Jacob Kaplan-Moss

Philanthropy Update

This is an update about the progress of my philanthropic plan, so read that post first for context.

I’ll repeat the disclaimer from that previous piece:

This is a different kind of piece from what I normally publish. It’s about philanthropy, not technology or management, and it’s fairly personal (“here’s what I did”) rather than giving advice (“here’s what you should do”).

As such, it’s not intended for a general audience. I’m guessing most of my readers will want to skip this one. I mean, read it if you want, I’m not your dad.

My intended audience here is someone in a similar place to where I was last year: someone who wants to donate the majority of their wealth within their lifetime, and wants a charitable giving plan – something more holistic and long-term than ad hoc individual gifts.

We just wrapped up the last of our 2023 donations, so we’ve now been executing on this plan for two years. I have three lessons/updates I want to share:

Finding and tracking organizations to support

In that previous piece, I wrote:

I’m hoping the next iteration of this system will improve how we identify and evaluate organizations to support.

I can’t say I’ve made huge progress here; this remains hard. Having a target budget really helps cut through analysis paralysis and make sure we do something instead of nothing, but I’m definitely still left wondering if it’s the right something. However, we have made a bit of progress; these are the tactics that have helped:

  1. Recommendations from friends — we’ve had a few friends recommend organizations (and individuals) to support. I find this super helpful: that personal connection gives me so much more confidence in the donation. This has been an unexpected upside in writing and talking publicly about philanthropy: it’s signaled to people that I’m open to “pitches” to support their org. Which I am! So if you know of organizations or individuals that I might want to support, please get in touch!

  2. “Impulse donations”. It’s common to run across charities that we might want to consider supporting, but where I want do more investigation or thinking before pulling the trigger on a large donations. At one point I’d started a spreadsheet to track them, but that’s just kicking the can down the road on analysis. but I realized that there’s a better option: if I just go ahead and make a donation through our DAF, I can then use our DAF’s records as a database of organizations.

    So I’ve started doing what I think of “impulse donations”: when I hear about an organization that is at least plausibly aligned with our goals, I’ll set up a small annual donation through our DAF without thinking about it too deeply. “Small” here means 0.5-1% of our annual donation budget, which is small enough that I can do a lot of these without meaningfully impacting our overall budget. (Eventually these’ll add up and I’ll need to triage, but that’s a problem for Future Jacob.) This way we’re at least minimally supporting an organization doing good work, and then we can use our DAF’s records as a database of organizations to support in the future.

    Similarly, we’ve made a practice of contributing a similar to friends’ and friends-of-friends’ medical fundraisers whenever we hear of them. These aren’t tracked in the same way (because they’re not considered charitable giving for tax purposes and thus can’t be done through the DAF), but they don’t need to be because they’re (hopefully) not recurring.

  3. Opting in to receive literature. In some cases – most often with these “impulse donations” – we’ve stopped making them anonymously, because we’ve realized we want to receive the material these organizations send donors. It is, of course, marketing material and needs to be read with a bit of skepticism, but seeing what the organizations we’re donating to are getting up to is helpful in determining future donations.

Anonymity has sometimes proven counterproductive

More broadly speaking, the value of making donations anonymously is proving interesting. The concept of giving anonymously still really resonates with me. I believe very strongly that gifts shouldn’t come with strings attached, and anonymity really helps there.

Except, I keep running into things that push back on this structure. As I wrote above, turns out I like getting updates from the charities we support, and they can only do that if they have somewhere to send those updates. And, serving on the Django Software Foundation board, I see the “other side” of this, and wearing that hat I really want to be able to talk to donors! I want to be able to hear from them why they’re donating, what would make them keep donating (or give more), etc. By giving anonymously, I’m making fundraising just a little bit harder for the organizations I’m supporting, an unintended consequence. And finally, it continues to be important to support people in our community directly, and that’s almost impossible to do anonymously. (GoFundMe, specifically, has no way for a donor to hide their identity from a recipient1. And of course gifts to friends definitionally can’t be anonymous.)

So, we’re starting to relax the anonymity thing a fair bit. We’re still trying to aim for the underlying value – “no strings attached” – by making sure we’re donating to general funds rather than anything earmarked, and by making it very clear to friends/connections that there are no conditions.

I expect this will continue to evolve.

Donations ‘22 and ‘23

Finally, I want to share the list of donations we’ve made over the last couple of years in the hopes that it’ll help someone discover something they might want to support.

I’m not sharing specific donation amounts because that feels weird to publish publicly. Instead, I’m categorizing donation sizes relative to our annual donation budget:

SizePercentage of annual donation budget
$< 5%
$$5% - 25%
$$$25% - 50%
$$$$> 50%

I’m generally happy to share more details including specific amounts privately. If you think that would help you in your own philanthropy, please get in touch. (jacob @ this domain).

2022$$FriendMedical expenses
2022$$$$National Network of Abortion Funds
2022$$Trans Lifeline
2022$Various GoFundMes (and similar)Medical, not individually tracked
2023$Python Software FoundationAnnual
2023$Django Software FoundationAnnual
2023$Django Events Foundation North AmericaAnnual
2023$Pacific Crest Trail AssociationAnnual
2023$Tahoe Rim Trail AssociationAnnual
2023$Otherwise AwardRec’d by Sumana
2023$Unhoused personRec’d by Sumana
2023$Asheville BladeRec’d by Sumana
2023$FriendMedical expenses
2023$Rocky Mountain ConservancyAnnual
2023$International Wolf CenterAnnual
2023$$$RIP Medical Debt
2023$$Rainbow RailroadRec’d by Greg Wilson
2023$$$National Network of Abortion Funds
2023$Havenwood EquestrianNonprofit started by a friend
2023$Lawrence Humane Society
2023$Oregon Humane Society
2023$Harmony New Beginnings Animal Rescue
2023$Various GoFundMes (and similar)Medical, not individually tracked

  1. You can mark a donation as anonymous, and it’ll show up in the public views of the GoFundMe as anonymous, but the recipient always sees your identity. And, you can’t set up a GoFundMe under a fake identity: it needs to match the information on the credit card, otherwise you’ll trip fraud checks and get the account locked. I can understand why GoFundMe doesn’t want to allow fake accounts, and I can maybe understand why they would decide not to let you hide your identity from recipients, but I’m not particularly happy about it. ↩︎