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date title
2018-01-24
Philanthropy for All

A child is drowning in a pond. You could try to save the child, but your clothes will get dirty in the process. Should you do it anyway?

This question comes from a philosophy paper called Famine, Affluence, and Morality by Peter Singer. Most people would probably answer with an enthusiastic yes, deciding that the life of the child outweighs the damage to the clothes. Singer encourages us to think about other, less obvious ways that we can do a lot of good without having to sacrifice much. In particular, philanthropy now allows us to fund solutions to important problems, even when the problems are farther away or more abstract than a drowning child.

Singer’s frame of thinking has stuck with me. It’s hard to ignore the fact that I can contribute towards improving the world without reducing my own standard of living significantly or at all. If I can afford to get a beer with dinner, surely I can afford to donate money towards alleviating poverty, financing clean water projects, or improving access to education.

I was fortunate enough to land a well paying job coming out of college. At the risk of sounding sanctimonious, I eventually realized I was making far more money than I needed. I did some research but couldn’t find a platform for getting involved in philanthropy that I was happy with, so I decided to quit my job and start Sublime Fund with the help of some friends. Right now, it’s a website where people can set up recurring donations to all the causes that they want to support, creating a sort of charitable portfolio. We are also organized as a charity ourselves, so we don’t take a cut of the donations.

Our goal is to turn more people into philanthropists. There isn’t one magical solution. People don’t donate or don’t donate as much as they could for a variety of reasons. With Sublime Fund, we want to mitigate as many of these barriers as possible.

Issues with deciding to donate

  • Some people are not fully aware of issues in the first place.
    • We will create a way for people to easily stay informed about the topics they care about and to discover new ones.
  • It can be hard to figure out who to donate to.
    • We will create a user-friendly matching system to help guide donors to the charities that are best for them. Almost like a dating app for philanthropy.
  • Some people are worried that their donations will be wasted.
    • While charities certainly vary in their effectiveness, we will create personalized reports in the future so that our users know what their charities are specifically working on.

Issues with the actual process of donating

  • People have to remember or be prompted to donate.
    • We only allow recurring donations to spur sustained support. By using us, donors can take the manual effort out of donating. They can also contribute to multiple charities from one place.
    • For anyone who is reluctant to commit to recurring donations, I encourage you to just try it out. It doesn’t have to be an amount of money that you will miss. Our minimum donation per month per charity is just $1.
    • Charities also benefit because they get a steadier revenue stream. Many people donate towards the end of the year, but imagine getting most of your annual paycheck in one month. You probably wouldn’t like that because it makes budgeting and planning more difficult.
  • People want to be in control of their donations.
    • Our users don’t have to be worried about getting locked into donations. It’s easy to update or cancel donations on our website at any time. Reallocating donations from one charity to another can also be done in seconds.
    • One of our users had an existing recurring donation with a major charity. When he switched over to us, he actually had to get in touch with a company representative just to cancel his donation. Managing donations shouldn’t be anything like trying to cancel cable.
  • People can be reluctant to give out their credit card number.
    • By using us, people can donate to as many charities as they want while only entering their payment info once.
  • People might be wary of being spammed with emails and physical mail after donating.
    • We preserve donor privacy and do not forward personal information to charities. We won’t send our users any unwanted solicitations for more donations.
  • It can be hard to keep track of donations, especially for people who support multiple charities.
    • Users can easily view all the donations they have made through us, and we also send a summary email at the end of year to make it simple to claim tax deductions.

We’re optimistic that these incremental improvements will result in more people getting involved with philanthropy. You don’t have to be Bill Gates to make a difference. Every dollar really does matter, and to get involved in any capacity is a great start.

A literal definition of philanthropy is “love of humanity.” There have been plenty of times when I have deeply failed to live up to this principle. I can’t change the past, but at the very least, I can try to do better in the future by raising the bar for what I expect from myself. Using Sublime Fund is one way for me to do that, and I hope others will find it helpful as well. Charities are taking on some of humanity’s hardest, most persistent problems. To achieve a better world, we must respond with even more relentlessness in our support of the solutions.

You can check us out online, and please feel free to give us any feedback or suggestions.

This post is also on Medium.