Philanthropy Without Money

Philanthropy is the act of making the world a better place. That can be done

directly (by giving anti-malarial bed nets to poor Africans, for instance) or

it can be done indirectly (by giving money to people who will use that money

to give anti-malarial bed nets to poor Africans, for instance). Craigslist is

a company which directly makes the world a better place: it’s an open forum

for people to freely exchange goods, services, and information. (I even bought

my Manhattan apartment on Craigslist, which charged me nothing for the service

– a much better deal than any real-estate broker.)

And so to a Q&A

with the top two executives of Craigslist, founder Craig Newmark and CEO

Jim Buckmaster:

Q: I know you guys don’t want to sell out to make

a fast buck, and I appreciate that independent spirit. But you could be making

more money by charging minimally for posting in certain categories. Wouldn’t

it be worth it to obtain that money, and donate it to non-profits, charities,

or other worthy causes?

JIM: The traditional philanthropic model is to make as much

money as possible and then give a percentage back to the community. We do

donate more than 1 percent of our revenues to charitable causes, but we feel

it is much more important to serve the community directly as our primary business.

CRAIG: It’s more effective to let people keep the cash.

We also see that groups like the Gates Foundation have lots of money to donate,

but it’s very hard to do so in a sustainable way. No one has really

figured it out yet.

I love this model of philanthropy. People in a capitalist society naturally

gravitate to inputs (money) rather than outputs when they judge philanthropies.

But Craigslist has surely done better at making the world a better place than

philanthropies drowning in cash. It’s not easy to convert money to good; if

you can create good without money, that’s a great idea.

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