Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advice for the Generous

A reader asks for recommendations about worthy charities:

Dear Dr. Mankiw,

As I draft my extensive Christmas list of unneeded items, my conscience calls me to add a favorite charity or two, which my family members could consider gifting in my name.

Still, I know that not all charities are as efficient (or proficient) at their giving. For example, I remember reading (in Easterly's White Man's Burden, I think) that there have been many less-than-perfect results in distributing free bed-nets, arguing that they are optimally delivered subsidized rather than free. While I think bed-nets are a great avenue to donate to the world's poor, there are many different organizations where someone can purchase them, and I, for one, have no idea who is the best at it.

Do you know any for market-friendly charitable-giving groups, who give bed-nets or anything else? If so, could you please post on your blog? (I think many students and other young people are interested in giving to national and international organizations but know little about how the money flows to the people.)

I hope my request isn't too vague. Happy Holidays!


I doubted that I knew enough about the topic to offer a good answer, so I passed the question on to my Harvard colleague, development economist Michael Kremer. Here is his reply:

Dear Greg,

Sure, I would be happy to make some recommendations.

If readers want to donate for nets, one good organization I have supported in the past is here. TamTam provides nets free at clinics. Personally I think this approach makes sense because charging dramatically reduces use, free distribution can help encourage mothers to come to antenatal clinics, and, like vaccines, insecticide treated nets can help interfere with disease transmission creating positive externalities. For some evidence on the first issue, see this paper.

One of the best buys out there is treating kids for worms. Two billion people have intestinal worms worldwide, including 400 million school-children. The medicine costs pennies per dose. Because the medicine is cheap and safe, but diagnosis is expensive, the World Health Organization recommends mass treatment in schools in areas of high prevalence, which can keep total costs per treated child to $0.25.

Treatment not only has medical benefits but helps kids stay in school longer. Ted Miguel and I estimate benefit/cost ratios of more than twenty to one in Kenya. Hoyt Bleakley estimates that the Rockefeller Foundation's deworming campaign in the US South in the early twentieth century added two years to average education in affected areas and that worms accounted for 20% of the income gap between the US North and South at the time.

Based on the evidence, several economists, including Esther Duflo, Kristin Forbes,and me, are involved in, and have donated to, a new group called Deworm the World. Information is available here. There is a donate button which explains how people can give.

Deworm the World will soon be a tax exempt 501(c)3 organization, but not before either the holidays or the end of the tax year. If readers are from the US and want a tax deduction, they can support Save the Children's school health efforts by clicking on the link above and going to the donate box, or if they want to more directly help Deworm the World, they can donate to Innovations for Poverty Action by going to this link and noting that the donation is for Deworm the World in the comment box.

Thanks for writing,

Thanks to Chris for asking the question and to Michael for answering it. I hope this information helps direct some charitable giving in the right direction.