Most of us probably feel a sense of altruism without realizing it. Colloquially, altruism is the desire to help the quality of life, happiness or wellbeing of others. This can mean anything from assisting a neighbor to making a large donation to a local charity organization. Despite good intentions, some argue that not all altruistic contributions are effective, namely ones involving money. 

Do you ever wonder what happens to your charitable donation? Is it really used for its intended purpose? Easton Lambson and Garrett Ehinger, president and vice president of the BYU-Idaho Effective Altruism Fellowship, believe most people are giving ineffectively to good causes. Through their experience, monetary donations specifically are allocated in unadvertised ways. 

For example, at a grocery line checkout kiosk, sometimes the prompts on the screen ask about making a donation to a specified charity or organization usually to help with causes like fighting hunger or cancer. In an interview with BYU-Idaho Radio, Lambson and Ehinger explained that 501c3 charities like this distribute donations to lobby for legislation related to fighting hunger or cancer, but the money never goes directly into the hands of those in need. 

“The point is that the money isn’t going where you think it is. It’s not necessarily effective. So, you’re trying to be a good person, you’re trying to give (that’s altruism, right), but it’s maybe not so effective, so what our fellowship focuses on is educating people about how to give effectively,” Ehinger said. 

Lambson and Ehinger describe effective altruism as “the science of doing good, better.” Their focus on education and effective giving leads them to explore direct avenues of altruism outside of monetary donations.  

“There are multiple ways to make a difference,” Lambson said. “Our money is a huge, huge aspect of charity and philanthropy obviously, but it’s not the only way. One of the ways you can make a difference is through direct work. Direct work covers things such as volunteering for a valuable non-profit or doing research for artificial intelligence or global health.”  

Lambson was inspired to start the Effective Altruism Fellowship at BYU-Idaho after witnessing less-than-adequate living circumstances while living near Greece and discovering the book “80,000 Hours: Find a fulfilling Career that Does Good” by Benjamin Todd. Shortly afterward, he recruited Ehinger who was equally as inspired by the philosophy of effective altruism.  

Together, they drafted a website, fellowship bylaws, and applied to be a BYU-Idaho club. Lambson reached out to global organization and face of the effective altruism philosophy, sharing his desire to open an altruism fellowship at BYU-Idaho.  

Through a network of connections and extensive interviews, the fellowship now coordinates with Jessica McCurdy, supervisor and intern over effective altruism at Yale University. The BYU-Idaho Effective Altruism Fellowship is now fully funded.

“Even today, we are meeting with six to 10 other Ivy League groups that have two to three organizers. So, we are communicating and organizing with people from Birley in California, and from Cornell, and from NYU-Abu Dhabi across the world. So, there’s so much potential for BYU-I students to make connections,” Lambson said. 

Currently, the BYU-Idaho Effective Altruism Fellowship is not an officially recognized society on campus. Despite formally seeking recognition as a society, the fellowship has been denied for reasons such as lack of adequate faculty to be present at meetings, lack of adequate funding, and the interdisciplinary nature of the fellowship’s focus. Lambson and Ehinger said they will continue to apply in the future.