The Generosity of Crowds

“It’s more difficult to give money away intelligently than it is to earn it in the first place.”

Andrew Carnegie

The US has over a million registered non-profit institutions including tens of thousands most have never heard of. You’d like to contribute, but effectively allocating your available funds among all these good causes seems like a hopeless task.

Now comes an experimental website called Donation Dashboard, which uses machine learning techniques to recommend a customized portfolio of good causes based on individual ratings of sample non-profit organizations.

Here’s how it works: the site visitor is presented with brief descriptions of non-profit institutions and asked to rate each in terms of how interested they are in donating to it. The system analyzes the ratings in light of others’ ratings and does its best to allocate individual available funds in proportion to individual interests. A customized “donation portfolio” is presented in an easy-to-understand pie chart that can be saved at the site for future reference.

Donation Dashboard, which is being developed by the University of California Berkeley Center for New Media, extends machine learning techniques used by commercial websites to recommend movies, music, and books. The DD site goes beyond existing charity ranking websites by statistically combining an individuals ratings with the ratings entered by fellow good samaritans to compute a personal customized portfolio.

The Donation Dashboard website is a pilot system that includes information on 70 non-profit institutions. If successful, the developers hope to expand it with additional features and partner with a third party that can streamline collecting and begin distributing funds.

(eJP note) And in the top 10 list, American Jewish World Service. In fact, I filled out the profile to scan the top 20, and AJWS was the only Jewish communal organization to appear.