My Senior Thesis: How Can Great Charities Raise More Money?

Update: Charity Science, an organization whose work I admire, has added my thesis to their page on charitable giving research. I highly recommend their site for more information on the topics discussed here.

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I haven’t written a blog post for nearly a full season.

One-third of this phenomenon is the fault of my senior thesis:

Charitable Fundraising and Smart Giving: How can charities use behavioral science to drive donations?

It’s a very long thesis, and you probably shouldn’t read the whole thing. I conducted my final round of editing over the course of 38 hours in late April, during which I did not sleep. It’s kind of a slog.

Here’s a PDF of the five pages where I summarize everything I learned and make recommendations to charities:

The Part of the Thesis You Should Actually Read

 

In the rest of this post, I’ve explained my motivation for actually writing this thing, and squeezed my key findings into a pair of summaries: One that’s a hundred words long, one that’s quite a bit longer.

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Immortality Is Exciting

TL;DR: Immortality may seem like it would be boring. But an awful lot of people have hobbies and projects that would probably work out better if those people had more time to get things done. What’s more, these activities might be more exciting the longer they went on, rather than less.

To illustrate this, I use the example of a Go master, who is in love with a fiendishly hard game and might continue improving for centuries, given the chance — and that’s just one popular board game in a universe of activities.

Introduction

I’d like to clear up a common misconception about living forever.

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Dog with a Blog // Why I Love Wikipedia

For those in my reading audience who are not acquainted with the modern-day Disney channel:

There exists a television show called Dog With a Blog.

The subject matter: Exactly What It Says On The Tin.

The Wikpedia article: Priceless post-post-modern literature. Second only to The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars as an example of gonzo Wikipedianism.

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This television show is written by a team of adults. The money these adults receive probably helps them support their families. These adults are functioning members of the U.S. economy.

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The Sad Story of David Edmondson

Today, I wish to share the tale of a man with a troubled past, and of a company that used a very flimsy excuse to rid themselves of this man, all for the sake of signalling.

I call it…

 

The RadioShack Dilemma

A few months ago, I learned about the story of David Edmondson.

Edmondson is the CEO of a company called eRecyclingCorps, but is best known for his resignation from the CEO position at RadioShack (a company with $5 billion in revenue) after it became known that he’d never actually graduated from college, despite his claims to the contrary.

This seems natural enough. After all, who wants a liar at the head of their company? (I’m assuming here that RadioShack forced Mr. Edmondson to resign.)

But certain features of RadioShack’s decision start to look very strange when you view them in the context of Edmondson’s career.

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Utilitarian Thought Experiments

Introduction

I’m currently enrolled in a moral psychology class. We spend a lot of time talking about human moral instincts — the ways we think about moral situations when we haven’t had time to reflect on the consequences.

Sometimes, our instincts are excellent; they help us save people from oncoming trains when there’s no time to think about alternatives. But other times, they lead us down strange paths.

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The Human Spirit

My fifth post for the humanist blog Applied Sentience is now live:

http://appliedsentience.com/2014/09/26/death-isnt-the-end-how-humanists-can-think-about-the-afterlife/

Here, I talk about one of my favorite subjects — the seemingly miraculous way that a bunch of individual human beings built the world we live in over the course of a few thousand years.

The secret of our success: Even if people don’t always understand one another, our intentions are similar enough that we manage to create laptops and buildings and pencils.

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How to Have (and Remember) More Ideas

My third post for Applied Sentience is up:

http://appliedsentience.com/2014/08/29/making-better-use-of-humanitys-most-valuable-resource-good-ideas/

Check it out for some thoughts on Srinivasa Ramanujan, David Foster Wallace, Jean-Paul Sartre, and why Quora isn’t living up to its potential (on which more later).

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Related: I cannot emphasize strongly enough that you should keep a file for your ideas (however strange or impractical) and get in the habit of writing them down. Habits that help:

  • When you have an experience that gives you a strong emotional response (laughter, joy, anger, confusion), think to yourself: “How could people have more/less of this experience in their lives? What would have to be invented or changed?”
  • Keep a journal. You’ll remember more experiences like the ones I mentioned above, and you’ll be able to notice very easily when you write phrases like “I wish…” or “If only…”
  • Sit down for a formal brainstorming session once in a while. If this doesn’t sound appealing, try it once, for ten minutes. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it again, but if you do like it, you might find it becoming a valuable habit.
  • Use Workflowy, which is the best tool I’ve found for quickly making lists. Evernote is also good, but not quite as fast.

If you have an idea-generating habit that I didn’t list here, put it in the comment section! I’m always looking for ideas about how to look for ideas.