Where should you donate to have the most impact during giving season 2015?


Many of our readers choose to give away substantial sums over the ‘giving season’ around Christmas and New Year. Where should they give so that their money has the biggest social impact?

This post is based on a combination of my existing knowledge, some judgement calls based on three years working in effective altruism, and brief consultation with the people involved in the groups below. It’s not based on in-depth research, and the recommendations could easily change. Take this post as a starting point for your own analysis.

Note that we’re looking for the charities that help others the most, treating everyone’s welfare as equal. If you have a particular attachment to a specific cause, you’ll need to factor that in separately.

This flowchart is a summary of the advice below. Read on for more details.

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What’s the best way to spend $20,000 to help the common good?

I recently came across the following question posted by Paul Buchheit (the founder of Gmail):

Assume that I’m going to get rid of $20,000 and my only concern is the “common good”. Which of these is the best use of the money: give it to the Gates foundation, buy a hybrid car, invest it in a promising startup, invest it in the S&P500, give it to the US government, give it to a school, other?

Many of our users donate money as way to do good with their careers, and I liked this way of posing the question – it’s both broad and concrete. So I spent an hour writing out a rough answer.

I’ll take each option in turn and eliminate the worst ones, then compare a shortlist at the end.

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Donating to Giving What We Can is higher impact than donating to GiveWell recommended charities.

Giving What We Can is fundraising. When I last checked, they had only reached £70,000 of their £150,000 target.

Last year, more than $28m was donated to Give Directly, AMF, SCI and Deworm the World – the charities recommended by GiveWell and Giving What We Can.1 In contrast, Giving What We Can (GWWC) spent under $200,000. My claim in this post is that if you donate to these top recommended charities, you’ll have even more impact (at the margin) if you donate to Giving What We Can instead.

GWWC is closely affiliated with 80,000 Hours, so I’m likely to be biased in GWWC’s favour. However, I feel strongly enough that I think it’s worth writing on the topic anyway.

Here’s three reasons why to donate to GWWC.

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The wider consequences of giving away money

Like most of the people here, I’m asking myself what I could do that would have a positive impact on others – about what would have the most positive impact on others. One important part of this is making decisions about what to do with money. This matters for anyone with more money than they feel they need for themselves and those close to them; and it matters especially for people who plan to do good by earning a lot and giving a lot away. I think it’s fair to say that, so far, this site has generally answered this question by focusing on the good that can be done by giving to well-functioning charities. There is a lot to be said for this. The questions, though, seem wider to me. I’ll try to explain here why I think so…

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It is Effectiveness, not Overhead that Matters

Would you rather help one person or 200 people, if it took the same effort? If you do what most people
do, you’ll be lucky if you help even one.

Let’s say you recognize that giving to charities can make a profound impact in others’ lives and perhaps
you even believe it’s morally the right thing to do. Perhaps you once met someone who was blind and
now you are drawn to helping the blind. You’ve made the choice of a cause, but there are hundreds of
organizations that help the blind and thus seem deserving of your money.

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