We don’t know how to get donors to use more evidence to improve their giving

This article first published in Alliance Magazine.

What aids and impedes donors using evidence to make their giving more effective? This question motivated a two researchers at the University of Birmingham to do a wide search of the academic and non-academic literature to find studies that provide answers. The findings are in a systematic review published last month. It’s remarkable. It finds that we – the human race – don’t really know yet what aids and impedes donors using evidence – because nobody has yet investigated properly.

This matters because some interventions run by charities are harmful. Some produce no benefit at all. And even interventions which do succeed vary hugely in how much good they do. So it can be literally vital that donors choose the right ones. Only sound evidence of effectiveness of giving can reliably guide donors to them.

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Royal patronages of charities don’t seem to help charities much

Giving Evidence today publishes research about Royal patronages of charities: what are they, who gets them, and do they help? This fits within our work of providing robust evidence so that charities and donors can be as effective as possible.

In short, we found that charities should not seek or retain Royal patronages expecting that they will help much. 

74% of charities with Royal patrons did not get any public engagements with them last year. We could not find any evidence that Royal patrons increase a charity’s revenue (there were no other outcomes that we could analyse), nor that Royalty increases generosity more broadly. Giving Evidence takes no view on the value  of the Royal family generally. The findings are summarised in this Twitter thread.

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How is philanthropy responding to Covid19? How should it respond?

How are donors responding to the pandemic? What should they be doing? What will the long-term effects be on #philanthropy?

Giving Evidence’s Director Caroline Fiennes discussed all this with The Business Of Giving in this interview.

We also discussed Giving Evidence’s research about the effect of various ‘ways of giving’: a long-standing interest (see article in the scientific journal Nature and our ground-breaking research)

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Identifying the Effects of Various Ways of Giving: Using the ‘Opportunity’ of the Covid19 Crisis

New project!

Much attention is paid to what donors fund, but very little is paid to how they fund. Questions about how to fund include whether/when to give with restrictions, whether to give a few large grants vs. many smaller ones, what application and reporting processes to have, how to make the decisions about what to fund. The lack of attention to these ‘how to fund’ questions is despite the facts that (i) they evidently affect funders’ effectiveness, and (ii) they can be investigated empirically. We have written about this in the top scientific journal Nature, and with the University of Chicago.

Weirdly, the COVID19 crisis creates a (rather morbid) opportunity to investigate empirically the effects of some funder behaviours.

Giving Evidence is starting a new project to do this empirical research. Continue reading

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Giving during COVID-19

Clearly, communities and charities are under great strain at the moment. A vast number of people in the UK have less than one week’s savings. Charities are doing all manner of work, and the crisis is expected to cost them at least £4 billion(!)

Please give. Continue reading

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We tried to update our analysis of charities’ performance and their admin costs, and you won’t BELIEVE what happened next!

Many people believe that charities waste money on ‘administration’, and hence that the best charities spend little on administration. A strong form of this view is that the best charities are by definition those which spend little on administration, i.e., you can tell how good a charity is just by looking at their admin costs: one sometimes hears this view.

It’s nonsense. The amount that charities spend on administration is (probably) totally unrelated to whether they’re intervention is any good. If I have an intervention which, to take a real example, is supposed to decrease the number of vulnerable teenagers who get pregnant, but in fact does the opposite and increases it, then it doesn’t matter how low the administrative costs are: the fact is that the intervention doesn’t work. As Michael Green, co-author of Philanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Save The World says: ‘A bad charity with low administration costs is still a bad charity’. Continue reading

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Why I’ve joined a board of the Flemish Red Cross

I know. You’ve never heard of the Flemish Red Cross. You realise that such a thing probably must exist but you’d never hitherto realised it, right?

Well, you should know about it because it’s amazing. Of all the operational charities I’ve encountered, it is easily the most sophisticated in terms of use and production  of decent evidence – and seeing as I’ve been in this sector now for >18 years, I’ve seen a lot. A clue is that it has 12 post-doctoral researchers on payroll, most of whose output goes into the peer-reviewed academic literature. Continue reading

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Do Royals help charities? We’re finding out

Apparently ~3000 organisations have Royal patrons. About 200 have this week lost their relationship with Prince Andrew. Securing and maintaining a relationship with a Royal is work, and is it worth it? It seems that nobody knows. Giving Evidence is going to investigate.

This is a question about donor effectiveness: the patrons probably think that they are helping the charities, but donors are often rather less helpful than they think they are. It’s reasonable – and possible – to assess the effectiveness of donors, as we have said elsewhere. It is also a question about charity effectiveness: how should charities best allocate their scarce resources? We will specifically be looking at whether & how much & when Royals patrons – and with luck other celeb patrons – help charities. Continue reading

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Can people tell posh champagne from cava in a blind trial?? – an experiment

{Warning: this post has nothing to do with philanthropy. It’s to do with science. Sort of.}

As widely discussed in the press (i.e., written about by me on Twitter), I recently ran a little trial to see whether people (specifically myself and some friends and family) could distinguish between posh champagne and much cheaper cava.

In short, we couldn’t. Well, *I* could, and my family could, but on aggregate the answers were barely better than random.

Because this is *science*, and not just a random drinking game, I’ve written it up. Not in the Journal of Champagne-ology, which surprisingly doesn’t exist, but below. Continue reading

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A life ended well

This article first published in the British Medical Journal.

My mum died in 2016, a more decorous and peaceful end of life would be hard to imagine. That she died well is a huge blessing: not everybody gets that privilege. I gather that there is discussion in medical circles about how to improve and de-medicalise ends of lives. In case it is useful to anybody, here is my mum’s story. Continue reading

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