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  • Writer's pictureJulia Deufel

How can we do the most good? Effective Giving

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

What is effective giving?

Giving via donations is a way to exercise your concern for the well-being of humans and animals other than yourself. Effective giving is using evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible and taking action on that basis. It is about doing the most good we can with the resources available to us.

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What counts as effective?

To give effectively, decisions on where to spend philanthropic funds should be based on evidence and reasoning. Independent charity evaluators such as GiveWell, Animal Charity Evaluators and Founder’s Pledge continually assess which organisations are the most effective. To give to the best ones at any given time, we must be flexible and agile: if the most effective charities change, so should where our money and time go.

Why should you (want to) donate to charity?

Imagine you are walking past a pond, and you see a child struggling to stay above water in the middle of it. Would you jump in to save the child? Of course - you wouldn't hesitate.

Now imagine you're wearing your best clothes and have your phone in your pocket. Would you still jump in and save the child if it would get your outfit and phone all wet? Of course! The child’s life is more valuable than the cost of replacing your clothes or phone.

Now imagine you cannot physically jump in to save the child, but you can donate the cost of your clothes or phone and save a child’s life. Would you make the same decision?

This thought experiment shows us that we know it is morally good to prevent unnecessary suffering, even if it costs us a small amount. But rather than telling you we are morally obliged to help others, I want to focus on the amazing opportunity we have to do good.

Do you know how much good you can do with just a tiny percentage of what you earn? You can realistically save lives, or dramatically improve them, with a very small amount of your salary. Even one percent can make a huge difference. This is an exciting and uplifting prospect! I am not here to tell you you are not a good person if you do not give to charity. While it might be argued that we, professionals living in high-income countries, are morally obliged to help those less fortunate than us, what I believe is that we should want to.

I came across the ‘How rich am I?’ calculator while researching this article, created by Giving What We Can. If you are reading this, and you have a paid job in a country like the UK, Germany or Singapore, you are most likely among the richest 1-4% of the global population. The calculator also estimates the potential impact of your donations, like how many lives you are likely to save if you decide to donate a percentage of your income per year. Click here to check it out.

If you give consistently to effective organisations, your money will go further and improve and save many more lives than giving spontaneously or reactively after an event. You can do this, for example, by setting up a recurring donation through One for the World (for US, Canadian and Australian dollars and British pounds) or Effektiv Spenden (for Euros). Even a one-time donation will also be put to good use.

How do you decide whom to give to?

We all have finite resources: only so much time, money and attention to give to things we care about. And most of us think helping more is better than helping less. Combining these beliefs, we realise that it is morally good to try to use our resources to do as much good as possible, informing our choices about where to give.

Choosing to give to the most cost-effective organisations is not the same as making a judgment on which cause is the most valuable, but rather which cause will save or improve the most lives. Figuring out which cause will give you the most bang for your charitable buck is a practical way to approach this.

What is high-impact giving?

High-impact giving supports a cause that:

  • affects many, greatly (large scale)

  • not enough is being done about (neglected)

  • is highly solvable, given more resources (solvable)

Which causes are the best to support?

Would you like to know that the money you donate will create the maximum amount of positive change possible?

The effective altruism community has identified three problems that are large scale, neglected and can be tackled effectively:

  1. Extreme poverty

  2. Animal welfare

  3. Long-term future outcomes

Extreme poverty: Global health and economic development

Problems we can effectively address to help alleviate (and ultimately end) extreme poverty are malaria, malnutrition and preventable diseases like parasitic worms that result in birth defects, blindness or death. Improving health does not just avert the direct suffering associated with sickness and death, it also allows people to participate more fully in education and work, earn more money and have more opportunities later in life.

Malaria, for example, kills around 400,000 people every year. More than 200 million people fall ill. 70% of these are children under five, and malaria is the #1 killer of pregnant women globally.

Malaria is completely preventable. Almost no one dies from malaria in high-income countries. A bed net from the Against Malaria Foundation, which protects two people from mosquitos for 3-4 years, costs about 2 USD. Why bed nets? Because malaria-carrying mosquitos typically bite between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. Anti-malarial drugs from the Malaria Consortium cost around 7 USD per treatment and are highly effective in preventing people from contracting the disease.

In 2020, extreme poverty is, unfortunately, likely to have increased for the first time in 20 years. The number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide has fallen by more than 1 billion people since 1999. Part of this success in reducing poverty will be reversed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is likely to have put 120 million people back below the poverty line.

Thanks to work from Nobel-prize winning economists, we have identified solutions to many poverty-related problems that kill millions of people, especially children, each year. They are highly effective and are cheap to implement, so individuals like us can make a real difference with our donations.

Animal welfare

Factory farming harms billions of animals every year but garners just a tiny percentage of philanthropic funding. The USA dedicates just 3% of philanthropic funds to animals and the environment combined. This is a greatly neglected problem of enormous scale. It is estimated that intensive farming affects 60 billion animals each year. Many are treated with extreme cruelty. The scale of this problem and the severity of this mistreatment makes it an urgent and significant issue.

Intensive animal farming also has broader consequences. Global livestock production is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 80% of rainforest clearing. It creates water scarcity, pollutes groundwater, destroys large parts of the ocean, and it increases the emergence of multi-resistant diseases with its excessive use of antibiotics. This is forecast to kill over 10 million people by 2050.

By addressing animal welfare by focusing on factory farming, we address global health, the environment and our long-term safety at the same time. Many of the most effective non-profits in this area work on policy and have had some spectacular successes, like moving to ban caged animal farming in the EU. Policy work can be slow-moving, but the cost-effectiveness is extraordinary because it positively affects so many animals at once.

Long-term future

To do the most good and protect the most people, we must act now to protect future generations from suffering. Important threats to an almost infinite number of future humans and animals, and civilisation as a whole, include climate change, nuclear weapons and pandemics. Much of what we can do here is to research and invest in science to understand and actively avoid a dangerous and harmful future.

We have just witnessed the devastating effects of a global pandemic; future pandemics could be much worse. We were able to produce effective vaccines in the shortest time in medical history for COVID-19, so the more prepared we are in the future, the more likely we are to prevent another pandemic.

Climate change is a huge existential threat: if the earth’s temperature keeps rising, we will suffer from food and water shortages, the displacement of already vulnerable populations and decreased global stability. In the worst-case scenario, humans will become extinct.

When you start thinking about the almost infinite number of future humans and animals, making even a relatively small difference to their prospects is hugely beneficial. At present, the world spends more on ice cream than on protective technologies. Rebalancing this could make the world a dramatically safer place and safeguard the future of billions of humans and animals.

Recommended organisations to donate to:

These are examples of the top-rated charities chosen by One for the World and Effektiv Spenden. These are organisations you can donate to who will distribute your contributions to the world’s most impactful charities. Charities are evaluated on how cost-effective, transparent and impactful they are and on how much growth potential they have (whether they are able to use additional funds effectively and promptly). These are the most radically transparent charities in the world.

Global health and economic development
as evaluated by GiveWell

Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) buys and distributes long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria transmission for just $5.02 per net. AMF is one of GiveWell’s top-rated charities.

AMF is cost-effective, ensures that nets are delivered and installed, monitors whether they remain in use and are kept in good condition, is able to use more funding to deliver more nets and operates with a high level of transparency. When you donate to AMF, you can closely follow what good your money did, exactly where and when.

GiveDirectly provides unconditional cash transfers to some of the poorest people in Kenya and Uganda using cell phone technology. Direct money transfers to people living in extreme poverty are a cost-effective way to improve lives through economic development. A $350 donation to GiveDirectly will double a recipient’s annual consumption.

Animal welfare

The Humane League aims to end the abuse of animals that are processed into food. It focuses specifically on campaigns to get companies to implement higher animal welfare standards and promotes international exchange with other animal rights groups.

Good Food Institute promotes the development and marketing of competitive alternatives to conventional meat, to establish animal-free and environmentally friendly products on the market that are equal in taste, price and availability.

Climate and environment
as evaluated by Founder’s Pledge

Clean Air Task Force advocates for policy and technological change to achieve rapid global development of low-carbon energy and other climate-smart technologies and their deployment. By 2050, energy systems worldwide must be largely decarbonised to meet global climate goals.

Carbon180 supports entrepreneurs, scientists, and policymakers in working to meet the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change considers this necessary to remove between 100 and 1,000 gigatonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere by the end of the 21st century.

Mental health
as evaluated by Happier Lives Institute

StrongMinds provides group interpersonal psychotherapy to impoverished women in Uganda and Zambia. They are planning for rapid growth (treating 50,000 in 2022, 100,000 in 2023, and 150,000 in 2024) equalling 300,000 women treated over the next three years. To do this, they will need to raise $30 million in total.

What is the easiest way to donate?

One for the World (OFTW) invites you to pledge to donate at least 1% of your income every month. You can take the pledge and set up a recurring donation on their website. You can choose which of their recommended charities to donate to, or to the OFTW Top Picks. This group of five charities is updated yearly based on the latest research from GiveWell. You can donate in GBP, USD, CAD or AUD with OFTW.

You can donate Euros in the same way with Effektiv Spenden. All donations are tax-deductible.

What else can I do?

You can dedicate your career to doing good without necessarily working for a charity. 80,000 Hours is an organisation to help you do the most good with your career. Your career is likely to last about 80,000 hours, so choosing what to do with that time is enormously impactful. An example of a career choice based on effective altruism is a doctor realising she can help more people by working on pandemic policy than seeing patients one by one. But you do not have to work in a charity to do a lot of good with your career: you might, for example, become an investment banker. The more you earn, the more you can give to effective causes. 80,000 Hours has a job board and many resources to help you plan your impactful career and learn about effective altruism.

Political engagement is powerful, too. You can vote for candidates that care about these pressing issues and solvable problems, and you can talk about them with your friends and network.

Want to learn more about how you can do good?

Below are some suggested resources:






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