First published Nov 2016. Last updated Dec 2018.
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
- 1 How to choose an effective charity
- 2 Which charities do we think are most effective to donate to?
- 3 Should you give now or later?
- 4 How do I handle taxes and giving?
- 5 What about volunteering?
- 6 Next steps
How to choose an effective charity
First, plan your research
- 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. It’s now possible to put $5,000 into a fund with other small donors, in exchange for a 5% chance of being able to choose where $100,000 from that fund gets donated. Why might you want to do this? In the case where you win, you can do a great deal of research into where’s best to give, to allocate that $100,000 as well as possible. Otherwise, you don’t have to do any research, and whoever else 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 each of them do a small amount of research. The Centre for Effective Altruism now organises a donor lottery once a year – two of them are open as of this writing in Dec ‘18, and will close on 9 Jan ‘19. You can find out more.
If you’re going to do your research, 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. Roughly speaking, a 1% donation might be worth a few hours’ work, while a 50% donation could be worth a month of research. Another factor is that 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.
Second, when choosing an organisation, what steps should you take?
Decide which global problems 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 and 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.
If you’re doing your own intensive research, then at this stage you typically need to meet lots of people in the area to figure out which organisations are doing good work. One starting point is that within each of our problem profiles, we include our own list of recommended organisations.
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.
See more tips on how to evaluate charities from GiveWell. Bear in mind that the process for evaluating a large organization is different from evaluating a startup. With large, stable organisations, you can try to extrapolate forward from their recent performance. With new and rapidly growing organisations, what matters is the long-term potential upside.
Which charities do we think are most effective to donate to?
The EA Funds
Which charity is most effective is hard to figure out and always changing. So, we think a reasonable option for people who don’t have much time for their own research is to give to the Effective Altruism Funds. You choose how to split your money across different problem areas, and then an expert in each area chooses which charities will be able to make your funds go furthest.
Note that these funds are operated by our parent organisation, the Centre for Effective Altruism, and we have received grants from both the Meta and Long-Term Future Funds.
As of Dec ‘18 there are four different funds to choose from – one each for Global Health and Development, Animal Welfare, the Long-Term Future and Meta & Community. Those pages describe the experts who make grants from the funds and where they’ve chosen to give in the past.
As of Dec ‘18 their reports on their most recent grants are the following: Global Health and Development, Animal Welfare, Long-Term Future, Meta & Community. The last three also did ‘Ask Me Anythings’ in Dec ‘18 to address questions from prospective donors.
(The EA Funds were criticised in 2018 for not dispersing funds promptly enough, due to the fund managers not having enough time between their other responsibilities. The management of some funds has since changed, and in 3 cases decisions are now made by teams, which we expect will result in more timely grants in future.)
Match giving from other smart donors
What are some other low difficulty options? We think the leading foundation that takes an effective altruism approach to giving is the Open Philanthropy Project. (Disclosure: they are our single largest funder.) They have far more research capacity than any individual donor, but you can roughly match the effectiveness of where they give without needing to invest much effort at all. One way to do this is by co-funding the same projects.
The Open Philanthropy Project doesn’t always want to provide 100% of an organisation’s funding, or it could become too dependent on them. This creates a need for smaller donors to match their funding. Read more about how small donors should be able to beat large donors in effectiveness.
In light of the above, each year many grantmakers at the Open Philanthropy Project declare where they are giving and make suggestions to individual donors that you could follow. Here are their Dec ‘18 suggestions. The 2018 post is unusually brief because not all staff members contributed, but you can find a number of extra ideas that are still relevant in their Dec ‘17 suggestions, or even their 2016 suggestions.
Following the same idea, you could also match grants given out by the EA Funds. You can find links to justifications of their recent grants in the top right corner of each of their pages: Global Health & Development, Animal Welfare, Long-Term Future, Meta and Community.
Read the research conducted by other informed donors
- A contributor at the Effective Altruism Forum publishes a review of organisations working on technical AI safety research once a year. If you’re interested in that problem, we definitely recommend reading their Dec ‘18 update.
- GiveWell identifies and recommends charities focussed on global health and development, that are evidenced-backed, thoroughly vetted, and underfunded.
- Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) uses seven criteria to recommend the charities they believe best help animals. Their staff also write about where they’re giving – the latest such post is from Dec ‘2018.
- The German Effective Altruism Foundation has launched its own expert-advised fund focussed on lowering the risk that future technologies could lead to large amounts of suffering.
- For you convenience we compiled a list of all the annual reports or appeals for funding from organisations that we found on the Effective Altruism Forum around Dec ‘18.
- In previous years, we’ve compiled the recommendations of people in the effective altruism community. See our Dec ‘16 update. Those recommendations are now out-of-date, but could provide a starting point or useful background information.
- Two other reports by contributors to the Effective Altruism Forum who have written about how they decided where to give are Where I gave after winning the 2017 donor lottery by Adam Gleave, and My 2018 donations by Vipul Naik.
That ends our suggestions on where to give. Finally, here are two articles about other decisions you might face while trying to maximise the effectiveness of your donations.
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.
What about volunteering?
We have a brief article about volunteering.
- Check out the Effective Altruism Funds.