Giving Project: Announcing 2021 Winners

For the fourth year in a row, Butler Kahn is donating $100,000 where it can do the most good.

Donations can save lives.  Thanks to improvements in transparency and the data-driven analysis of GiveWell.org, a donated dollar goes farther than it ever has.  For less than the cost of a bicycle or a leather couch, we can save children from death by malnutrition, cure blindness caused by parasitic flies, or distribute hundreds of malaria-stopping insect nets.  These opportunities are too good to pass up.

Our 2021 donation will go to four different charities, each described below.  $55,000 will go to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund; $15,000 will go to the Against Malaria Foundation; $15,000 will go to Hellen Keller International’s Vitamin A Supplementation Program; and $15,000 will go to Evidence Action’s Deworm the World Initiative.

GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund 

We are donating $55,000 to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund, which recommends charities each quarter based on the organization’s latest research that are expected to do the most good. The organization determines which charities have the highest priority funding needs each quarter by considering factors such as which funding gaps they expect to be filled and unfilled, each charity’s plan for additional funding, and the cost-effectiveness of each funding gap. GiveWell does not take any fees from charitable contributions it receives.  

Against Malaria Foundation 

The Against Malaria Foundation is a GiveWell top-rated charity. It provides funding for long-lasting insecticide-treated net distributions to protect against malaria. The cost for one of these nets is approximately $4.95. There is strong evidence that these distributions reduce child mortality and the number of malaria cases. GiveWell’s research also shows that the nets have reached their intended destinations and stay in good condition for a significant period of time after distribution. Because the Against Malaria Foundation shares significant information about its work with GiveWell, GiveWell is able to closely follow and understand its work. Butler Kahn is proud to donate $15,000 to the Against Malaria Foundation this year.

Helen Keller International

We are also donating $15,000 to Helen Keller International, an organization that partners with communities that are striving to overcome longstanding cycles of poverty. By delivering the essential building blocks of good health, sound nutrition, and clear vision, Helen Keller helps millions of people in more than 20 countries create lasting change in their own lives and reach their true potential. Our donation will go directly to Helen Keller’s evidence-based and cost-effective vitamin A work, which builds millions of children’s immune systems. Vitamin A saves children’s lives, develops clear vision, and builds robust immunity.

Evidence Action – Deworm the World Initiative

Rounding out our giving this year, we are donating another $15,000 to Evidence Action. Evidence Action focuses on reducing the burden of poverty for hundreds of millions of people by participating in cost-effective and evidence-based programs and initiatives. One such initiative and where our donation will be going is the Deworm the World Initiative, which advocates for, supports, and evaluates government-run, school-based deworming programs. These programs are designed to reduce worm loads and improve the life outcomes of people who receive the treatment. In Kenya, it is estimated that the cost to deworm a child through the initiative is $0.66 per child. 

Frequently Asked Questions


Why is your firm doing this?

We want to help people. It’s why we got into this business in the first place.

Today, the opportunities to help others are unparalleled. That is because although the problems that people face in the developing world are very serious, many of them have simple and inexpensive solutions. Polluted water causes fatal diseases that minimal filtration could prevent. Parasitic flies cause blindness that simple, inexpensive surgery could cure.  Malaria causes deaths that $5 mosquito nets could stop.

We have the opportunity to do something about it. Organizations like the Gates Foundation and Georgia’s own Carter Center have provided insight into what the biggest problems are and how they might be solved. Charity evaluators like GiveWell allow us to give money wisely, where the money will be most effective and have alleviated concerns over fraudulent charities. We live in a time, more than any other, in which everyone has the opportunity to make a meaningful difference. You don’t have to give like Bill Gates—an extra $5 buys another net that even the Gates Foundation, with all its millions, didn’t buy.

This is too good an opportunity to miss.

We help our clients every day, and that is a deeply rewarding experience. By also giving philanthropically—and doing so wisely, with a focus on results—we see an opportunity to double down.


Why aren’t you giving this money away to local charities, or your law schools, or political candidates who will help us right here in the United States?

We do give to those causes, although not in this amount. The reason that this money will probably go to the developing world is that we’re trying to get the most bang for our buck.

Money given to assist people in abject poverty can go a long, long way. In other words, it is the most cost-effective way to make a positive difference. Generally, seeking the maximum return for your dollar means giving money overseas because, for all of the serious problems we have in the United States, the problems in the developing world are more severe and comparatively cheaper to solve. Rampant malnutrition, river blindness, famine, and murderous civil wars are not common in the United States. In other places, they are.

Money goes further in the developing world because the problems are worse.  To use Peter Singer’s example, it costs about $40,000 to acquire a seeing-eye dog, train the dog, match the dog with a blind person in the United States, and train the person to work with the dog.  Helping to provide seeing-eye dogs to blind people is good, of course.  But we have to also think about what else could be done with the money.  In developing countries where people suffer from river blindness or trachoma, blindness can be cured for about $50.   So if you’re looking to donate $40,000, you can either provide one blind person in the developed world with a seeing-eye dog or cure fifty blind people in the developing world.  Here is how Singer makes the point: 

In his book The Life You Can Save, Singer argues that you can save a life in the developing world for $1,000 or less. We don’t mean to diminish the importance of domestic giving, but when it comes to our firm’s big give, we think we can do the most good for the most people by giving abroad. In parts of the developing world, a $5 mosquito net can be the difference between life and death.


Givewell.org already offers great suggestions on where to give money. Why don’t you just take this webpage down and follow their suggestions, or give the money to the Gates Foundation and let them distribute it?

This is a good question. There are two main reasons.

First, we want to publicize what Peter Singer and others have called “effective altruism”—that is, the practice of giving money away in such a way as to maximize its positive effects. We hope that by publicizing this giving process, we maximize the chances that someone else who is going to give money away will do so in a manner that is also calculated to provide the most help for the most people. We further hope that someone who might not otherwise have given money away will be inspired to do so.

Second, we want to spread the word about our law firm. Of course, we have self-interested reasons for doing that—it’s good marketing (although if our only goal was marketing, we could think of more efficient ways to spend $100,000). But spreading the word about our firm will help others in the long run because this will not be the last time that BT gives away a significant chunk of money. By bringing more cases to our law firm, we increase the amount of money that we’ll be able to give next time.


I know you, and this is a surprise—are you really so wealthy that you don’t have anything else to do with this money?

LOL no.

We are comfortable, in that all five of the people who work at our firm have roofs over their heads, food on their tables, and no crushing needs. We also have mortgages or rent payments, and some of us have children to take care of. But an income of over $32,400 per year puts us in the top 1% of earners globally, and we think that statistic speaks volumes about the needs of others, particularly in developing countries. Somewhere, a mother is watching her child starve—if we can prevent that, we should.


Next time I see you, are you going to judge me for driving a nice car or buying Starbucks coffee?

Nope. We aren’t claiming to be icons of charity or moralistic philosophers, because we’re not.

We are trying to take a step in the right direction. The bottom line is that when we turn eighty and take a hard look in the mirror, we want to see somebody who made the world a better place. It won’t matter then whether we drove Ferraris or stayed in five-star resorts, but it will matter that we took our responsibilities as humans seriously.


Why are you trying to save lives when overpopulation is already a problem?

We think lots of people have this question but are afraid to ask it. We think it’s a reasonable question.

First, studies have shown that the best way to reduce population growth rates is by educating women in developing countries, where birth rates tend to be highest. (Click here for Singer’s explanation from his book The Life You Can Save, beginning at the word “Nevertheless . . .”) That is most definitely a type of giving that we would consider with this money.

Second, charities that address health conditions—such as those that address malnutrition, or work to prevent malaria—contribute indirectly to the advancement of education and society as a whole. On the most basic level, that’s because women don’t spend time in classrooms if their children are starving or dying of malaria. So you have to address problems like malnutrition or malaria before you can do meaningful work on education or social structure, which in turn leads to lower birth rates.

Third, some of the charitable causes that we’d consider—such as curing river blindness or repairing obstetric fistulae—don’t save lives directly, but do help people move from being nonproductive members of their communities to being productive members. That helps their communities and societies as a whole. That, in turn, is a good thing from a population perspective because more advanced, more sophisticated societies tend to have lower birthrates.


Wouldn’t it be better to give your time, not your money?

This is another question that we think lots of people have, but sometimes don’t ask because they don’t want to be impolite. We think it’s a good question.

We do give some time to charitable causes, as noted on our Community page, but we spend far more time practicing law. We think that’s a good decision because we’re better at practicing law than running charities, and by doing what we’re best at, we’re able to generate money that we can donate to people who are best at running charities. Those people can use the money efficiently and can accomplish more good than we could if we tried to do their jobs.

Peter Singer explained this really well starting at this point in his TED talk (this clip begins at 8 minutes, 38 seconds):

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