How to choose where to donate
If you want to make a difference, and are happy to give toward wherever you think you can do the most good (regardless of cause area), how do you choose where to donate? This is a brief summary of the most useful tips we have.
Table of Contents
- 1 How to choose an effective charity
- 2 What about specific charities?
- 3 Should you give now or later?
- 4 How should you handle taxes and giving?
- 5 Next steps
How to choose an effective charity
First, plan your research
One big decision to make is whether to do your own research or delegate your decision to someone else. Below are some considerations.
If you trust someone else’s recommendations, you can defer to them.
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.
But it can be better to do your own research if any of these apply to you:
- You think you might find something higher impact according to your values than even your best advisor would find (because you have unique values, good research skills, or access to special information — e.g. knowing about a small project a large donor might not have looked into).
- You think you might be able to productively contribute to the broader debate about which charities should be funded (producing research is a public good for other donors).
- You want to improve your knowledge of effective altruism and charity evaluation.
Consider entering a donor lottery.
A donor lottery allows you to donate into a fund with other small donors, in exchange for a proportional chance to be able to choose where the whole fund gets donated. For example, you might put $20,000 into a fund in exchange for a 20% chance of being able to choose where $100,000 from that fund gets donated.
Why might you want to do this? If you win the lottery, it’s worthwhile doing a great deal of research into where it’s best to give, to allocate that $100,000 as well as possible. If you don’t win, you don’t have to do any research, and whoever wins the lottery does it instead. In short, it’s probably more efficient for small donors to pool their funds, and for one of them to do in-depth research, rather than for each of them to do a small amount of research. This is because there are some fixed costs of understanding the landscape — it doesn’t generally become 100 times harder to figure out where to donate 100 times the funds.
Giving What We Can organises donor lotteries once a year.
If you’re going to do your own research, decide how much you should do.
The more you’re giving as a percentage of your annual income, the more time it’s worth spending on research. Roughly speaking, a 1% donation might be worth a few hours of work, while a 50% donation could be worth a month of research. On the other hand, the more you earn per hour, it may be that the less time you should take off for independent research, as that may be dominated by simply earning and giving more.
Another factor is how much you expect the research to affect your decisions. For example, if you haven’t thought about this much before, it’s worth doing more research. But even if you have thought about it a lot, bear in mind you could be overconfident in your current views (or things might have changed since you last looked into it), so a bit of research might be a good idea to ensure your donations are doing the most good.
Finally, younger people should sometimes do more research, since it will help them learn about charity evaluation, which will inform their giving in future years (and perhaps their career decisions as well). As a young person, giving 1% per year and spending a weekend thinking about it is a great way to learn about effective giving. If you’re a bit older, giving 10%, and don’t expect your views to change, then perhaps one or two days of research is worth it. If you’re giving more than 10%, more time is probably justified.
Second, choose an effective charity
If you’re doing your own research, we recommend working through these steps:
1. Decide which global problems you think are most pressing right now.
You want to find charities that are working on big but neglected problems, and where there’s a clear route to progress — this is where it’s easiest to have a big impact. If you’re new to 80,000 Hours, learn about how we approach figuring out which global problems are most pressing, or see a list of problems we think especially need attention.
2. Find the best organisations within your top 2–3 problem areas.
Look for charities that are well-run, have a great team and potential to grow, and are working on a justified programme.
Many charitable programmes don’t work, so focus on organisations that do at least one of the following:
- Implement programmes that have been rigorously tested (most haven’t).
- Are running pilot programmes that will be tested in the future.
- Would be so valuable if they worked that it’s worth taking a chance on them — even if the likelihood of success is low. Organisations in this category have a ‘high-risk, high-reward’ proposition, such as scientific research, policy advocacy, or the potential to grow very rapidly.
If you’re doing your own intensive research, then at this stage you typically need to talk to people in the area to figure out which organisations are doing good work. One starting point might be our lists of top-recommended organisations.
3. If you have to break a tie, choose the one that’s furthest from meeting its funding needs.
Some organisations already have a lot of funding, and may not have the capacity to effectively use additional funds. For instance, GiveWell has tried to find a good organisation that provides individuals with vaccines to fund, but funders like the Gates Foundation take most of the promising opportunities. You can assess an organisation’s room for more funding by looking at where they intend to spend additional donations, either by reading their plans or talking to them.
This consideration is a bit less important than others: if you support a great organisation working on a neglected problem, then they’ll probably figure out a good way to use the money, even if they get a lot.
Learn more about how to find effective charities
- When can small donors make donations that are even more effective than large donors? This article lists situations when small donors have an advantage over large donors — ideally you’d choose one of these situations to focus on. It also includes more thoughts on whether to delegate your decision or do your own research.
Tips on how to evaluate charities from GiveWell. Bear in mind that the process for evaluating a large organisation is different from evaluating a startup. With large, stable organisations, you can extrapolate forward from their recent performance. With new and rapidly growing organisations, what matters is the long-term potential upside (and their chances of getting there), more than what they’ve accomplished in the past.
What about specific charities?
We are not experts in charity evaluation — but there are people who are! Not every cause area has charity evaluators, but in global health and animal welfare the recommendations are more developed.
A good place to start are the following lists, which are updated annually.
- Giving What We Can’s effective charity recommendations
- GiveWell’s Top Charities
- Animal Charity Evaluators’ Recommended Charities
Donating to expert-led funds rather than directly to charities
The best charity to give to is both hard to determine and constantly changing. So, we think a reasonable option for people who don’t have much time for their own research is to give to expert-managed funds that are aligned with your principles. (Our principles are broadly in line with effective altruism, which is why we highlight effective altruism funds below.)
When donating to a fund, you choose how to split your giving across different focus areas — global health, animal welfare, community infrastructure, and the long-term future — and an expert committee in each area makes grants, with the aim of selecting the most effective charities. This is a great way to delegate your decision to people who might have a better view of the options, provided you feel reasonably aligned with the committees.
EA Funds options:
- Long-Term Future Fund
- Global Health and Development Fund
- Animal Welfare Fund
- Effective Altruism Infrastructure Fund
Founders Pledge also has an expert-led fund for climate change.
The Giving What We Can donation platform lists more recommended effective altruism funds:
(Note that EA Funds is a project of the Effective Ventures Foundation, our parent charity, and due to our similar views on how to do the most good, we have received grants from both funds in the past. Michelle Hutchinson, one of our team members, is one of six members of the Infrastructure Fund committee. She recuses herself from decisions about 80,000 Hours.)
You can also see some notes from our president, Benjamin Todd, on how he would decide where to donate.
Topping up grants from other donors you broadly agree with
If you prefer to have more control over where your money is going, you could also directly ‘top up’ a particular past grant made by one of the funds you think is effective, or another large donor, such as Open Philanthropy — read more about this option here:
We think the leading foundation that takes an effective altruism approach to giving is Open Philanthropy.1 (Disclosure: it is our largest funder.) You can learn more about Open Philanthropy’s mindset and research in our interviews with current and former research staff.
Open Philanthropy has far more research capacity than any individual donor, but you can roughly match the cost effectiveness of its grants without needing to invest much effort at all. One way to do this is by co-funding the same projects, or giving based on what its analysts have learned.
Open Philanthropy often doesn’t want to provide 100% of an organisation’s funding, so that organisations don’t become too dependent on it alone. This creates a need for smaller donors to ‘top up’ its funding.
In light of the above, Open Philanthropy maintains a database of all its grants, which you can filter by year and focus area.
Also, some grantmakers at Open Philanthropy offer annual giving suggestions for individual donors that you can follow.
For instance, if you’re interested in giving to support pandemic preparedness, you can get a list of all its grants in that area, read through some recent ones, and donate to an organisation you find attractive and which still has room to absorb more funding.
Below is a list of Open Philanthropy’s focus areas and associated grants.
Our top-priority areas
- Biosecurity and pandemic preparedness: explanation of the area and list of all grants
- Potential risks from advanced artificial intelligence: explanation of the area and list of all grants
- Effective altruism community growth: explanation of the area and list of all grants
Other focus areas we’ve investigated
- Farmed animal welfare: explanation of the area and list of all grants
- Scientific research: explanation of the area and list of all grants
- Global health and development: explanation of the area and list of all grants
Focus areas we know less about
- Criminal justice reform: explanation of the area and list of all grants
- Macroeconomic stabilisation policy: explanation of the area and list of all grants
- Immigration policy: explanation of the area and list of all grants
- Land use reform: explanation of the area and list of all grants
Reading the research conducted by other informed donors
Here are some other resources you could draw on:
- Technical AI safety research: A contributor at the Effective Altruism Forum publishes a review of organisations most years— here’s their December 2021 update.
- Global health and development: GiveWell identifies and recommends charities that are evidenced-based, thoroughly vetted, and underfunded. Many of the staff at GiveWell also write about where they are giving personally, and make suggestions for the public. Here’s their post from 2022.
- Farmed animal welfare: Animal Charity Evaluators uses four criteria to recommend charities they believe most effectively help animals.
- ‘S-risks’: The German Effective Altruism Foundation has launched its own expert-advised fund focused on the possibility that future technologies could lead to large amounts of suffering.
- See all posts about where to donate on 80,000 Hours and on the EA Forum.
Should you give now or later?
It might be more effective to invest your money, grow it, and donate a larger sum later. We have an article on this, or you can read this more recent and technical exploration of the considerations. Here are all our resources on the ‘now vs later’ question.
How should you handle taxes and giving?
If you’re in the US, here’s an introductory guide to giving, taxes, and personal finance, and a more advanced one. You may also be interested in this guide to choosing a donor-advised fund.
If you’re in the UK, here’s a guide to income tax and donations.
You can also see Giving What We Can’s article on tax deductibility of donations by country.
- Read about the importance of choosing the right problem area.
- Check out Giving What We Can’s recommended expert-managed charitable funds.
- Learn more about Giving What We Can, and consider pledging to give at least 10% each year to wherever you think can do the most good (several 80,000 Hours’ staff have pledged). Starting in 2023, Giving What We Can plans to evaluate charity evaluators on their methodology, and promote the recommendations of evaluators that meet a certain quality standard.
Notes and references
- We don’t present our full reasoning for deferring to Open Philanthropy in this article.
It’s a view formed through exposure to its research over many years, including using its published work to inform our own advice, and interacting with its analysts when they’ve evaluated us to receive grants. We also personally know many of the staff members, and find their accomplishments at Open Philanthropy and in previous jobs impressive.
To decide for yourself, check out some of their research, or listen to our interviews with current and former staff on our podcast.↩