weren't distraught or annoyed by it.

If anything, in a weird way it gives me a jolt. Like, "Wow, I should definitely keep growing my business/self so I feel more comfortable giving in the future." At least for now, I feel fine about giving. I'm fortunate to have a safety net back home and some baseline of skills + network to stay cash flow-positive and have a roof over my head.

In a lot of ways, donating feels like voting. I've found other ways to "rationalize" the act of giving to my "selfish" self. Example: this year specifically, I'm spending less money during shelter-in-place, and my employer let me expense up to 1000 USD on items make WFH more comfortable (for me and my coworkers, this went towards headphones, air purifiers, standing desks, office chairs, etc.).

How employees with corporate matching gift programs (and their friends) can donate effectively

65% of Fortune 500 companies, including Microsoft and Coca-Cola, offer a "corporate matching gift program" as a benefit to their employees, which let employers match their employees donations to [typically] 501(c)(3)'s. Some companies will even match their employees' donations by 200% in normal or dire circumstances (e.g., Apple in 2020 during the Australian wildfires and the p*ndemic).

According to Double The Donation: although "[a]n estimated $2-$3 billion is donated through matching gift programs annually", "[a]n estimated $4-$7 billion in matching gift funds goes unclaimed per year".

This demonstrates that the corporate matching gift program is so incredibly underrated, and I want to convince F500 employees and their friends to consider closing this $4-$7 billion gap using corporate matching for the remainder of this essay.

Tips for employees 👩🏾‍💻👨‍💻

Want to make an impact on the world as an entry-level employee at your mega-corp job? You can serve as a broker between someone else's money and a non-profit you both support, essentially amplifying their impact. Yes, it's allowed. According to the folk at MSCHF who have checked in with industry attorneys, they have "flagged no broad legal concerns" to doing this, and that "some companies explicitly encourage this behavior."

I mean, what makes using funds other than one's own to make a donation, different from getting money as a gift from family and using that fungible money to donate? The worst that could happen might be a warning from the company to the employee, but there's virtually no way to trace that the money wasn't the employee's, particularly if donations from multiple separate people to the same org were pooled. It would be... ridiculous if someone got fired for asking a company to match a donation they didn't make with their own money.

Get more of these cool facts from Double The Donation:

84% of survey participants say they’re more likely to donate if a match is offered.
. . .
• Mentioning matching gifts in fundraising appeals results in a 71% increase in response rate and a 51% increase in average donation amount.

When I started posting on Instagram that I was personally 50% matching up to two thousand dollars other people's donations for BLM-related causes (effectively tripling their donations as my employer matched 100% of our contributions), I wanted the orgs I advertised to be somewhat well-known and popular, and also to display just a few options. That's because—especially when there are so many well-intentioned non-profits to choose from—it's easy to experience "decision fatigue" or "paralysis", which causes friction for prospective donors. Remember that e-commerce startups used to spend a significant amount of their R&D reducing friction to customer conversion (clicks before "checkout", etc.)—now instead, imagine the process of "checking out" for a cause that might not affect you immediately!

I still gave people the flexibility to propose organizations I had not suggested and was able to match some of those.

Tips for friends and family of employees 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦👫

Find friends who can match your donations and come up with a compelling case for them to match your donation with their benefit. Or better yet, inspire them to graciously match or partially match your donation. One of the most common donation management platforms, used by firms like Microsoft and Google, is called Benevity. See if the non-profit you want to support is on there before you ask.

Here's a project idea

A marketplace (like Craigslist or GoFundMe) where verified employees could post the causes they're interested in supporting, and non-employee donors can send them money for them to exploit corporate matching and at least 2x the donation to supported non-profit orgs. Bonus points for integrating a way to verify receipts and donation amounts while a non-employee donor's money to the employee is in escrow.

Essentially a scalable version of this. Remember that $4-$7B gap I was talking about? 😉

Let me know if you're working on this and I'd be happy to send somewhat of a design doc I've written of my thoughts on this.

More cause areas I'd like to support

Links to other interesting and related ideas

In addition to the links I've already sprinkled throughout this essay:

If you're curious, here's a spreadsheet of the causes I've supported this year.

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