Joseph McKeen
Center for the Common Good

Jon Behar '01

Posted June 08, 2007

Jon Behar ’01

March 26, 2015 by McKeen Center

What was your class year and major/minor?
I graduated in 2001 with a double major in Economics and Government and a minor in Philosophy.
What is your current job and city of residence?
I’m the Chief Operating Officer and Director of Philanthropy Education at The Life You Can Save, a non-profit fighting extreme poverty. In these roles I’m responsible for managing all of the organization’s internal operations including our Giving Games project, which I personally incubated prior to joining TLYCS. I live on Bainbridge Island, WA (outside Seattle).
Did your academic or extracurricular experience at Bowdoin influence how you are involved in communities now? If yes, how so?
My economics coursework definitely played a big role. It made concepts like cost-efficiency and opportunity cost second nature to me. These ideas underly TLYCS’s advocacy for highly effective charities that do an enormous amount of good with each dollar. I also had an amazing opportunity to work as a research assistant for Andreas Ortmann who specialized in experimental economics. This is coming in handy as I find myself designing experiments in collaboration with giving researchers over a decade later.
In what ways have you been engaged with the community since graduating from Bowdoin (both professionally and personally)?
I developed the “Giving Game” approach to philanthropy education. In this model, participants learn about a few pre-vetted charities, discuss their relative merits, and then make a real donation (often subsidized) to their favorite. I founded an organization called A Path That’s Clear to incubate the idea for Giving Games. After demonstrating that Giving Games can be an effective model for promoting more giving that serves the common good, I joined The Life You Can Save to bring the program to scale and ultimately direct more resources toward where they can do the most good for the global community. I’ve also served on the board of the non-profit GiveWell, a charity evaluator.
What’s been your favorite or most meaningful experience in public service since you graduated?
It’s been incredibly gratifying to see how quickly Giving Games are being adopted. We’re reaching thousands of people a year, soon to be tens of thousands. We’ve now played Giving Games in eight countries, at colleges, businesses, MOOCs, high schools, and church groups.
Have any unexpected challenges or difficulties related your work developed along the way? If so, what did you learn from these challenges?
People pursuing the common good tend to be really busy. Collaboration is essential, but expect things to take longer than you’d planned.
What advice do you have for students who want to work for the common good after Bowdoin?
Aim big: don’t just try to do good, try to do as much good as you can. And don’t be afraid to reach out to people you want advice from. Cold emails are surprisingly effective, and you don’t need a very high hit rate to make the practice worthwhile.

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