Motivation

By far, the most common question I’ve been asked is “What is your motivation for doing this charity project?”

Let’s go back a few months, to the Super High Roller Bowl in Las Vegas. For those who weren’t following; I was in a commanding position with two tables left in the tournament. I was the chip-leader for hours…and with eight players left we merged down to two tables. By then I was second in chips, with the top seven payouts guaranteed $600,000 and first place getting the massive payout of $5,000,000. Eighth place got zero.

Unfortunately, I ended up on the wrong side of a disastrous set over set situation. That left me with a few big blinds, and I busted soon after, short of the money. Rainer Kempe, the player who got my chips, went onto win the tournament. I’ll paraphrase for those unfamiliar with poker lingo: it was an unlucky but unavoidable situation. It was deeply disappointing to go from expecting the biggest result of my career, to getting nothing.

I woke up the next day in a funk. Was it an adrenaline crash? Did I need more caffeine? I wasn’t sure what to do. I forced myself to attend a yin yoga class, and I meditated on it.

While contemplating the result, I asked myself: What is it that actually happened? I played a poker tournament, sold some action to my friends, and invested 2.5% of my bankroll in myself in the tournament. And for a fleeting moment, I was the favorite to win.

So let’s pretend I did win; what exactly would be different?  Well, I’d have more money—about 40% more—and then I’d pay taxes on it, so let’s say 25% more. But for now, there’s nothing I badly want that necessitates having more money. What would I even do with my hypothetical winnings? Mostly I’d just use it to gamble bigger. Day to day, nothing would actually change. And that’s a comforting thought; winning the biggest tournament of the year wouldn’t have changed my life. Things were good already.

I’ve had some big results since then, but my conclusion persists. I realized there wasn’t much utility for keeping this money. And for tax reasons, I have to scale back substantially on January 1st anyway. Others have a much higher utility for this money, so contributing to charity felt like the right thing to do.

I’ve had some sleepless nights wondering whether humans should feel required to help others. Assuming those that can help without much sacrifice are obligated—and knowing that poker is a zero sum game—I felt that I should be contributing my time to other activities. I find it encouraging that I can make real, tangible differences with these donations. I’ve heard some cynics argue that donating to charity is like throwing money at a bottomless pit. And while there are some charities that are obviously inefficient, I truly believe that the ones I’ve selected are doing good, important work.

REG charity has stated that $3400 can save a life. That feels like a bargain to me.

I’ve gone through stretches where I’ve lacked the drive to keep grinding out poker; projects like this help keep me motivated.

Motivation

2016 Charity Drive

EDIT: The original drive has been filled. Thanks to a super generous donation by Martin Crowley, a modified drive towards

  1. Against Malaria Foundation
  2. Give Directly
  3. Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI)

PLEASE SEE MORE RECENT POSTS FOR DETAILS. 

 

Last year, Dan Colman and I organized a very successful charity drive, so I wanted to do it again, this time on a larger scale. Between now and the end of the year, I am matching charity donations up to $175,000 to the following charities which I’ve separated into 3 groups:

GROUP ONE – The first two charities are the most efficient. If you want your money to go as far as possible, these are your best bet.

1.  The Against  Malaria Foundation 

Over 1 million people – mostly children – die from malaria each year. The foundation provides insecticide-treated bed nets, which prevent deaths and many other non-fatal cases of malaria. They are inexpensive – about $2.50/bed. Rated the #1 charity by givewell.org

2.  Give Directly

Another top Givewell.org charity, they focus on giving money to those who need it most. The money appears to be very efficiently spent, recently focusing on improving many villages in Kenya and Uganda.

GROUP TWO –

The second group of charities are designed to help those involved in the prison system. The system seemed to be so fucked that any donation felt futile. I asked a friend who’s a public defender for his opinion, and he recommended donating to a Bail fund.

The basic idea is that there are a lot of people held on bail in misdemeanor cases where if they were out they could fight the case, but to get out of jail they take pleas and get criminal records. This can have all sort of collateral consequences on jobs, school, housing, etc and thus contributes to the widening socioeconomic gap in the U.S.

A fund that posts these people’s bail would have very slow attrition. According to The Bronx Freedom Fund, 97% of clients attend all scheduled court dates.  This would save lot of people from criminal records and jail time. The Massachusetts Bail Fund only posts bail that is $500 or less.  No one should have to sit in jail because they don’t have $200.

To anyone interested in donating to a Bail Fund here are two great ones:

Massachusetts Bail Fund or Just City (based out of Memphis).

The third charity in this category is Liberation Prison Yoga. They organize yoga and meditation classes for prisoners. I think these kind of programs have the power to reduce a lot of suffering in a cost effective manner. Yoga and meditation have been great for my mental health. Despite all the advantages in the world, I still have bouts with depression. I couldn’t imagine dealing with it under prison conditions.

I want to add the statistic that the market cap for the biggest for-profit prison company, Corrections Corp of America, went up 60% to $2.4 Billion in the first ~12 hours after Trump won. This terrifies me.

GROUP THREE –

Last year, Dan Colman told me that he views charity like putting on a band aid. Sometimes we simply need a bandaid, but in an ideal world, you wouldn’t be bleeding in the first place. I love the idea of trying to fix the core of certain problems. Here a few charities that I believe attempt to get to the core of certain issues.

Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS): They are doing some great government-funded research on PTSD and anxiety. I definitely think that psychedelics are capable of having a positive impact on someone’s life, and that their possible link to PTSD/anxiety treatment is worth researching. To my knowledge, it appears that clinical depression research has not progressed nearly as much as other similar fields. Prozac was released 30 years ago, and medication has not changed significantly since then.

Zendo Project: another project from MAPS that has trained professionals available for those having difficult psychedelic trips. At Burning Man, they have two locations. I think that the general awareness that this safety net exists makes people more likely to have a positive experience. I think that promoting responsible psychedelic experiences is a great cause.

Open Philanthropy:  I really like this meta charity. They are trying to stop the bleeding, rather than just put band aids on. They are collaborating with givewell, which is all the support I need.

Edit: Someone from givewell reached out to me. She said “I’d also like to clarify one point in the blog post: The Open Philanthropy Project is a collaboration between GiveWell and Good Ventures. Good Ventures currently plans to cover 100% of the Open Philanthropy Project’s operating expenses, so there’s no need for donations.”

It’s going to be a very busy couple of weeks with Thanksgiving, DFS, and poker for me, but I am looking into a replacement charity.
350.org A charity trying to fight global warming. Received a 91 on charity navigator Donald Trump appointed Myron Ebell to head the Environmental Protection Agency, which is also terrifying. Ebell has called concerns over climate change silly. In 2007, he said to Vanity Fair “There has been a little bit of warming … but it’s been very modest and well within the range for natural variability, and whether it’s caused by human beings or not, it’s nothing to worry about.”

How will this work?

You will (hopefully) pick out a charity that you find satisfactory. Each charity is tax deductible in the US, and likely many other countries. If you are from a different country and have a tax question, I am happy to research it for you. Email a receipt to receiptsforcharity@gmail.com , I will update my spreadsheet and match your donation! I am going to give myself some creative liberties. For instance, if the Massachusetts Bail Fund had $50,000 and Just City had $0, I would personally donate to Just City.  Each charity has been great about responding to my calls/emails/questions in a timely manner and each one will receive at least a few thousand dollars. Everything will be in good faith, but if anyone wants to discuss specifics, feel free to email me.

I tried giving lots of choices to ensure that there is something for everyone. I have, however, read that too many choices can sometimes freeze someone into not making a decision.

I am hoping that you guys are all too smart for that, but if you find yourself stuck…

Go to Random.org ; enter numbers 1-9 . Whichever number comes out, go with it!

  1. Against Malaria
  2. Give Directly
  3. Massachusetts Bail Fund
  4. Just City
  5. Liberation Prison Yoga
  6. MAPS
  7. Zendo
  8. Open Philanthropy
  9. 350.org

Or feel free to email me receiptsforcharity@gmail.com and I will set you up with whichever charity has the least donations, or work something else out.

Thanks for the consideration.

Edit: I might be able to accept cash or chips in Vegas. I will look to see if I can find someone to accept cryptocurrencies. If there are other ways you would like to donate, send me an email and we can try to work it out.

2016 Charity Drive