Monday, January 18, 2010

How much money should you donate to Haiti relief efforts

As much as possible.

This form of ambiguity makes my engineer brain implode. It can't deal with things like "as much as" (possible is a known quantity). So we need to come up with a reasonable model, plug in some numbers and see what it looks like. Here's a proposal:

Match every non-essential dollar you have spent for a week (its been close to a week after the earthquake) with a dollar for relief.

What does non-essential mean?
It depends (hah, ambiguity is back!) but we can take a stab at the definition. For a person reasonably well off (steady job, income that you actually save or invest), it should be everything except food and housing.
Average food cost is $18/day according to Dept. of Labor statistics - so lets double it and say $30/day. For a week, thats $210. Please note: if you are a Googler or a Facebooker or any of the Valley companies that covers your meals, you can't take this deduction.
Housing is 1/4th your monthly rent/mortgage and similarly utilities are 1/4th of your monthlys. Apply corrections as appropriate if you are supporting a family.

Weekly spending estimate:
Favourite form of spending (credit card / cash / atm card) over a month divided by 4. Round up to nearest 50.

Subtract essentials from spending and you are good to go. Mental math if you keep a close track of your expenses, two minutes checking your banking/credit card online if you don't.

In case you need any more motivation:
The Big Picture: Earthquake, 48 hours later and 6 days later

How to donate: Any way you can.
I personally find it easiest to use Google Checkout or Amazon Payments, but thats because I have an established account and its just easy to click away. I work at Google (full disclosure), so if you are uncomfortable about that connection, please use Amazon.
Amazon Payments (if someone knows the simple URL for this let me know - I cannot unscramble amazon's URL here). You can also just go to Amazon and find the prominent link on their main page.

EDIT: Most companies I know of have donation matching programs; please make sure to look into these to potentially double your gift.

UPDATE: I was reminded of in case people are trying to find people in Haiti.


Mehal said...

I always look at Charitable Donations this way.

1) No matter what I donate to, an argument can be made that there is a more deserving cause.
2) I am not super wealthy, so I probably won't be able to solve any problems with just my donation.
3) No matter how much I donate, I could have always donated a little more.
4) Fuck it, I'll donate however much money anyway because it's a good thing to do.

Mehal said...

That being said, your math is quite compelling.

::rushabh:: said...

@mehals: I was trying to establish a minimum baseline. I agree with your point that there is always a deserving cause (africa, india, the list goes on) but I was trying to address the lack of an anchor in figuring out how much, at minimum, to give.

diabolical_mdog said...

Food for thought: Would it be better to donate the same X dollars in 6 months (when there's not so much overload)?

::rushabh:: said...

@diabolical_mdog: it would seem that the people without food and water now may not survive that long? I think that in the long term nations will have to step in to help them rebuild (EU and the US mostly) by giving them loans or forgiving debt. In the short term, nations cannot move that fast in terms of scrambling money - they can send armed forces to help maintain control (and they are) - so my claim is that you can donate now and withhold 6 months from now.