If you want to make a difference, and are not already wedded to a cause, what’s the best charity to donate to? This is a brief summary of the most useful information we’ve been able to find.
First, we’ll sketch a process to use to compare options, then we’ll give our recommendations. If you don’t have much time for research, our top recommendation is to give to the Effective Altruism Funds.
Table of Contents
How to choose an effective charity
Here’s a series of steps:
- Do you trust someone else? If you know someone who shares your values and has already put a lot of thought into where to give, then consider simply going with their recommendations. You can skip ahead to see some recommendations from experts in charity evaluation. If you still want to do your own research, go to the next step.
If you have under $10,000 to give, consider entering a donor lottery. You can give up $5,000 in exchange for a 5% chance of donating $100,000. In the case where you win, you can do a ton of research into where is best to give. Otherwise, someone else does that extensive research and decides. The Centre for Effective Altruism is now organising regular donor lotteries and they’re easy to enter. When it comes to doing that research, here’s what we recommend:
First, decide how much research to do. The more you’re giving as a percentage of your annual income, the more time it’s worth spending doing research – a 1% donation is worth a few hours work, while a 50% donation could be worth a month of research. In addition, the more you expect your mind to change, the more research it’s worth doing. If you’re giving 10% and don’t imagine a few days of research would change your mind about which option is best, you should probably just give there. Otherwise, continue to the next step.
Decide which problem areas are most pressing. You want to find charities that are working on big but neglected problems, where there’s a clear route to progress, because this is where it’s easiest to have a big impact. If you’re new to 80,000 Hours, see our guide to comparing global problems, story of how our views have changed and a list of problems we’re interested in. If you’re already familiar with the basics of problem selection, check the section further down with tips about which to choose.
Find the best organizations within your top 2-3 problem areas. Look for charities which are well-run, have a great team, potential to grow, and are working on a justified program. Many charitable programs don’t work, so focus on organizations that either (i) implement programs that have been rigorously tested (most haven’t) or (ii) are running pilot programs that will be tested in the future, or (iii) that have a “high-risk, high-reward” proposition, such as scientific research, policy advocacy, or the potential to grow very rapidly – if the upside is high enough, it can be worth supporting the charity even if the probability of success is low. Within each problem profile we list many of the best organizations.
If you have to break a tie, choose the one that’s furthest from meeting its funding needs. Some organizations already have a lot of funding compared to what they can do with it. For instance, GiveWell has tried to find a good vaccine organization to fund, but organizations like the Gates Foundation take all the good opportunities. You can assess room for funding by looking at where the organization intends to spend additional donations, either by reading their plans or talking to them. Or you could see that one is further from meeting its baseline funding needed to continue operating. This consideration is a bit less important than others: if you support a great organization working on a neglected problem, then they’ll probably figure out a good way to use the money even if they get a lot.
Which charities do we think are most effective to donate to?
Which charity is most effective is hard to figure out and always changing. That’s why our top recommendation is to give to the Effective Altruism Funds. You choose how to split your money across different problem areas, then an expert in each area chooses which charities will be able to make your funds go furthest
Note that the funds are operated by our parent organisation, the Centre for Effective Altruism, and we may receive donations from the EA Community Fund.
There are four different funds to choose from – one for Global Development, Animal Welfare, the Long-Term Future and the EA Community. Those pages describe the experts who make grants from the funds and where they’ve chosen to give in the past.
Beyond that, we’ve collated advice on where to donate from people in the effective altruism community over the last two giving seasons. Those recommendations cover a wider range of charities and cause areas:
Other sources include:
- Where the charity effectiveness researchers at the Open Philanthropy Project are giving in December 2017, including a section from our trustee Nick Beckstead.
- Where the charity effectiveness researchers at GiveWell are giving in Dec 2017.
- GiveWell’s top charities.
- Animal Charity Evaluator’s top charities.
- A contributor at the effective altruism forum investigates organisations focussed on improving the long term future.
Should you give now or later?
It might be more effective to invest your money, grow it, and donate a larger sum later. Read our research on this.
How do I handle taxes and giving?
Here’s an introductory guide to giving, taxes and personal finance, with links to further reading.
Where’s the best place to volunteer?
The problem with volunteering is that volunteers need to be managed. If untrained volunteers use up the time of trained managers, it’s easy for them to cost the organisation more than the value they add to it. The reason many volunteering schemes persist is that volunteers are more likely to donate in the future. For instance, when FORGE cut their volunteering scheme to be more effective, they inadvertently triggered a big drop in donations.
This also explains why many volunteering schemes involve unskilled work, like yard work or serving food. The aim of the scheme is just to get people involved, rather than directly have an impact.
However, some volunteering can be effective. In choosing where to volunteer, we’d recommend a process similar the one above for choosing where to donate, except, also consider whether the charity has a special need for your skills. For instance, if you’re a web designer, help build their website. If you’re a lawyer, provide pro-bono legal advice.
One question to consider is whether the charity would prefer a donation or your time. Suppose you’re a lawyer and you’d be happy to either spend a weekend doing pro-bono work or donate $1000. If the charity has a genuine need for your legal advice, they’ll probably choose that rather than the money. In some cases, you can even directly ask.
Finally, volunteering can be a great way to learn about an area and build career capital. Just remember, if you’re doing it for this reason, try to avoid placing a burden on the organisation.