Last month, The Life You Can Save blog featured guest pieces on two Giving Games–one hosted by a high school history teacher and another by a university chapter of Giving What We Can. Our third installment features a corporate Giving Game played by thirty-five team members of TGG Group, a Chicago-based consulting firm co-founded by Freakonomics author Steve Levitt. TGG's corporate Giving Game successfully raised over $8000 for GiveDirectly, a non-profit that facilitates cash transfers to some of the world's poorest people. Today we're excited to bring you a guest post by TGG's Peter Cohen on what he and his colleagues learned about effective giving.
By Peter Cohen, TGG Group
Why we ran a Giving Game
TGG Group was originally named “The Greatest Good” because our co-founders, including Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt, thought that behavioral science and data analytics could be used to help non-profits increase their social impact. Given our roots in philanthropy, we were very excited about this opportunity to not only give but also to inspire our co-workers to give more, and more effectively.
TGG also was drawn to Giving Games because they align closely with our three foundational competencies: behavioral science, data analysis, and experimentation. Giving Games are designed to help correct a common bias that behavioral economists call the “availability heuristic.” This bias leads people to donate to causes that they hear about frequently or that affect people they know rather than the causes that are most socially useful. Additionally, the “effective altruism” movement applies scientific experimentation to test charities in much the same way TGG helps businesses use rigorous experiments to test their strategy. We believe that data sets collected from Giving Games can help charities better engage donors in a powerful way by understanding their underlying motivations and beliefs.
TGG is headquartered in Chicago and recently opened a New York office (growing staff by about 25% in the process). Not only did we see the Giving Game as an opportunity to create lifelong donors who care about ‘giving effectively’, we also saw an opportunity to bring our two offices and growing staff together around a common purpose while creating a forum for our colleagues to discuss their values.
A GiveDirectly cash transfer recipient. Photo credit: GiveDirectly.
Planning the event
Giving Games are designed to be flexible, allowing each group to tailor the game to their specific preferences. Our first step was to talk to Jon Behar, The Life You Can Save’s Director of Philanthropy Education, who guided us on how to structure the game: how many charities to include; how to choose charities that are differentiated enough to make the discussion interesting; and how to encourage people to advocate for charities.
My colleague Chris and I led this effort at TGG, and we wanted to let participants define the Giving Game for themselves and follow the path that seemed like the most fun to them. In practice, this meant outlining a few characteristics about each organization and allowing the game to develop somewhat organically. For example, we solicited advocates for each charity but did not prescribe their duties beyond “Make a case for why your charity deserves our money.” This approach generated interesting results, and in many cases we got to see fascinating differences in personal style and leadership that made for a richer discussion.
The structure of the event
The TGG Giving Game was conducted over five weeks, including two weeks of planning and three weeks of facilitation, and we timed the event so our interns could also participate.
7/28: A steering committee comprised of the Giving Game designers (including both associates and leadership) selected six charities that participants would vote on with a predetermined selection process and criteria obtained from several sources including GiveWell and The Life You Can Save. To identify charities that have the greatest social impact, we looked for the same qualities that TGG brings to client engagements—a clear objective and strong supporting evidence. Our final list of candidates was: GiveDirectly, the Future of Humanity Institute, KIPP, Nurse Family Partnership, Deworm the World (an initiative led by Evidence Action), and the Against Malaria Foundation.
8/7: We distributed an email to all TGG employees that laid out the details of the game and requested pledges as well as sponsors for the selected charities from among our colleagues. The email described the benefits of effective giving, proposed our list of candidate charities, and outlined how we expected discussion and voting to proceed.
8/20: We updated the firm with our committed donation pool and sent out short descriptions of each candidate charity written by its respective advocate.
8/26: All participants from the firm met for the Giving Game discussion. First, each advocate described his/her charity and outlined why he/she felt the charity deserved the group’s money. After that, we opened the floor to questions and answers, which led to a broader discussion among the advocates and the participants.
8/27: Participants continued to discuss charities in informal small groups. At the end of day, we solicited votes via email.
8/28: We announced the two charities that received the most votes (GiveDirectly obtained 70% of the money, and KIPP received 30%), and instructed individuals where to make their donations and to provide proof the donation was made.
A GiveDirectly participant receives cash transfers using a cell phone. Photo credit: GiveDirectly.
TGG’s Giving Game was extremely successful, both in terms of the money raised for the winning charities and the discussions they sparked. Thirty-five people were invited to participate and nearly all of our colleagues made commitments. So far we have raised $11,100 with an average donation of $300 (we are still in the process of fulfilling commitments). Our colleagues selected KIPP and GiveDirectly as our winning charities, resulting in a $3000 donation to KIPP (a national charter school program with Chicago-area schools) and an $8100 donation to GiveDirectly (cash transfers to the poor in Kenya and Uganda). GiveDirectly resonated with participants because the organization allows recipients to use the money as they see fit, rather than having a decision made for them by a distant charity board.
The discussion was extremely lively and generated interest in charities that weren’t previously well-known among our colleagues. For instance, we discussed in detail to what extent supporting the Future of Humanity Institute—an Oxford-run research center focused on predicting and preventing large-scale risks to human civilization— can improve the world both now and in the future.
Lessons we learned
We took a hands-off approach to our Giving Game. Allowing the group to define the game is consistent with the overall democratic philosophy of the Giving Game and did a lot to increase engagement. Nonetheless, Chris and I could have improved some elements of the experience by providing more guidance. For example, we could have provided a short introduction on philanthropy in general—including features of each of the charities—and what it means for altruism to be effective. We also discussed the possibility of letting participants choose their own candidate charities. Ultimately, our experience taught us that there is a balance between confining the participants and giving them a structure that improves the experience. We look forward to seeing how TGG’s Giving Game program evolves in the future, and hope that these reflections will be helpful for anyone else who wants to run a Giving Game at their business.
Peter Cohen is a senior associate at TGG Group, a consulting firm that combines behavioral science, econometrics, and economic theory with advanced data analytics to help its clients increase revenues, reduce costs, and unlock value in intangible assets.