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The Politics of Everything

Aug 31, 2021

Around 20 years ago, I did a whole Masters thesis on Philanthropic models that took me to leaders in this arena across the USA and Europe. While most of us take an impulsive approach to giving, a little bit of research into where your dollars will do the most good can make your donation hundreds or even thousands of times more effective!  The Life You Can Save, an organization based in Australia and the U.S., helps people do just this by highlighting evidence-backed, high-impact, cost-effective charities that save lives, reduce suffering and empower women. So today I speak to Charlie Bresler, co-founder of Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save.

Charlie describes his career path as “not exactly linear”.  As a college student at New York University during the height of the Vietnam War, he was a political activist. Wanting to share his perspective with secondary school students, he got a Master’s degree from Harvard in Social Studies and Education and taught for three years.  For a variety of reasons, he decided teaching secondary school was not for him. Switching gears, he then went on to manage a tennis club and later wandered into a job as a psychology tech, followed in 1981 by graduate school at Clark University where he received an MA and Ph.D in social and clinical psychology. This led to a seven year stint as a graduate professor of psychology.

Fast-forward to 1992, Bresler ran into his old childhood friend George Zimmer, who enticed him to switch career paths and join his clothing company that had just gone public. He eventually became President of the Company, but In 2008 he walked into Zimmer’s office and told his lifelong friend that he was done. Bresler was ready to give up the chance to succeed Zimmer as CEO to make a move that was more in line with his desire to “be a part of producing meaningful social change”.  

Bresler feels that TLYCS has a strong proof of concept – namely, The Life You Can Save can move a multiple of dollars invested in organizational infrastructure to the highly effective charities recommended on their website.   In fact, for every dollar spent by TLYCS on their operations over the last eight years, they’ve been able to raise an average of approximately 12-17 dollars to their recommended charities.

Hear from Charlie on:

  1. You say the “The Life You Can Save” is based on some simple beliefs and assumptions. First, through our effective donations, we can save actual lives of people dying every day that would not be dying with the simple interventions available in the ‘developed’ world. Secondly, we have an ethical obligation to use some portion of our wealth and privilege to save lives and reduce the unnecessary suffering associated with ‘extreme poverty’, defined as living on less than $1.25 USD/day (around AUD$2.50).”  In Australia, we do have more social security measures for those in need and had universal health care in Australia for 40 years, but poverty still impacts too many people in a ‘wealthy nation’. How can philanthropy start to change that? Is it more than well publicized or strategic hand-outs from the super-wealthy people?
  2. How during Covid has the idea of giving changed? Many are doing it tough still or have lost their own incomes or homes. What does that mean for giving?
  3. What role does government tax benefits and other concessions play in improving giving?
  4. What about ways to know the real impact and do you suggest philanthropists measure what giving can do for those organizations who receive it?
  5. I once met an Australian business owner who wanted to give away all his wealth before he died and had convinced his family that was the way to go – is that the level of giving you see often?
  6. Take away: What is your final thought or message for us on The Politics of Giving?


For more on Charlie and TLYCS: The Life You Can Save - Best Charities for Effective Giving