Most of us should be giving away more money. (Yes, you should be. If you have any doubt, please stop reading this blog and pick up Peter Singer’s book The Life You Can Save.) And many of us WANT to give but can’t pull the trigger for a host of reasons: basic cheapness (guilty!), a feeling that you don’t know where to give, a sense that most charities waste your money.

So I’m going to make it simple by telling you where you should give your money away. Or, more generously, I’m going to offer some good suggestions based on my own extensive vetting. Here goes:

Poverty

I work on climate change, but my wife and I give most of our philanthropic contributions to health and poverty causes because we feel obliged to keep people from dying and to make basic health care widely available. The two causes I give to are Partners in Health, a brilliant NGO whose philosophy is that allegedly “untreatable” health problems can be addressed effectively, even in poor settings. PIH works globally and rates at the top of the scale on all charity rating systems, including the extremely rigorous www.givewell.net. This group is so remarkable and deep in its thinking about poverty that it’s worth reading Tracy Kidder’s book Mountains Beyond Mountains, about the founder, Paul Farmer. (The book is worth getting even if you just want a good read, and don’t care about philanthropy at all.)  

My wife and I also give to a lesser known group at the University of San Francisco called FACES. The cool thing about FACES is that they aren’t just providing help on AIDS in Kenya, they are working with government agencies to make sure the services reach as many people as possible and are durable. This is a key element sometimes missing from anti-poverty groups.

Climate

I’ve worked closely on the ground with two groups that are rocking it on climate action. They are the CERES BICEP group (Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy) that is effectively bringing business leaders in to lobby for aggressive climate action. I also like and work with the folks at the NRDC climate program, who often help businesses leverage big opportunities on short notice. (We filed an Amicus Brief on Mass. V. EPA thanks to NRDC’s tip.)

Colorado and the West

If you live in or care about Colorado, and also care about environmental issues, you know that the state has recently gone from red to purple to blue. But that status is tenuous, and if Gov. Bill Ritter loses to the reactionary Scott McInnis in the gubernatorial election, we’ll see major reforms (like controls on natural gas drilling) wiped clean and key positions (like the Dept. of Health and Division of Natural Resources) filled by vastly less progressive individuals. We’ll also see an end to Colorado’s leadership on the clean energy economy. We can’t let that happen, and the best way to stop that is to support Colorado Conservation Voters. I recently joined the board of this group because I believe that most environmental causes in CO are toast without the right governance. And CCV is the group to ensure good government. They are small, smartly run, incredibly efficient with your dollars, and do a shocking amount of work on a surprisingly small budget.

I also give to High Country News which is the standard bearer for smart, independent journalism in the West. This is also a small group that uses money efficiently and is a vital cog in protecting the West’s environment. Full disclosure: I interned there 20 years ago and the experience has been paying dividends ever since.

Last note: One of the coolest new vetting tools for some NGOs is www.givewell.net, which uses the rigorous approach of hedge fund analysis to vet nonprofits. They only do a few groups, but it’s worth checking out their site. Happy giving!