Raising money for charity is gratifying, not because we’re actually doing good efficiently, but because it allows us to attach a hard numeric marker to our decency. If we wanted to do the greatest amount of good, we’d want to thoroughly study the effects of the charities in question; not only how efficient they are with distributing the money we give them as aid instead of administration or marketing, but also whether achieving their stated goals is the most efficient way to spend money. I think if we take this actuarial view that the most efficient charity in the world is the Iodine Global Network, which addresses iodine deficiency in children, a strategy which has all kinds of multiplicative benefits: these children have higher IQs across the board, which leads to reduced crime and the ability to earn more money (which they then spend locally).
But often we as donors and fundraisers are more inclined to provide charity for causes which are close to home, or for whom the beneficiaries are appealing to us in some way. Animal-related charities are very appealing because animals are cute and cannot act meaningfully on their own behalf; thus we feel really good when we give money.
I don’t think this is a bad thing. When we act charitably toward a cause that’s meaningful to us, it brings us joy. That joy in goodness provides some positive feedback, which trains us to act more charitably in the future; do it enough, and we establish a virtuous cycle in our own lives. Furthermore, by advertising our own charitable giving, we not only signal this virtue to other people to establish ourselves as worthy of social interaction; we also inspire those near us to do charity stuff on their own.
So, how can we raise money for charity?
Religion is a big one. The trouble with religious charitable giving is that it’s inexorably tied to religious ideology, which might offend some parts of the potential donor pool as much as it excites other parts. That being said many religious organizations operate charities which do universal good, and cooperate with both secular charities and the charities of other sects. Religious organizations can encourage giving directly via their members, and the constant reminder of weekly attendance associated with most faiths is an effective way to encourage charitable giving.
This is my favorite. Facebook has made it all but frictionless to start charity campaigns for birthdays, and removed all the social awkwardness both from asking for money and from tacitly refusing to give it; furthermore, Facebook in general takes advantage of our need for the attention that is a ‘like’ button, and feeling of receiving money for your chosen cause is even greater than that of a ‘like.’
Historically, I’ve taken a different tactic. Facebook fundraisers have some reach, but an influential Redditor can have a much larger reach, and depending on the nature of a particular subreddit can drive interest in a fundraising drive. I was moderately internet famous for a number of years, and so I occasionally leverage this as a charity drive, requesting donations to Rapha House International in exchange for commissioned essays at $50 each.
I suppose this could apply to any other performance art, but comedy has been uniquely popular this year, and there’s a very low barrier to entry. A moderately-successful stand-up comedian can enjoy much larger audiences and give charitable people an excuse to donate to a given cause without too much effort. This is hardly a new idea: google for “comedy fundraiser” or some variation and see the broad result set.
Recently, Mara Marek raised $300,000 with her Bike, Laugh, Heal tour. Seth Rogen’s Hilarity for Charity must be raising millions. And as the image at the top of this post mentions, Andy Gold’s Jokes for Hope shows in San Francisco this month should raise a few thousand dollars and innumerable socks for GLIDE, a local charity which addresses poverty and homelessness in the Tenderloin.