How to give it all away: Steps toward smarter giving

Have you wanted to have more impact after the election of President Trump in the fall? Have you considered donating to the ACLU or Planned Parenthood?

I get you. I have also looked for ways to contribute what I can. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood support causes that I care for. They are credible organizations. But a new article on, “Rich charities keep getting richer. That means your money isn’t doing as much good as it could,” reminded me to get perspective.

The article summarizes why the big charities keep receiving donations at the expense of smaller, possibly more effective charities, challenges for nonprofit startups, and elements of the ‘effective philanthropy’ movement. Yet, it left me wondering what I can actually do. 

What action can I take to make my money count? How can I learn more about making my dollars go farther toward making the world better?

I have wrestled with these questions and want to share with you a few steps of varying time commitments that can help you learn about how to make your money count.

First, GiveWell—”a nonprofit dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities“ [1]—is a useful resource, even if you choose not to listen their advice. GiveWell was started in 2007 by two guys in the finance industry struggling to identify the best giving opportunities. Take two minutes and read their Giving 101. Then take another few minutes to explore their website and learn how they research and evaluate charities.

Second, Effective Altruism has a ten-minute written introduction to concepts for doing good better and how to direct our efforts. You don’t need to agree with what the intro suggests. You will still find value in these perspectives and in being mindful of what impact you want to have.

Lastly, if you prefer videos to text, check out Esther Duflo’s 17-minute TED talk on social experiments to fight poverty. Duflo is the founder and director of the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a research network that evaluates social programs, and a Professor in Economics at MIT. If the TED talk interests you, you’ll enjoy the award-winning [2] book Poor Economics coauthored by Duflo.

Money can do so much good if given to the right organizations. You can make a tangible, measurable difference with your money. The first step is to learn about how your money can do most good.

[2] The book Poor Economics won the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award as well as the Financial Times Business Book of the Year.

Sex education should include safe sex practices

Find 1-min video w/ narration here:
– Play by opening the PowerPoint file, selecting ‘Slide Show’ and play ‘From Start’
– I was not able to make it a video format file, because screen recording messes up the sound.

Comments about the assignment:

Wow—what a challenging assignment! At first I considered everything from promoting 1-year federally funded maternity/paternity leave to increasing science funding for medical applications of psychedelics.  Then I started off trying to argue queer-inclusive sex ed and realized that I could only argue that to people already on board with safe sex-oriented sex ed in the first place. For those people, who are likely also to support queer rights, making sex ed queer-inclusive is likely more an awareness issue than a disputed issue.

So I landed on arguing for sex ed oriented around safe sex practices. I wanted to build a case around randomized controlled trials measuring the effectiveness on metrics like teen pregnancy and STI rates of abstinence-only programs vs. safe sex programs, and it turned out that either the data I wanted does not exist or is hard to come by. It is hard for studies to measure anything beyond self-reported sexual behavior.

Next, without the quantitative numbers to make a good argument, I wanted to make a rational argument for why sex ed should focus on safe sex practices. However, I felt like my rational arguments relied on value judgments that a conservative audience would not share. In the end I ended up using an appeal to authority, having read that 70% of Republicans do in fact trust the CDC as an organization.

Visual Explanatory Illustrations: “Back of a Napkin” methodology

[[* I reviewed the lists of tools, but understood that the selected tool does not need to be among the ones listed *]]

As a reaction to the access to huge amounts of information, we’ve seen a surge of explanatory media. is known for its tagline “Explain the news”, theSkimm has a set of guides to hot news topics, and the tool FOLD lets writers link media cards along with their writing to provide more context.

News and storytelling already rely on images, audio, maps, cards, data diagrams, and more, to support their arguments and provide context. There is, however, an underuse of illustrations that help explain how systems work. We are visual thinkers and most of us learn better with pictures. While glorified illustrations of data and aesthetically pleasing designs are appealing, I am now talking about pictures that enable understanding by for example showing how things are connected. Future news sources that leverage this tool of explanatory illustrations, and successfully satisfy readers’ demand for understanding the news, will be at an advantage.

Figure 1: Example of an explanatory illustration

A specific tool that teaches anyone to problem-solve and communicate with pictures is Dan Roam’s book The Back of a Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures. Dan Roam provides a methodology for discovering, developing, and selling ideas through pictures. He shows how to decompose a problem and come up with both simple pictures, as illustrated in Fig. 1, and more complex pictures.



Dan Roam describes the process of visual thinking as four steps, with separate chapters describing how to do each step:
1) looking, i.e. collecting and screening
2) seeing, i.e. selecting and clumping
3) imagining, i.e. seeing what is not there
4) showing, i.e. making it all clear

The book also includes concrete methodology charts, as shown in Figure 2, that can be useful starting points when determining how best to illustrate a topic or your ideas with pictures.

Figure 2: A chart to help determine how best to visualize a problem. The rows specify what type of problem it is (who/what, where, etc.) and the columns specify what should be highlighted (quality vs. quantity, vision vs. execution, etc.).




Katrine’s Bio

don’t have any photos with lavender hair yet

Hello, you!  I’m Katrine, pronounced “Katrina” and spelled with an “e”.  Please, if you’re hesitant, just ask or pick one and go with it — you’re interesting and I want to get to know you.

Part 2 of our in-class tweet icebreaker:

  • tweet 1:  Katrine. Comp. Sci. M.Eng. student working with Ethan. Central Square resident. Born and raised Norwegian, increasingly American at heart.
  • tweet 2:  Why this class? Media matters. Raving reviews. Learning from all of you with totally different backgrounds from mine.
  • tweet 3:  Things that I like:  Code for good, slam poetry, rock climbing, behavioral econ., queer/feminist discussions, the music duo “Dresses”

If you’re interested in more of the ‘professional’ stuff, this website has something like that.