The Seattle Times reports “With millennial philanthropy money flowing, arts groups miss out”:
[Elizabeth] Van Nostrand explained that Effective Altruism “is extremely quantitative. ‘How much money does it take them to save a life? Give to the one that saves the most.’ ”
Though millennials like Van Nostrand and Salvatier are a generosity-minded bunch, this data-driven approach has left a traditional beneficiary of charitable giving out in the cold: the arts.
Cultural institutions, which have historically been high on the list of those with flush pockets, as well as smaller arts nonprofits, are straining to attract a new generation of donors that demands a metric for each dollar spent.
Read the whole thing, as they say, but I think there is a fair bit of confusion in the piece, and the place of the arts in effective altruism, and the role of data.
Effective Altruism (an excellent introduction and critique from Amia Srinivasan in the LRB is here) would have donors think systematically about these two questions:
- What are the goals I would like my charitable giving and/or volunteer time to further?; and
- Given the answer to (1), what are the most effective means for furthering those goals?
Data and research can help us with question 2. If our goal is to have better life chances for the poorest people in the poorest countries, we can look to the results of programs of various charities and ask which have been able to accomplish the most with the funds they have available. We can do the same if our goal is to help the quality of life for the homeless in our own cities, or for programs that help poor children get a good start in life. Metrics can help us in assessing the means to achieving our goals.
But data will not help us answer question 1. Whether we should donate to our local animal shelter when there are homeless people sleeping on our streets is a question that cannot be answered by statistics generated by the animal shelter or the homeless shelter. Neither can data tell us whether charity ought to be directed to the poorest in our own country, or the poorest in Africa. The answers to these weighty moral decisions are not to be found in social science. “Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions” – Our ultimate goals, our sense of what is good and right, cannot be derived from our knowledge of the world, our “reason”, but must ultimately be traced to our “passions”. (When I was in school my professors called this Hume’s Law: you cannot derive an “ought” statement from a set of “is” statements).
And so back to the arts. What our millennials [sic] are researching are metrics regarding question 2 – what are the most effective programs at achieving certain goals. Metrics are not helping them with question 1, because they can’t. Prioritizing giving to the arts over other charities comes from the passions, what donors think matters. No arts metrics are going to solve that.
Patrick L says
Unfortunately, my experience with many of these donors (my peers) is that they are in fact trying to determine where their dollar can do “the most good” regardless of field. If a dollar can save 1 life in America by building housing, or 10 lives in Africa by providing mosquito nets, they’ll direct the funds to Africa. The arts fail spectacularly when compared in this way.
While I think you are right that metrics can’t help you compare apples to oranges (or answer profound philosophical questions about the value of a human life), many millennial donors seem to think they can. It’s a troubling trend.
Now, I also happen to think that millennials will pay for quality, and that funding for the arts will transition from donations to ticket sales, but that’s a whole different can of worms.
william osborne says
It’s interesting that the word ought doesn’t exist in German. They only have the word sollen which means should. The word “ought” implies a moral consideration, and the word “should” implies considerations of duty. What happens when we are dutiful, but not moral? Did the lack of the word “ought” in German have massive historical consequences? So now I’m wondering if the massive German support for the arts is because they think it moral, or because it think it a duty.