Rational emotions

By David Rivett

Last week I read an excellent Times comment piece by Alice Thomson which prompted me to read “Doing Good Better” by William MacAskill, a newly published, and in my view truly seminal book, whose core thesis is that charities and NGOs could be far more effective if they acted more analytically and scientifically to solve the problems they address and less emotionally, dare I even say, sometimes less theatrically. He cites excellent examples of low key but highly effective approaches to big problems; “effective altruism” in his terminology. Problem is that most giving is emotionally driven as is most fundraising which focuses on our need to feel better about ourselves and how we behave.

It seems that many charities face a fundamental dilemma between emotional communications which deliver donations and rational scientific solutions which deliver results. This is a challenge which charities will increasingly need to address. A situation currently being highlighted by the furore around the Kids Company and its charismatic, emotional and highly successful fund-raising but seemingly ill-managed, ill-measured results and questionably effective use of resources.