There’s a lot of science showing the power of generosity and compassion: the positive effects it can have on our health, the fact that we can be trained to be more altruistic, etc, but how do you get people started? That was the real hard part…
Location: New York, New York
Profession: Product Manager @ Kickstarter
Twitter Handle: @bencole88
What was the first charitable gift you ever gave?:
I used to raise money for Share when I was a kid. My mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when I was 6, and we got really involved with them. My family and I participated in Share’s annual walk-a-thon. We raised money from friends and family.
What is your charity of choice today?:
If I had to pick one, it would be Give Directly, because it focuses on some of the most vulnerable members of humanity and dedicates a great deal of effort to empirically measuring its impact. Not only do they make a huge impact on the ground, they also push the whole nonprofit sector to innovate its model.
I came across Give Directly while working at Google.org. They have such a simple yet innovative model: technology facilitating transparent, effective giving. I admire their dedication to empirically proving their model and the direct impact each dollar has. The fact that GiveWell also recognizes them as a top charity appeals to me. In terms of a specific person, I actually gave through GiveWell, so I don’t know whom exactly I helped, but that would certainly be nice!
Your time at Google: Tell me more about your work there on One Day.
I spent a year and a half working on One Today, a mobile app and platform for social donations, geared specifically for frequent micro-donations. It got started long before my time with a few Googlers trying to figure out how they could leverage Google technology to make the world a more compassionate place. I was especially excited by the challenge it posed: could we make learning about causes and taking action so easy and enjoyable that people would want to engage with it on a regular basis? Of course, what made it enjoyable also made it challenging. There’s a lot of science showing the power of generosity and compassion: the positive effects it can have on our health, the fact that we can be trained to be more altruistic, etc, but how do you get people started? That was the real hard part.
How do you give of your time?:
I spend some time volunteering with my alma mater, Cornell, as well as with my friend’s incredible nonprofit, Atlas: DIY, which serves undocumented youth immigrants in NYC.
With Cornell, I helped out with the early work on the Tech Campus in NYC: meeting with visiting academics, participating in panels, etc. I’m also chairing my five year reunion campaign to raise an additional $100k from my class. For Atlas, I hosted a dinner at my apartment in Williamsburg and gave a group of their members a tour through the Google office.
Who inspires you to give?:
My parents spent their entire working lives in the NYC public school system. Their dedication to service inspired me to seek out ways to serve my fellow man in my own way.
What motivates you to give?:
I’ve been so incredibly privileged in my life. I was born to two parents who wanted nothing but the best for me and sacrificed so much to make that happen. The least I can do is give something back.
If you could start your own charity, what would it be?:
I’d probably want to tackle climate change, though I’m not sure what the best tactic would be. If I had a unique and compelling angle to take, I might just do it! Climate change seems to me to be the most pressing existential threat of our time. We’ve only got one world. If we mess this one up too badly, we could be very badly out of luck, to put it lightly.
What advice do you have for others to consider giving?:
Think deeply about what’s important to you and how you can have the greatest impact. It’s not always the nonprofit with the biggest marketing budget that’s doing the most good.