21 August 2013

My pal, Derek Sivers...

Tonight I had a fascinating discussion with one of my favorite people in the world, Derek Sivers.

Derek started CD Baby, an online music distributor for independent artists. He then sold it for a bunch of money, and is now living in New Zealand with his wife and baby, developing new companies and just making the world a better place. 

Derek is a Big Think guy. His mind honestly works differently than anyone's I know.  He’s a sponge for information and he processes it in a way that is never mundane or conventional. He’s one of those people whose brain you want to pick and he’s popular on the lecture circuit for ideas-oriented conferences, like TED Talks. That's, in part, because he believes information is meant to be shared freely. He sees no value in hoarding ideas with some notion of proprietary ownership. One of his gurus is Seth Godin and now he’s become a guru to lots of people. He’s spontaneous and measured at the same time. If a decision doesn’t pan out the way he'd hoped, he always seems to take something from the experience with no regrets. Until he had a kid, he was also the lightest packer I'd ever met. Material possessions mean absolutely nothing to him. I don't want to go too much into his personal business here, but he really proved that when he sold his company (the details of which are easy to find if you want to). He lives in the moment in a way that is admirable. He's very present and I always find myself energized after my time with him and refueled, ready to take on the day.

We were talking about my Causes & Effect blog and he brought up a blog post he’d read on a site called lesswrong.com. The site defines itself as “a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality,” which is a pretty tall order. Or at least I think it is. I’m not sure I understand the concept. But as Derek explained, it tries to use rational thought to explore issues. He’d read a blog about philanthropic giving on lesswrong.com and the (rational) thought process was that if the goal was to help as many people as possible, shouldn’t you only give to charities that have the best results and are proven to help? The blogger wrote about how a million British pounds were raised, 10 pounds at a time, to repair a British tapestry. The blogger felt this was one million pounds that could have gone to help actual humans and that money was now out of the charity pool, never to be used to help breathing souls. And the blogger felt that was wrong.

I feel there’s plenty of money to go around, but last month I did write that I was slowing down my giving to four-legged creatures to give to more two-legged ones because that felt marginally more important to me, so part of me gets where this blogger was coming from. 
In the spirit of giving to proven charities that deliver maximum bang for their buck, I went to Charity Navigator, which rates charities.  The site doesn’t have an overall ranking of charities, but it features several top 10 lists, including 10 Most Followed Charities or 10 Supersized Charities or even 10 Charities in Deep Financial Trouble. I picked a category called 10 Charities with the Most Consecutive 4-Star Ratings and decided I would give to that charity no matter what it was since, in the lesswrong.com school of thought, it should be able to do the most good.

The No 1 charity in that category is Energy Outreach Colorado, a non-profit dedicated to helping all Coloradans afford home energy. That means they help folks on a limited income pay their utility bills and make sure they don’t have their heat cut off in the winter. They also help educate Coloradans about energy efficiency measures. 

Out of Charity Navigator’s highest possible score of 70, Energy Outreach Colorado scores a 69.78. Wow. So in my most random donation yet, today’s $10 goes to them. Man, I got lucky. They sound absolutely great.

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