More Misadventures in Foreign Aid?

Last week CNN told the story here and here of Derreck Kayongo, a refugee from Uganda now living in Atlanta. His father was a soap-maker, and Mr. Kayongo is following in his footsteps, but with a nonprofit twist: he cleans and reprocesses discarded used soap bars from American hotels and ships them to Africa. He started the Global Soap Project, a U.S.-based non-profit organization, to do this.

An inspiring story of someone trying to turn waste into something good. That of course is great, and I like the ingenuity. And I admire how Mr. Kayongo has managed to navigate both the nonprofit and corporate space to figure out how to mobilize people to contribute the soap, and to coordinate delivery to people in need.

But is the best solution here really half-used soap?

Why Ranking Charities by Administrative Expenses is a Bad Idea

How does one know whether a charitable donation will make an impact? For this we need a simple formula (easy to write, hard to apply):

Idea X Implementation = Bang for your buck

When I give talks about aid effectiveness, people often comment that they too think this is important. And to make sure they are supporting good charities, they always hone in on the charities' finances to see how much goes to administrative and fundraising expenses. Charity Navigator, for example, scrubs these numbers and doles out stars to charities that don’t spend “too” much on operations.

Given the title of my book with Jacob Appel, More Than Good Intentions, many assume that they are speaking my language, and that I admire such focus on those numbers too.

But I do not. Those numbers do not tell you what is really happening.

Winners of Heart + Mind Donations Contest

Earlier I ran a contest for two free copies of More Than Good Intentions. The quick summary: we ran a randomized trial to test whether employing the use of statistics, and worse yet scientific evidence, would raise more or less money when added to a standard emotional appeal in a direct mail marketing solicitation for donations for Freedom from Hunger (a charity I respect and do research with). We split the analysis by size of prior gift. The Freakonomics contest then asked two questions:

Deciding How to Decide: Taste-Matching Or Expert-Based?

This blog post is co-authored with Jacob Appel, co-author of my recent book, More Than Good Intentions.

Among the many questions David Gomberg and Justin Heimberg pose in their hilarious book Would You Rather is the following:

“Would you rather…

Become increasingly intelligent with the consumption of alcohol, but also become increasingly convinced you are Gloria Estefan


Have a firm grasp of Roman numerals but look exactly like Weird Al Yankovic?”

Well, that’s a tough one. Seriously. It’s a classic problem of apples and oranges—or maybe, given the absurdity of the alternatives, a problem of apples and, say, cut-off jeans shorts—two things that are thoroughly incommensurable. Fortunately, those are not real choices.

Heart + Mind? Or Just Heart? Experiments in Aid Effectiveness (And a Contest!)

When signing our book, More Than Good Intentions, Jacob Appel and I often sign “Heart + Mind = Good Giving.” Nobody argues with the premise that we should act with compassion, but be smart about it. Of course nobody would ever say they do not care about the effectiveness of the charity they support.

But in practice, does evidence about charitable effectiveness impact donations? Or does the presentation of dorky evidence turn off the emotions that cause us to donate in the first place?

How to Attack Global Poverty? More Than Good Intentions Authors Answer Your Questions

Dean Karlan of Yale, and Jacob Appel of Innovations for Poverty Action answer reader questions on how to tackle global poverty.

Part Two, Contest Results: Piers Morgan and PETA Take on GoDaddy CEO (or the other way around?)

Last week's post about Bob Parsons, CEO and Founder of GoDaddy, and his face-off against Piers Morgan and PETA over hunting elephants in Zimbabwe generated a lot of comments. Dean Karlan offers a follow-up, choosing a winner for the best comment, and delving further into the debate on whether elephants in Zimbabwe are endangered or if their population needs culling.

Piers Morgan and PETA Take on GoDaddy CEO (Or the Other Way Around?)

Bob Parsons, CEO and Founder of GoDaddy, faces off against Piers Morgan and PETA in a recent video. The issue is simple: Parsons went to Labola, Zimbabwe and killed an elephant, and proudly posted video and photos online. Why? Parsons claims a herd of elephants were wreaking havoc with the crops of local villagers, and that the meat from the killed elephant could feed an African village (literally). I’m guessing (although I’m not sure I care, and he does not say this) that he also is a hunter, and maybe enjoyed the process of the hunt.

World Water Day: Nudges for Safe Water

What if a simple ‘nudge’ could massively increase the use of safe water in poor countries?

Today is World Water Day, a day to raise awareness for something we take for granted in America: clean water. Normally I yawn at Hallmark-meets-poverty-program type publicity stunts. Reminds me of many a microcredit “awareness” campaign that paraded superstar microentrepreneurs on a stage, ignoring the need for rigorous evidence to find out if microcredit actually works.

Was Microsoft Wrong to "Use" the Japanese Earthquake for Marketing?

This past weekend, Microsoft tried to do a little good (donate $100,000) and use that good to market Bing.