The Giving Game model makes it easy to learn about, or teach others about, effective charitable giving. In a Giving Game, participants grapple with a donation decision structured to raise critical issues about what it means give well, knowing their choices will have real world consequences.
In a Giving Game, participants learn about a few pre-selected charities, think about and discuss their relative merits, and choose which charity will get a real donation (which is typically sponsored by an outside party).
A couple of examples will help illustrate what Giving Games look like in practice.
A university professor organizes a Giving Game for an hour-long session of an ethics course with 15 students. The Life You Can Save sponsors this Giving Game, providing $200 for the students to give to the charity the students deem best at the end of the session. The professor spends ten minutes introducing the three eligible charities: Give Directly (cash grants to families living in extreme poverty), Innovations for Poverty Action (research to identify and implement effective anti-poverty programs), and a local food bank.
The students then engage in a vigorous discussion about which charity they should donate to, and why. The conversation covers topics such as cost-effectiveness, evidence of impact, addressing root causes or merely symptoms, and prioritization of means and ends (or just "goals").
The students vote at the end of the hour, and the winning charity is awarded the $200 donation. The Giving Game concludes with a brief recap discussion and the circulation of a signup sheet for a mailing list providing updates about effective giving opportunities.
A campus group that promotes effective giving facilitates a Giving Game to spread awareness of their message and find new members. The group sets up a table in a busy area and invites passersby to come over. They explain that anyone can give $1 (provided by The Life You Can Save) to their choice of Seva (which fights preventable blindness in the developing world) or the Against Malaria Foundation.
The organizers provide a few key bullet points describing each charity’s work, and most interactions last only a minute or two. Some interactions last longer, however, when participants ask for more information about the charities or the group itself. Rather than simply trying to cycle through as many participants as possible, the group focuses on giving an “elevator pitch” about their work to those who seem interested, collecting email addresses for their mailing list, and publicizing an upcoming event.
As these examples show, the Giving Game model is quite flexible.
While both are set on college campuses (where the majority of Giving Games take place), the model has also been applied in high schools, businesses, book clubs, church groups, and online. In some Giving Games, the participants or organizers fund some or all of the donation. Sometimes the charities objectively have widely differing “bang for the buck”; other times it may be difficult for even a sophisticated donor to decide which charity will do more good. We encourage everyone to test their own variations of the Giving Game model, and to share what they learn in the process.
How did you first learn about giving to charity?
For most people, that’s a trick question. Learning about philanthropy in any sort of structured way is rare. It’s much more common for people to accumulate up bits and pieces of information, or misinformation, about giving over time. The result can be a personal “giving philosophy” which itself has never been given much thought.
This thoughtless approach carries over to the way many donors actually give, at a tremendous cost to the people whose lives could be improved by more effective giving. Only 35% of donors conduct any research before making their gifts!
Even more troubling, the minority of donors who do perform research don’t do so in a way that’s likely to help them give with more impact. Half of those people spend an hour or less , generally on the website of the charity they’re considering. The most sought after piece of information is the charity’s “overhead ratio”, despite the fact that this metric has been roundly rejected as a measure of charitable effectiveness.
Essentially, donors either don’t do research or they merely try to validate that a charity has no glaring red flags before giving. A mere 3% of donors researches the relative performance of multiple nonprofits.
In fact, few donors- just one in six- even consider maximum impact to be their primary motivation. Given this situation, nonprofits have little incentive to report, or even measure, their social impact. This is turn makes it harder on donors looking for quality information to find what they’re looking for. Philanthropy education offers the possibility of turning this negative feedback loop into a positive one.
The purpose of our Giving Games program is to help create this sort of cultural change by teaching people about charity in an environment specially tailored to promote thoughtful, impactful, and generous giving. We view this program as a scalable, effective, and extremely inexpensive form of philanthropy education. In short, we see Giving Games as a path to a world where philanthropic resources are directed to where they will do the most good.
The Life You Can Save is a movement of people fighting extreme poverty. We hold that an ethical life involves using some of our wealth and resources to save and improve the lives of those less fortunate than us.
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