Donating à la carte

Donating à la carte

Decisions are hard. Especially when the outcomes are important, the options are numerous, and relevant information is hard to find.

For many everyday decisions (where to eat, what clothes to wear, what to do tonight), I have a pretty good idea of what I can do, what I’d like to achieve, and how likely I am to do so. And despite most of these decisions being largely inconsequential I still consider them in great detail. I assume others are somewhat similar to me, delicately wasting their processing power on life’s minutiae.

Yet, of all the choices we make, one of the most impactful seems among the least rationally considered: donations.

We can donate to almost anything, anyone, at any time. But do we consider the options available before giving? And if so, how are we to weigh up the pain of a malnourished child to the impact of a polluted river; the needs of our local lifesaving club to the suffering of 100 battery hens; climate change to the housing needs of a woman escaping domestic violence?

We’re so overwhelmed by the immense number of possibilities that we often yield to impulse, emotion and social pressures. But these decisions deserve our most careful consideration. We have the power to change the status quo. And to ignore this is to choose to do nothing.

Thanks to the interwebs it’s now as easy to support locally as it is to support (almost) anywhere else in the world. So, we can cast as wide or as narrow a net as we like when looking to get behind a cause.


Modelling donations – a menu of causes

The model below presents the main options available for donations. Its aim is to help us make more conscious decisions, and explicitly remind us of what we’re ignoring.


Using the model – 2 paths to better donations

The model can be used in two ways:
1. Proactively – help guide your thinking when deciding on a cause, and
2. Re-actively –  recognise when a charity focuses on a particular group at the expense of others.


Method 1 is great for clarifying your personal values and systematically prioritising the areas you’d like to support.

Hypothetical example 1: the proactive method
I could start by acknowledging that I care more for people than animals and the environment. Then, I explicitly recognise a desire to help the local LGBTIQ community. Lastly, wanting to have an immediate impact, I support a charity which focuses on providing every-day services. This gives me the following combination:

Using the model as such can help articulate what I’m after, and find a charity which provides the desired service. If all charities were classified using this framework, then I could easily find an organisation to suit my needs.


Method 2 helps remind us of all the things we could be supporting before choosing a particular charity. When donating to a cause, we are implicitly choosing it above all others. The mapping exercise, i.e. explicitly acknowledging what we are focusing on, may highlight an excluded cause which, when considered, we find more worthy.

Hypothetical example 2: Check yo’self

If I’m a long-time supporter of an organisation sheltering dogs, it’s easy to continue doing so by focusing on the wonderful work the organisation does, and feeling great that I could help. However, by mapping their work to the model, I am forced to recognise there are many other animal species in need which I am implicitly ignoring. In fact, others’ need may be greater (either through the amount of cruelty experienced, or the sheer number being subjected to it); for example battery hens or caged pigs. With this realisation I can re-examine my values and act accordingly. If post-introspective I recognise I care more about the suffering of battery hens, then I can go back to Method 1 and better align my donations to reflect my values.


The Four Dimensions of Donations

The model has 4 main dimensions (with the key one broken down into subcategories)

1. The who (including ‘which subcategory’)
This helps differentiates between people, animals or the environment. Each of these key categories is broken down into further subcategories. For example, people can be dissected by religion, or sexuality, or age; animals by species; and the environment by ecosystem (rivers vs rain-forests vs oceans vs desserts, etc.).

2. The where (place)
This helps dictate the place and spread of the donating net. Are you interested in all specimens in the world equally, or do you have a particular attachment or concern over a region over all others?

3. The what (aspect)
Within each category there are different aspects which can be improved or supported. For people, helping improve health or education are pretty central, but there is also work done to support the arts, local sports clubs, churches or world peace. Animals and the Environment also have specific aspects which can be targeted, and these are presented in the model.

4. The how (support)
The how differentiates the different types of work which can help your cause. Should we act now, educate, try to change the decision makers, or continue researching to find better solutions? For example, if you want to help the world deal with climate change, would you prefer to support an organisation providing immediate direct work (e.g. decreasing emissions now) or should more funding be provided towards research in the hope that we discover a more efficient solution in the near future?

By combining the four dimensions, you can have a much better understanding of how you would like to help.


The why

The model does not cover how we do or should decide which box to focus on. That will form another post, hopefully in the near future. But the aim for now was to raise awareness to the breadth of work available, with the hope that before making quick impulsive decisions, we consider what we can do, and hopefully do more with what we give.


To be improved…

It goes without saying that this model is probably missing a whole bunch of stuff. So please let me know what’s missing so I can update it as we discuss.

1st: Indigeneity and migrant status – from our UN correspondent! (How did I miss them?)
2nd: Biodiversity – Thanks Ms Sabrewing
3rd: Circumstance – From a recent dinner discussion, mentioning “Legacy”


The following documents were used in the development of this model:

Charity Navigator:
Government organisations
UK –
Australia –


Australians flying off-the-charts

Australians flying off-the-charts

In this age of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, it seems Australians have coordinated a national group exposure therapy for one of the most common fears… aviophobia.

In 2014, 52 million people boarded domestic flights in Australia¹. That’s 2.2 flights per capita (or 1 return trip per person). Much like the growth seen in International flights, domestic flights have been increasing at almost exponential rates since 1945.

Domestic Passengers per capita

Domestic flights have become such commonplace that the Sydney to Melbourne route (and back) ranks in the top 5 busiest routes in the world²³!

Perhaps even more surprising is that the Melbourne – Launceston route (Australia’s 17th most popular in 2014) was busier than every route in England. In fact, there were only 6 European countries in 2014 (France, Spain, Norway, Germany, Italy and Sweden) with a busier domestic route than Melbourne to Launceston4.

Overall, there are twice as many plane passengers in Australia per capita than the OECD average, when comparing all fights (domestic and international).

Flights by country 2

When it comes to environmental impact, flights ain’t flights. The routes included in BITRE “Top routes” list range from 236km (Sydney to Canberra) to 3,615km (Brisbane to Perth). Since 1945, the average distance travelled per passenger per trip has increased steadily to 1,200km (roughly Sydney to Adelaide, or Perth to Karratha). So, not only are Australians travelling more, but they are also travelling further.

Flight Distance 3

* Weighted average, by number of passengers.

This means the overall impact is starting to sound like a Daft Punk song…

Longer, faster, more often…

Or in CO2 terms… more, more, more.

CO2 emmissions per capita

In 2015 Australians will emit more CO2 in domestic flights alone, than the people from the bottom 42 countries emit in total, (roughly 500kg).5

I suppose this is the price of aviophobia  therapy.


p.s.: For those wondering, the sharp dip in 1989 is due to the Pilot’s strike:


[1] Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE)



[4] Not including Russia, as their figures were not found.


Burning up the runway

Burning up the runway

I often think Facebook is paid by tourism companies to mock my office existence and exaggerate how often my “friends” are on overseas holidays.  But ABS figures[1]suggest Australians really are crossing customs at climate changing rates.

Australians flew overseas 9.3 million times in the 12 months to September 2015. That’s almost 800,000 departures per month. Or in Facebook terms, you can expect more than 3 out of every 100 Aussie friends to travel overseas this month: that’s a myriad mates munching at the Marrakesh markets; a bunch of selfies from Boracay’s beautiful beaches; and the occasional insightfully witticism of the commercialist culture capturing Kolkata.

Australians have long been early adopters of international flights. The first England to Australia flight took place almost a century ago, in 1919 (taking 28 days). Overseas flights, however, have really taken off in the last decades. The number of Australians flying overseas has doubled since 2006, and increased ten-fold since 1977.  Accounting for the population grow, trips per capita have doubled since 2004, and grown six-fold since 1977.

There are many ways of interpreting these figures, depending on what angle / lens / issue you care to focus on.

We could suggest that whilst Australians (according to pop media) are deeply concerned about economic instability and slowing wage rises, they have nonetheless increased their international holidays by 50% per capita since the Global Financial Crisis.

We could similarly insinuate that whilst Australiansconcern for climate change leads them to implement strategies focusing on everyday impacts, they may be undoing all their efforts by ignoring the growth of big ticket items. (The CO2 emissions from a Melbourne to London[2] return flight equate to the yearly emissions per capita for the UK[3].)

Or we could just say “look mum, I’m holding up the Tower of Pisa!” (AGAIN!)