August 9, 2022
Not All Charities Are Equal
Charles Bresler says not all charities are equal, and some charities can be hundreds or even thousands of times more impactful than others. He tells you about a great way to the most for your money in this week’s podcast.
Here are some important moments with Charles Bresler from the podcast:
At 3:19 Tell us what the problem is, and what are you doing to make it better?
At 10:25 With all the problems we have in this country, why do we want our charitable dollars going to other places in the world?
At 16:46 What are the biggest obstacles you face in making things better?
Here are some ways to follow and contact Charles Bresler:
Here’s how you can follow the Tell Us How to Make It Better podcast:
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Thanks for listening!
Again, you can go on and on about this, but in the end, the question of whether charity begins at home or charity begins with people in the most need, where you can do the most good is a personal question, but we're trying to get out the idea that you can do a tremendous amount a month and that your money will reach the people who need it. That it won't be gobbled up by a corrupt dictator or charitable administration. And that's what we're, we're trying to do.George Siegal:
I'm George Siegal, and this is the, Tell Us How to Make It Better podcast. Every week, we introduce you to people who are working on real world problems and providing actual solutions. Tell Us How to Make It Better is partnering with The Readiness Lab, the home for podcasts, webinars, and training in the field of emergency and disaster services. Hi everybody. Thank you so much for joining me on this. Week's Tell Us How to Make It Better podcast. Every week on this podcast, I try to introduce you to someone who in their life or in their job has identified a problem and is doing something to try to make it better. Well, today we're gonna talk about charitable giving. In the United States in just the last year, 2021, over $484 billion was donated to various charities. And that raises the question. Do you know where that money actually went and how it's being used? Well, that's one of the things we're gonna talk about today. Charlie Bressler is the co-founder of The Life You Can Save a non-profit dedicated to making smart, giving simple by recommending charities that save or improve the most lives per dollar. And prior to co-founding the life you can save charlie served as the former president of men's warehouse before stepping down in 2008 to pursue socially oriented work. Charlie also has a PhD in social and clinical psychology. Charlie. Welcome.Charles Bresler:
Thank you very much for having me on your podcast. IGeorge Siegal:
appreciate you coming on as I was looking over your background and we both lived in Fresno, California for a while. So right. And you're in ICharles Bresler:
taught graduate school there and started an anxiety and stress disorders clinic. It seems like ages ago, but yes, I think it was back in 1985 that we moved there.George Siegal:
I was there then I was working at think K J E O as the weatherman at the TV station there. SoCharles Bresler:
you mean, you got to say hot and hotter andGeorge Siegal:
hottest or something like that. Exactly and do the raisin drying forecast, which was yeah. Right. Highlight for me. Anyway, before we get started, wanna ask you a couple questions just so people can find out something about you. They might not already know. What is your favorite movie of all time? Best film.Charles Bresler:
I would say The Constant Gardener. Okay.George Siegal:
That's good. And then if, if I said to you, okay, today, I'm, I'm making you your last meal. What would you have?Charles Bresler:
Spaghetti and clam sauce. Although, I think I would have a, I would lose my appetite in terms of eating it. If I knew it was my last meal, I've never understood these prisoners who eat their last meal with res that's probably not me.George Siegal:
I agree. I'd probably pass on that. I'd be shaking too much and just, you know, cryingCharles Bresler:
in a corner. But anyway, yes, spaghetti and clams sauce would be the clear winner.George Siegal:
Okay. All right. Well, what is the issue that you have been working on the problem you've identified and tell us what you're doing to make it better?Charles Bresler:
The problem that we've identified is twofold. People do not give to the highest impact cost effective nonprofits. They tend to give without doing much research, they tend to give to their friends, or they give to a large charity like the American cancer society, American heart association that maybe a family member has died of that illness or their particularly compassionate about that. All of these are really good ways to donate, but they're not nearly as effective or create as much impact as helping people living in extreme poverty in the developing world where a dollar goes the furthest. So we've identified the fact. We're not the only one to identify it that only about 6% of American donations, which account for almost 300 billion dollars go internationally. And of the 6% that go internationally a lot don't go to the places where your money will most easily reach the recipients and do the most good. So we answer the question. How can you do the most good with your charitable dollars without in any way saying that what you're doing is wrong. But what we're trying to do is encourage people to diversify their giving so that they consider giving in the highest impact most cost effective way. So that's the problem we've identified. And we have a lot of content, including a book by Peter singer called The Life You Can Save the same name is our nonprofit that people can download for free on our website. And there's also a celebrity read audiobook so they can download the ebook or the celebrity read audiobook, which is read by people like Kristen Bell and Paul Simon and Steven Fry. Each read a chapter. So we try to make it attractive to people, to listen to these ideas and begin to engage in them and we are, one of our goals is to distribute those video, those excuse me, those eBooks and audiobooks worldwide. And we're translating The LIfe You Can Save the book into many, many languages and, and, and trying to develop partnerships that will distribute our content so that people become more aware of the issue of extreme poverty and how to ameliorate it.George Siegal:
Yeah, it's very confusing from a, a, from this end to say, when you, when you see all the problems in the world, all the things that are going on. And so many people are asking for money and donations, it's confusing to know where you should give your money or how you should do it. It's almost overwhelming. And then you also feel like you're getting ripped off when you see 'em on social media sites, that, that somebody's trying to scam you.Charles Bresler:
Well, I think it is. It is, it is confusing. And some of the potentially highest impact interventions you have, for example, changing policies that you think are keeping the world from being a better place are very hard to measure their effectiveness. So what we focus on are interventions that are relatively easy to measure their effectiveness, their cost effectiveness, and make sure that the money gets to the beneficiaries. We're not saying they're the only things that people could donate to that would be of value, but they're the things that can be measured currently that will demonstrate the most value and have the highest likelihood of doing good.George Siegal:
Now, how do you say this problem affects people's lives? What is the the direct effect of people?Charles Bresler:
Well, living, living in extreme poverty has a tremendous number of effects. As you can imagine, by extreme poverty we talk about living on a dollar 90 U.S. Per day, and that's not what a U.S. Dollar would buy say in Kenya or Uganda. It's what the equivalent of a dollar 90 in Kenya and Uganda will buy in that country. So it's very, very little money. And so what is restricted is access to adequate healthcare because of lack of money or lack of education. Women lack any kind of economic empowerment relative to even the advantages that women have in the developing world. There's, there's tremendous amount of malaria in many of these issues, which is generally both treatable as well as preventable. There's a lack of economic opportunity, particularly for women and girls and educational opportunity. So what we're trying to do is address that through the charities that we recommend and all of them in one way or another are doing an excellent job and have proven effectiveness in ameliorating those problems. So it's a way for donors. To easily find a way to do good and to make people's lives better. As you can imagine, living in extreme poverty in either an urban or rural environment where you have inadequate access to clean water healthcare or any kind of economic opportunity is actually difficult. For example, In South Africa, which is probably the wealthiest currently the wealthiest country in Sub-Saharan Africa. There's 35% unemployment. And if you consider even the people that are looking for jobs have stopped looking for jobs, that number grows to 46%. So the number of problems are massive, but the solutions, believe it or not are relatively simple through these, these nonprofits, it doesn't solve extreme poverty, but it goes a long way towards improving the lives of people who are living in extreme poverty. So that's why I have found it incredibly satisfying the last nine years to be a part of this effort and to donate a considerable amount of our own personal net worth, because it allows me to feel like I'm doing something in a world where frankly, I think most of us feel helpless and confused a lot of the time and have a really hard time of knowing how to intervene. We recently added climate change non-profits three of them where you can contribute to what might be the currently the world's biggest problem. One that is affecting Americans directly as well, even more people living in extreme poverty. But of course, when you contribute to a climate change program, you don't immediately get to measure the impact as much as if you buy a bed net. Or you allows a woman to get an obstetric fistula surgery. So some people like the idea of higher level interventions that you can't really measure, but have tremendous impact when they work or they want high impact cost effective interventions that can be measured. So we give people an opportunity to do both.George Siegal:
Now when you watch cable news you see these, those 60 or 90 second commercials that show people, starving people, suffering in different places in the world. And they'll tell you for 19 cents a day or whatever, you can help feed people. But then I, I hear people say, well, what about all the hungry people here? What about all the homeless people and people in poverty in the United States? So how do you balance who you help?Charles Bresler:
I think that's a really good question. We start with the premise that all things being equal all lives are of equal value. That doesn't mean that for example, my life is as important as my granddaughter's life because she's only three years old and she has a lot more life ahead of her. So I think her life in my mind is worth more than my life. But same age and all we say that people's lives are equal value. So the reason that we decide that we are going to help both my wife and I, but the people who donate to our charity and is the most important thing to do right now is because we can help way more of those people then we could through donating here. Let me give you one example. It costs about 40,000 U.S. Dollars to train a guide dog to assist a blind person for about seven years, which I think by the way, of course, if you were blind or I was blind, we would wanna guide dog, but $40,000 is a lot of money. It costs only $50 to cure a child of congenital cataracts through Fred Hollow's foundation with sava two of our recommended non-profits. So on the one hand for $50, you can cure a young child of blindness or for $40,000 you can facilitate a blind, blind guide dog for someone in the United States who can't afford one. They're both incredibly important. But the magnitude of help you can do in the developing world is a lot greater. So how do you balance that? I think it's a personal philosophical choice, but my own belief is that right now we are way outta whack in valuing domestic lives more. It also is. I mean, another way to look at it is if you look at affordable housing, which is a tremendous problem, In the cities that I'm surrounded by. And I imagine most of our, your listeners are living in with homeless people and people having difficulty finding houses, mortgage rates are going up young people can't afford to buy a house, let alone have a down payment for renting an apartment. But my daughter who works in for affordable housing policy as her career finds that it not only costs about $30,000 per unit to get a homeless family into a unit, but that costs a tremendous amount annually in supportive services. So Again, you can go on and on about this, but in the end, the question of whether charity begins at home or charity begins with people in the most need, where you can do the most good is a personal question, but we're trying to get out the idea that you can do a tremendous amount of money and that your money will reach the people who need it, that it won't be gobbled up by a corrupt dictator or charitable administration. And that's what we're, we're trying to do.George Siegal:
I don't know how anyone can afford an apartment or, or even get a lease for one, if you don't have somebody co-sign for you because of, it's. Yeah.Charles Bresler:
It's, it's really crazy. So I'm not trying to deny the problems that we have domestically they're massive, or even the problems we have internationally which we're all seeing. But I came from a background where I was really interested in structural policy solutions to wealth inequality and got frustrated at a pretty early age with how I was going to make a difference and have a marginal impact on changing things. And so when I much too late in my life probably came back to wanting to do something of social value. I said, gee, I, I may not be able to change everybody's lives. But I know through these nonprofits, I can change one person's life and then more. And that's why The Constant Gardener, by the way, is my favorite movie. There's a wonderful line in that movie. When Rachel Weiss's husband, Ralph Feins turns to her and says, cuz they're an Africa and she's taking a lot of risk. She said, you can't save all these people's life. And she said, I know, but I can save one. And so rather than working early on in my youth to try to change policy I've come around to the idea of making meaningful high impact change through Changing thousands or, or tens of thousands of people's lives, but not necessarily believing that the structural change, which I think is absolutely necessary is going to occur through my actions. So I think all of us need to look at what our, where our, what we call our marginal impact, where we can make the most difference. And I hope that some of your listeners are convinced that they can make a huge difference, even for small amounts of money by giving to these charities and feel much more hopeful about their own value in creating a better world which is really, I think one of the things we all want to do.George Siegal:
Yeah. I mean, I would think that would actually, in some ways, work to your organization's advantage because we don't feel we have an impact in anything today. We're so frustrated that nothing I do is gonna make a difference. So if you know, something's going directly to somebody to benefit them, that that probably helps get people involved.Charles Bresler:
Well, it's certainly, I say to Peter Singer who wrote the book, The Life You Can Save. Arguably the world's most famous philosopher, certainly the most impactful at this point, I say to Peter, sometimes I feel like the life I'm saving is not other people's lives, but my own that's dramatic and that's not totally true because it's not the only place I get meaning in my life through my work, but it is tremendously empowering and helps me deal with the lack of optimism that current situation in the world, engenders. And frankly, it's been the situation most of the years that I've been alive. There have been, we go from one apparent final crisis to another, but clearly things are seeming to get worse with the five largest, most powerful countries in the world, all being problematic in terms of their own policies, including our own. So regardless of your politics, there are things you can do to make a big difference. And you can't escape that fact. And just tell yourself that everything's hopeless, cuz that that's not a very productive thing to.George Siegal:
So, what are the biggest obstacles that you face in, in making things better?Charles Bresler:
The biggest obstacle is raising money and convincing people that the very thing that I'm talking about right now, our charities that we recommend will deliver what they promise to deliver. We're sure of that. The Life You Can Save, if you donate to us directly for increasing our penetration throughout the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia will definitely develop, deliver multiple, like over the last several years, we've basically raised $17 for every dollar we've spent trying to spread the word and increased donations to our recommended nonprofits. So we can do it. Not because we're genius, but because we've curated these great charities and But the biggest problem we face is convincing people that they shouldn't give to a relatively ineffective nonprofit, or that they should give it all. A lot of people don't want to give. It's amazing how little people want to give necessarily compared to what they could give. Particularly rich people. I'm extremely impressed when somebody who has a family income of $35,000 a year gives away $300. But I'm not as impressed when Bill Gates gives away 20 billion because he still left with billions and billions of dollars for himself, his grandchildren and his children. And so I think what really impresses me is when normal working people or middle class people give a little bit of money in a highly effective way, but we also need to get the mega rich to give their fair share or, or at least a portion of their fair share to these great nonprofits that can do good. So I, I know that bill gates and Warren buffet and all those people get a lot of positive press for their philanthropic activities. And I applaud them, but I'm really impressed by people who have normal incomes who give a little bit like 1% of their, of their income. That that's incredible.George Siegal:
Now how damaging is it to a, to any nonprofit? And we won't name the ones that are in the news that are, that, that are, that have bad publicity. But when you find out that people are maybe not using the money properly, what does that do to the whole group of nonprofits? When people go, wow, I just don't know where my money's going, because I see somebody living really well off of it. And I don't see it going to the people that need it.Charles Bresler:
Well, I think that it's damaging. And one of the things we're trying to counteract is by curating these nonprofits that get the money to the right people, we try to increase people's security that when they donate the money, it'll actually do what we say it will do, and that they can do their own research. But It is damaging to the sector because I think many of us, myself included are looking for excuses to support our own families or to support our own communities or to just buy more material goods that really don't enhance the quality of our life. I like to think that there's a certain level you get to in life where the most effective thing you can do is facilitating other people. So I think that when a nonprofits or create some scandal, Then I think it gives people a readily available excuse to do less. Just like the hopelessness in the world gives people an excuse to throw up their hands and say, oh, I can't change who the governor of Florida is, or I can't change what the Supreme court has done. So what I'm gonna do is just focus on my own family or my own wellbeing. And I think focusing on your family and your wellbeing is important, but I think a critical part of that wellbeing is being a good global citizen, which means helping the people that you can help, who really need it the most.George Siegal:
Yeah, I think we see it every year when we have natural disasters in this country and then all these charities pop up that are raising money to help the victims. And it's almost overwhelming. And so sometimes you, I, I know I sit there paralyzed going, which organization can I give this money to that's actually going to get to those people that are, that just lost their home, that are just displaced or lost their jobs? So it's, it's really tough as the, the people who, from the end of the people that want to give money?Charles Bresler:
It is. And that's the problem we're trying to solve, which is to say there are these humane crises going on all the time that can be solved. So if you're struggling to figure out which charity to give, when a hurricane or a tsunami occurs or a volcano, you actually can give your money all the time, including at that time to charities that are doing actually more good, as hard as it is to accept than the ones that are advertising in the wake of a disaster, because they're unfortunately chronic disaster with 730 million people and growing because of COVID. Living in extreme poverty. But if you look at that number, it's come down dramatically over the last 30 years and only COVID has caused it to go up again. But I think there's a lot we can do, but I understand the compelling, the desire to help people who are right in front of you or who the media brings right in front of you, because it's, let's face it. In spite of those commercials, you alluded to, we don't really have good coverage of what it's like on a day to day basis to have to walk 10 miles to get clean water or to have your child get diarrhea and die of diarrhea because they don't have clean water and they don't have access to simple treatments like hydration therapy. So there's my message here today is the world is a difficult place. Things don't seem to be getting better, but there are things you can do and really securely feel. You can feel secure that your money is doing a lot of good and you can't hide behind the fact that there's nothing you can do because there is a lot you can do, but there's also a lot you can't do. And the question is which one are you gonna choose?George Siegal:
So as The Life You Can Save is, is, is vetting these or finding the, the non-profits that you guys think are good. If you see a really bad one, do you shine a spotlight that spotlight on that and tell people run from this, or is there a way to, to weed out the bad ones or you just kind of move on and go to gravitate toward.Charles Bresler:
We try to, we try to support the ones we think it's enough to support the ones that are really great through our website at The Life You Can Save.org where you can give to those charities, right on the website. And a hundred percent of the donations that we get go to the charities that we support. We don't take any fees for those donations. So if you donate with a credit card, yes, there'll be a credit card fee. But if you donate by check, for example, there a hundred percent of the money you donate to any one of these charities goes directly to the charity. Unless you designate it for The Life You Can Save itself, cuz you want to get the leverage by giving to The Life You Can Save so we can raise even more money. So so there, yeah, so that's, that's the situation.George Siegal:
What advice would you have for people who have an idea or, or something that they wanna do? I mean, you seem very entrepreneurial in the things you've done in your life. What would you tell people that are just not quite moving on what they wanna do to, to get them in the game to get them to move forward?Charles Bresler:
I believe in joining with other people who have similar ideas, not trying to reinvent the wheel. So if you're interested in cause X or cause Y try to do a fair amount of research to see if there's anybody out there, who's doing a good job with that. If there isn't anybody out there doing a good job with what you want to do, then I encourage you to just jump into the water and really try to figure out the most effective way to implement what you want to do. Don't be paralyzed by not by not knowing exactly what to do, but also recognize that if what you're looking to do is make an impact. There are many already existing ways, as I've talked about where you could make a tremendous impact and you can also volunteer. I've been volunteering for The Life You Can Save for the last nine years. And I was fortunate enough. I was lucky to, to do well in business, after a career in psychology so I can afford to volunteer. Not everybody can afford to volunteer full time, like I've been doing, but most people can afford to spend five hours, particularly if they're contemplating starting their own organization or non-profit. So, one thing you can do is find an organization like The Life You Can Save if you have a skill. Volunteer for a while and see if you like this type of work and whether you want to continue to do this, or you wanna act on your idea, but in general, I am, I am surprisingly because I wasn't like this when I was younger, I am surprisingly entrepreneurial and I believe that people should should act on their ideas, but also be aware. It's sometimes their negative downstream impact of what they're trying to do. Like food subsidies in the developing world, which can decrease agricultural prices. So a lot of good ideas don't turn out to be as good downstream. I wouldn't be paralyzed by that, but I would consult with people who know a lot about this kind of work who may give you some guidance, but most of all I think it's really important for people to get engaged and start trying to do really good things with their lives and try not focus on what the hopelessness and focus on the few things that you can do that are incredibly impactful, including maybe your own idea.George Siegal:
Right. So give us the website again, and then are there other ways people can follow you on social media or, or get in touch with you?Charles Bresler:
Yeah, you can follow us on various social media platforms. All of them, frankly, the life you can save on Facebook and Instagram. But the best way to begin to learn about us is to go to our website, the life you can save.org and perhaps download the book it's free the audio book or the ebook. And then you can also, if you're interested in really discussing this, you can contact me directly. At Charlie at the life, you can save.org. And you might it's C H a R L I E. At the life you can save.org and I will respond to you. And if I'm not the right person to answer your question or to help you, then I will try to direct you to the person who can, or if we have nobody on our staff who can help you, I'll let you know directly that we can't help you that won't so there's a number of ways to get in touch with us. And I will refer you to, to the right person. But yeah, so that's probably the best way to examine us, but I definitely encourage people to spend 15 to 20 minutes going over our website.George Siegal:
Absolutely. I I think that's a great suggestion. So, Hey Charlie, thank you so much for coming on this morning. I know you got up early to do this. I appreciate your time and continued success. I mean, it's for a guy who's retired, it sounds like you're still working harder than ever.Charles Bresler:
Yeah, I don't think of myself as retired. I think of myself as incredibly lucky that the way our, I don't think it's great. The way our system rewards senior executives at the expense of other people who are contributing. But I was lucky enough to make enough money that I could afford to not retire, but to do this work. Donate a lot of money to, to get this charity going. But I think of it as a huge opportunity that my wife and I have had. And my wife is a retired physician. She did retire because of COVID a year and a half or two years ago. Although she volunteers at a free clinic now that we've been vaccinated, but Yeah, I think, I think I'm really lucky, but I think everybody can do something and I highlight those people who give give a hundred dollars or $300 who make very little money. But I also think I'm appealing, if there are mega rich people who are listening to your show and they're wondering what they can do with their wealth, believe me, they should get in touch with me. And at least I can give them lots of guidances to what I think they can do. With the privilege they have without hurting their children or their grandchildren, or even their own communities, if they wanna support their own communities. And we've been fortunate enough to talk to billionaires over the last nine years about some of these ideas, which is where some of the significant money that we raised comes from with are, from people who have a lot of money, both a lot of money and a little money. By the way Peter Singer, who wrote the book. I just wanted to say in conclusion, won a prize for one of the, for one of the most. I'm just gonna say it's called the Bruin prize for being one of the most impactful humanitarians in the world. Lots of other, very famous people have won that award. And this year he won, he got a million dollars and he immediately donated a hundred percent of the money. 500,000 to The Life You Can Save to help continue our operation. 350,000 to animal charities and 150,000, our subscribers wrote it on where to give it the, and he's a philosophy professor. He's not a wealthy person, but he feels that the marginal impact of those dollars would be greater doing what he did. So he definitely walks the talk. And I, I just wanted to mention that. So I think there are things youGeorge Siegal:
can do. Absolutely. Hey, thanks, Charlie. Appreciate you coming on. Thank you. Thanks for havingCharles Bresler:
me onGeorge Siegal:
the show. Thank you for listening to this week's Tell Us How to Make It Better podcast. All the information to get in touch with Charlie and get to the website for the life you can save are in the show notes. And there's also a link to a contact form. If you have any ideas for future shows or thoughts about the show you were just listening to I always love to hear from you. Thanks again for listening. See you next time.