So which charity should a libertarian donate to?

From a reader here:

I\’ve set aside a sum of money for charitable donation this year and I\’m looking for a suitable charity.  I want to avoid the usual bunch of lobbyists and fake charities and instead donate to a group who make some measurable difference in the third world.  I\’ve been thinking about the millions who die each year of inhaling smoke from cooking fires, though malaria and drinking water are other obvious areas.
Does anyone know of charities that do not lobby, are not partially funded by governments and NGOs and make practical changes to the lives of the World\’s poor?
Any ideas? Here in the UK it\’s obvious, RNLI. But that\’s not really doing much for the third world poor.
Perhaps one of the peer to peer lenders? It\’s not quite the same, but development would help all of those points.
Ideas (and links!) in comments please.

27 thoughts on “So which charity should a libertarian donate to?”

  1. How about It provides micro finance to small business people in developing countries. You see the individuals you lend to and the impetus to repay the loan helps keep their business plan on track. You can keep lending as money is paid back. Seems good choice for a libertarian.

  2. Medecins Sans Frontieres and WaterAid are my favourites. I think both get some government money, because some governments will give money to good charities and good charities will accept it. MSF has views on pharmaceutical patents which might be seen as political.

    Tim adds: Water Aid was one at the back of my mind. But I seem to recall that the actual management of it is the usual barking Trots. I’m pretty sure it’s them that I’ve had a go at after being astonished at the naivety of their political thinking and public advocacy.

  3. I chose MSF because they explicitly state that they keep out of politics. You could also take a step back and donate to the Singularity Institute to bring a swifter end to death and suffering altogether. 🙂

  4. This is going to be controversial, but I recommend the Carter Center. Yes, Jimmy Carter. It’s for one specific reason – they are on the verge of eradicating Guinea worm, which is one of the most awfully debilitating parasites you can get. They’ve got a plan, they’ve had good results so far, and the money goes to squashing outbreaks before they spread. Each year there are less and less outbreaks, so they’re doing something right.

    As a president he was useless, as an ex-president he’s pretty useless too, but in this specific case he’s improved the lives of millions.

    About the disease:

  5. Alternatively there’s the armed forces, who have probably done more to solve third world poverty than any NGO. Send some soldiers a care package.

  6. I can second the suggestion for MSF. A friend of mine took a year out from her career in Shell with the intention of improving lives in the developing world. She approached several charities, including UNICEF, and she got quite far because she speaks a whole rack of languages. But the reason she chose to do her year in Zimbabwe with MSF was because they actually get on the ground and get shit done, whereas she got the impression, through research of her own, that a lot of the main charities just campaign, usually out of swanky offices in 3rd world capitals. With MSF she built a school, quite literally with her hands. There was no place for lefty idealists who wanted something trendy on there CV but didn’t want to get their hands dirty.

    So I’d go with MSF.

  7. Probably do more good just to invest it in African owned startups

    All the charities sort of have a vested interest in not really helping, you don’t exactly see them campaigning against the CAP.

    @ Mathew L

    Oddly enough I can believe that, Carter wrote the foreword for this book

    basically its pro-GM, so I think he does have some ability to see the wood through the trees unlike most lefties

  8. DrMakkajaz: Agree on the vested interest thing. That’s why I like the disease eradication ones, their stated goal is to render themselves redundant and they’ll proudly announce it if they do. A well defined end point makes all the difference.

  9. The Leprosy Mission
    Yes, there is still a lot of leprosy because there are misguided fears so it doesn’t get diagnosed and treated soon enough.
    Those cured of the disease are often left with permanent injuries and shunned by neighbours. TLM not only cures Leprosy sufferers but provides them with a safe environment where they can earn a living despite their injuries.
    Look it up: TLM ticks all the boxes in the request. Practical Action ticks most boxes, including the cooking fire one but not all.

  10. We’re thinking too grand here – in my day job we work with over 800 groups in just one borough. Within these are dozens of local charities – village halls, paths groups, sports clubs, youth groups and residents associations. Rather than give to some grand internation organisation, why not have a look at the place you live?

  11. While I don’t particularly like some charities (being in the field myself), I have to second Simon Cooke. Plenty of groups that can make a difference, groups that get little or no help from local or national government. The sort of places you never hear about because they are simply working away.
    The local council for voluntary action (CVA) should be able to direct anyone in the direction of particular groups if they have a specific type of thing they want to support.

    I’ve a soft spot for RNLI, Samaritans and a couple of local groups doing quiet but difficult work.

  12. An American one, but saw Charity: Water mentioned elsewhere recently. They guarantee 100% of donations go to water projects* and give you the GPS coordinates & photos of what it is you’ve helped fund.

    They have a separate means of funding their overheads, which seems to be various charitable foundations and donations-in-kind.

  13. Gosh

    I thought I’d be alone.

    I had a friend out in Thailand when the tsunami hit. These guys were on the ground within 24 hours. 3 days later when he got back to Bangkok, all the luxury hotels and restaurants were fully booked as all the charities and the UN mulled over what they should do next.

  14. The RNLI? You must be joking. Even the normally supine Charities Commission has expressed concern about its hoarded cash.

    I’m not generally a fan of Clare Short, but as Secretary of State for International Development she did pursue a results-driven strategy and aid to Ethiopia emerged as particularly effective.

  15. Charities are allowed hoarded cash. Particularly if buying really expensive stuff like boats and kit for boats.
    The charities that survive recession tend to be ones with sufficient income to keep going too – and hoarded cash can give some sort of income.

    If we are on about hoarded cash for a charity, how about about £14 billion for one? Is that too much? Wellcome Trust – funds some stuff to a degree only the national lottery can match per year.

  16. Kiva looked a bit odd. Round sum loans in dollars (being used to buy a cow in a poor country), loan actually handled by a middleman agency.

    In the ones I looked at the loan had already been made by the middleman who was seeking to lay it off to us.

    That looks like the money is going to the middlemen, who are using past borrowers as poster boys to attract more funds.

  17. There are two great charities I know for the libertarian who demands effective remedy and not bleeding hearts.


    This lot spend money on low-cost but broad measures, like de-worming, that are otherwise neglected, especially when people go for the emotional-impact-children-are-dying charities in too high numbers and ignore ‘lower grade’ efforts like this.


    This one allows you to make microloans to third world entrepeneurs, usually to build up their business to benefit from economies-of-scale efficiency. You do this in chunks of about $25.

    While you don’t get paid any interest, there is only a 2% default rate, and after nine months or so you should have it all back. Then you can either withdraw it or loan it again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *