If you want to make a difference, and are not already wedded to a particular issue, 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 and roughly share our view of which global problems are most pressing, our top recommendations are to donate to the Long-Term Future Fund or Effective Altruism Infrastructure Fund. (Note that we’ve received money from both funds in the past — we have other suggestions for where to donate below.)
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. Here are some prompts to work through:
- Do you trust someone else’s recommendations? 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.
That said, it can be better to do your own research if you think you might find something higher impact according to your values than even your best advisor would find, or if you think you might contribute to the broader debate about which charities should be funded (producing research is a public good for other donors), or if 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 fixed costs of understanding the landscape. The Centre for Effective Altruism now organises donor lotteries once a year — find out more here.
If you’re going to do your own 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 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, 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, so a bit of research might be a good idea to ensure your donations are doing the most good. Finally, younger people should 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:
- Decide which global problems you think are most pressing. You want to find charities that are working on big but neglected problems, 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.
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 either (i) implement programmes that have been rigorously tested (most haven’t) or (ii) are running pilot programmes that will be tested in the future, or (iii) 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 the latter category are those that 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 the lists of recommended organisations within our problem profiles.
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.
Further reading on how to find effective charities
Which charities do we think are most effective to donate to (if you don’t have much time for your own research)?
Effective Altruism Funds
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 Effective Altruism Funds.
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 committee (which we do).
If you roughly share our view of which global problems are most pressing, we would highlight the Long-Term Future Fund and EA Infrastructure Fund in particular (click through to view their most recent grant reports).
We’ve had some concerns about some past grants by the Long-Term Future Fund, but think their recent rounds have been good. You can check out their full grant record to learn more.
(Note that these funds are operated by our fiscal sponsor, the Centre for Effective Altruism, 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 CEO on how he would decide where to donate.
Topping up grants from other smart donors
If you prefer to have more control over where your money is going, you could also ‘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 the Open Philanthropy Project. (Disclosure: they are our single largest funder.) You can learn more about their mindset and research in our interviews with current and former research staff.
They have far more research capacity than any individual donor, but you can roughly match the cost effectiveness of their 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 their analysts have learned.
The Open Philanthropy Project often doesn’t want to provide 100% of an organisation’s funding, so that organisations don’t become too dependent on them alone. This creates a need for smaller donors to ‘top up’ their funding.
In light of the above, each year many grantmakers at the Open Philanthropy Project offer giving suggestions for individual donors that you can follow. Check out their giving suggestions from 2020, as well as 2019, 2018, and 2017.
On top of those posts, the Open Philanthropy Project maintains a database of all their grants, which you can filter by year and focus area.
For instance, if you’re interested in giving to support pandemic preparedness, you can get a list of all their 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, organised by 80,000 Hours’ level of familiarity with the area.
Our top priority areas
Other focus areas we’ve investigated
Focus areas we know less about
Read 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 once a year — here’s their December 2020 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 2020.
- Farm animal welfare: Animal Charity Evaluators uses seven 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 articles about 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.