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Why I give directly: I won the lottery

We have recently begun inviting donors from a variety of backgrounds to reflect on “why I give directly.” To start off the series, we have a post from Jake Stein, cofounder of Philadelphia-based data analytics software company, RJMetrics. Read more about why Jake gives directly.

I am a lottery winner. I’ve never played the Powerball or the Pick Three, but I was incredibly lucky in what Warren Buffett calls the ovarian lottery.

I was born healthy and into a circumstance where my skin color, gender, and ethnicity did not present a disadvantage. I have a loving family that has supported me throughout my life. I grew up in a town with excellent public schools, and my parents were able to afford to send me to a great college.

I would like to live in a world where those who receive winning tickets help out those who do not. Since my first internship in college, I’ve donated a portion of my income to charity. There are a lot of worthy causes, and I’m proud to have made contributions to some of them.

However, a few years ago, I decided to reevaluate how my donations were being put to use. I wanted to make the same sort of data driven decisions in my charitable giving as I do in my work and the rest of my life. My goal was was to use my charitable budget – 11% of my post tax income – to make the largest possible positive impact on human well being.

The question was: How should I decide whether someone on the other side of the world would benefit most from anti-mosquito nets, a cow, improved shelter, reconstructive surgery, or medicine? The best answer that I came up with is that I shouldn’t make that decision. If our positions were reversed, I would want to be able to allocate the cash to whatever I believed would be best for me and my family.

That conclusion inspired my initial donation to GiveDirectly. However, GiveDirectly’s strategy and philosophy are in many ways more important than the form of the contributions. I’m not aware of another charity that is as committed to transparency (live updating performance statistics on their website), continual improvement (frequent iteration on process and development of new tools), and, most importantly, rigorous evaluation of effectiveness (multiple randomized controlled trials have shown dramatic results).

GiveDirectly has raised the bar for what we should expect from philanthropic organizations, and I’m honored to be associated with them.