Saturday, January 24, 2009

Rant against charitable organizations (and solution)

I happen to be an highly optimistic person. That's a good thing.

Sometimes, my less optimistic friends think the world is a terrible place to live in. Thankfully, they're wrong, so I can cheer them up by pointing out solutions to the problems they perceive. Given this ability, I think I'd make a great volunteer at one of those teen help hotlines. The problem is, none of them wants my help! Well, none that I could find in my area, anyway.

You see, I never donate to charitable organizations. I think it's dumb to give an organization money so that someone else can help people out and get paid for it. I say, cut the middle man! Let me give you a hand instead.

And you know what they replied? "Great, we do have some volunteer positions available. Your task would be to call people and ask them for donations. Interested?"

They really don't want us concerned citizens to help. Like everybody else, they just want our money.

And of course, being the resourceful optimist that I am, I've got a solution to that. And of course, being the enthusiastic developer that I am, my solution involves building a website.

An ordinary charitable organization would use its website to tell you about its plans for solving the problems of the world, and to request your "help" (that is, your money) for implementing that plan. On my hypothetical website, I would ask you about your plan for solving the problems of the world. And I would show you the plans of the other users, so you can contact them and contribute if you think the plan is worth trying.

Most importantly, the plans would be highly detailed. Where ordinary charitable organizations would merely draw a pie chart showing how they allocate your money, our plans would tell you exactly which actions we want to see performed, and why each action contributes to (a sub-goal which contributes to a sub-goal which contributes to) resolving the issue at hand, say, "ending world hunger".

One of the reasons for using such detailed plans is to convince visitors that our plan will actually succeed. I think there is a tendency to assume that, by default, big organizations know what they are doing, and we can't compete with that bias unless we show that we know what we are doing.

And for those of us who don't know what we're doing, we can always ask for the help of our creative contributors. As a project grows, it should become more and more complete, more and more plausible, and attract more and more contributors. If it doesn't, then it probably wasn't a very good idea to begin with.

The other reason for writing highly detailed plans is to keep track of progress. At the most-detailed level, a plan should consist of concrete actions which individuals can perform. That way, resourceful visitors who are convinced by a plan will be able to contribute by performing the concrete action, and ticking it off as completed.

The idea of empowering the community by replacing big organizations with self-organizing teams of volunteers is not new; I've merely translated existing ideas from the world of software to the world of charity. What I'm promoting, it seems, could be called Open Source Charity. (or "Open Plan", perhaps?)

And what this means, is you don't even have to wait for me to implement the aforementioned website. If you have an idea that could change the world, then just use your favourite issue tracking system, and start organizing issues into a concrete plan. Easy enough, right? The world has plenty of good things as it is, like I've claimed.

Well, have fun making the world a better place. Good luck!


gelisam said...

Eliezer Yudkowsky would disaprove of my whining.

gelisam said...

more disaproval from Eliezer.

gelisam said...

Now that I have more money and less free time, my views on charity have changed. I am now quite happy to give money to charities, and I am glad that helping is as easy as giving them some of that extra money I don't need, as opposed to volunteering and giving them some of that precious free time.

I still think that such a website would be pretty cool, for those of us who do want to volunteer time instead of money, but I'm not going to be the one building it. I'd rather spend my precious free time elsewhere!