To be a better philanthropist, think like a poker player

Raising money for charity is one thing. Knowing where to give it is another. When some charities are 100 times more effective than others, a world champion poker player knows how to spot who's bluffing.

Liv Boeree: So effective altruism is basically applying the scientific method and evidence and analysis to the whole concept of charity. 

It's about sort of looking in the world—you know, the world has a gazillion problems, a lot of them are very, very bad, but some are easier to solve than others, some are cheaper to solve than others, and so there are some sort of actions that we can take that are more effective than others in reducing suffering or increasing the happiness in the world. 

And effective altruism is basically about identifying: what are those methods of improving the world as quickly as possible and as effectively as possible.

So within the community, there are sort of teams of analysts looking at these problems and figuring out the best interventions, the best charities that are out there, and then raising awareness of it. 

Picking a charity is tough, and the things to look for—I guess to start with, is the cause area in itself neglected? 

There's countless different problems in the world and some of them are far more researched or receive a lot more funding than others, and similarly there are some problems that are actually—that there's just a ton more room for funding, where your money can make a very big difference. 

So that's the first thing to look for: if it's neglected.

Next thing is: is the charity that you're going to donate for giving you the maximum bang for your buck? Will it help the most people per dollar that's donated? 

Another thing to look for is: are the results that it is likely to generate measurable? Because if we can't measure what the charity is doing, well, then we just don't really know how effective it is. So yeah those are sort of some key indicators to look for. 

Also: is the charity transparent? Not all charities that aren't completely transparent—it doesn't mean that they're necessarily bad, but at the same time if they're doing very sort of actionable positive things then they should be able to demonstrate that clearly. Those are sort of the four key points I'd look for. 

Since starting to play poker about ten years ago I've been so fortunate with my results and the opportunities that I've been given through it, but after a while I started realizing I should probably be doing something else with this. Is there a way I can continue playing the game that I love but also have a more positive impact on the world? 

And at the same time some friends and I met some effective altruists who wanted to chat to us about could we fundraise through the industry. 

And after they sort of explained to me how effective altruism works, how some charities are just hundreds of times more effective than others, and the arguments were just so compelling. I was like, okay, how do we get involved? How do we do this? 

So we decided to create an organization that fundraises for these charities, called Raising for Effective Giving. “Raising” is a play on words there because… that's what you do in poker.

So we started this organization two and a half years ago, and we fundraise for about eight or so highly effective charities across a number of different cause areas. 

We have some that are direct suffering alleviation, most of those are sort of in the poverty sphere.

We fundraise for similarly the most effective animal charities and a couple of research organizations that are looking into potential existential risks (that are hopefully unlikely to happen, but if they do happen could be so catastrophic, and they're very sort of underresearched right now). 

We have quite a broad spectrum of charities that we raise for, but all of them are either highly effective or projected to be very effective. So we started it two and a half years ago. 

So far we've raised just over $2 million through the poker industry for these charities, and it's been an amazing learning experience.

Raising money for charity is one thing. Knowing where to give it is another. When some charities are 100 times more effective than others, a world champion poker player knows how to spot who's bluffing. Liv Boeree — one of the best poker players in the world — has gotten together with some other poker pros to make better decisions about giving to charity, and encourages others to look further into more transparent charities. You can find out more about Liv at www.livboeree.com.


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