The Buffett Family Teach Effective Philanthropy…But Only Score 5/10 Themselves (1)

The Buffett Family Teach Effective Philanthropy…But Only Score 5/10 Themselves (1)

Today my homework for Doris Buffett’s Giving With Purpose course is due in. Instead, I submit this blog post.

I am one of 10,000 people taking the online Giving With Purpose course, brought to us by Doris Buffett, sister of Warren Buffett. The stated goals of the course are to: “Learn tips & strategies for effective charitable giving … [and] [h]elp distribute the Foundation’s money to local nonprofits you’re passionate about”. It’s a very noble goal and I have huge amounts of respect for Warren and Doris Buffett for giving away so much of their wealth. I’m also very encouraged by the recent rise in public interest in “effective giving”. But I do think that the conception that the Buffett family and the public have of what it is to give effectively is mistaken in important ways. Not only that, but I also worry that a significantly inaccurate view of effective giving can actually be harmful to the non-profit sector, because it creates incentives for charities to act in ineffective ways.


Let’s go into a bit of detail about five popular myths surrounding effective giving and see how the Buffetts score:


Myth #1: Charity starts (and ends) at home.

“Charity starts at home.” I hear this all the time – an assertion dressed up as a counter-argument to international giving because the implication is invariably “…and that’s where charity should end”. Giving With Purpose seem to whole-heartedly endorse this sentiment by only allowing its students to nominate local charities for grants. The nearest thing to an explanation I could find for this decision was that your local community is the community “you know best because you are a part of it”.

However, GiveWell convincingly argues that “your dollar goes further overseas”. To illustrate, they compare their top international charity with their top US-based charities – with a $10,000 donation you could save four children’s lives in the developing world or increase academic performance and reduce criminal behavior in one child in the US. I know which one I’d rather do.

Buffetts, I give you a score of 0 out of 2 for combating this myth.


Keep an eye out for next week’s post on Myth #2 in this five-part series…



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About the author:

Holly Morgan

Holly Morgan is a former Executive Director at The Life You Can Save and a former Director of Community at Giving What We Can; while a philosophy student in Oxford, she played a key role in getting both of these organizations and the wider Effective Altruism movement off of the ground.

The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.