It can be difficult deciding what charities to support. Lindsay Lohan has an idea, though.
Late last year, Lohan, known more for her partying excesses and mercurial behavior than charity work, was browsing the luxury retailer Hermes when she spotted the store's signature H blanket in red, which costs $3,500, or $1,525 for the budget version, a merino wool and cashmere mix. It was draped over a stylized wooden horse, with a green bag on top.
Lohan posted a picture of the blanket on Instagram, with the caption "@Hermes #blankets4peace let's start sending some to those in need..."
Although she allowed that it "...doesn't matter if [the blanket] is Hermes...," the proposal to provide designer goods to the homeless drew criticism, both in the press and social media, with the Guardian sardonically entertaining the idea that Lindsay is an agent of ISIS, "a brilliantly destabilizing provocateur" whose "pronouncements can only be meticulously calculated to give the decadent west a long night of the soul."
Her charity idea seems insane. She called for spending up to $3,500 dollars to provide one person, just one, with a single blanket. In her hashtag #blankets4peace she also infers that the blankets will somehow contribute to peace on earth. #buthow?
Strangely enough, though, Lindsay Lohan's idea could become an actual charity.
The charity, which might be called something like Lindsay Lohan's (Lilo's) Luxury Blankets for the Less Fortunate or Hermes for the Homeless, would be somewhat similar to most other existing organizations.
Like them, Lindsay's organization would largely ignore the costs versus benefits they're providing. Paying $1,500 or more for a blanket? No problem. Like them, Lindsay's organization may make unsubstantiated claims about the overall impact of their efforts. Of course, blankets contribute to world peace!
There are, however, organizations that do things differently and are worthy of your donations in the New Year. Donating to the Against Malaria Foundation, for example, is one of the most cost-effective, evidence-based, and transparent ways to make a true impact. A bednet provided by AMF protects a person for years from one of the world's most deadly diseases for about $6.
For the $3,500 the Hermes signature Avalon blanket costs, the Against Malaria Foundation could protect hundreds of people for several years from malaria, according advocacy and educational outreach organization The Life You Can Save. Malaria kills around one million people per year, 70% of whom are children.
The Against Malaria Foundation, highly recommended by GiveWell, the world's most thorough and exacting charity evaluator, is considered the best organization to support and is likely far more cost effective than traditional charities like the Salvation Army, Toys for Tots, Meals on Wheels, or food banks. The Against Malaria Foundation seeks to provide the greatest good possible for every donation and outperforms other charities in this sense.
AMF provides an inexpensive, life-saving product that lasts for years. Meanwhile, Meals on Wheels, despite having admirable aims, for a little more than $6, provides enough food for a few hours, not the whole day. It's not bad to provide this benefit, but it's important to keep in mind how fleeting of a benefit it is. Although both causes are worthwhile in principle, there's a clear frontrunner in terms of impact.
Food banks in general provide more of a benefit for every dollar of donation than Meals on Wheels because they buy and distribute food in bulk. According to Feeding America, at 11 meals per dollar, $6 would provide approximately 66 meals. For the exact same amount of money, the Against Malaria Foundation provides a key benefit not for days, but years.
For the rest of the charities listed above, and for the charity sector as a whole, it is incredibly difficult to make these types of cost-benefit comparisons, even though they're crucial for donors who want to do as much good as possible with every dollar donated. Unfortunately, charities don't often provide this information, and consumers don't demand it. Maybe they're like Lindsay Lohan and do not think comparing costs/donations to benefits is important.
In response to Lindsay Lohan's original proposal to buy a Hermes blankets for those who are less fortunate, a follower of Lohan's on Instagram @Jennym3504, wrote "Why not buy 1000 reasonably priced blankets? Would help more ya?!" This is the type of thinking that permeates in effective organizations like the Against Malaria Foundation and GiveWell. They try to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people. If you're looking to donate in the New Year, donate to the Against Malaria Foundation.
Don't buy a Hermes blanket.