These Are the Charities Where Your Money Will Do the Most good

Happy Giving Tuesday! Giving to charity is great — not just for the recipients but for the givers, too. But it can be intimidating to know how to pick the best charity, especially when there are thousands of worthy causes to choose from. Here are a few simple tips that can help. Full story:
  1. 1.
    Check in with charity recommenders
    It's of course possible to research charity options yourself, but it's probably better to outsource that labor to a careful, methodologically rigorous charity recommender like GiveWell. GiveWell currently lists four top charities: Against Malaria Foundation, Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, Deworm the World and GiveDirectly.
  2. 2.
    Pick charities with research-based strategies
    GiveWell's recommendations rely heavily on both evaluations done by charitable organizations and existing research literature on the kind of intervention they're trying to conduct. For example, its recommendations of SCI and Deworm the World are based on research suggesting that providing children with deworming treatments improves educational, economic, and other outcomes.
  3. 3.
    Give abroad
    It's hard to express how much richer developed nations are than developing ones. The US still has extreme poverty, but it's rare and hard to target effectively. The poorest Americans also have access to health care and education systems that are far superior to those of developing countries. Giving to charities domestically is admirable, but if you want to get the most bang for your buck in terms of saving lives, reducing illness, or improving overall well-being, give abroad.
  4. 4.
    Consider meta-charities
    Groups like GiveWell, Innovations for Poverty Action, Giving What We Can, and 80,000 Hours evaluate development approaches/charities and encourage effective giving. Suppose that every dollar given to Giving What We Can — which encourages people to pledge to donate at least 10% of their income until retirement — results in $1.20 in donations to the Against Malaria Foundation. If so, then you should give to Giving What We Can until the marginal effect on donations to AMF hits $1 or lower.
  5. 5.
    Saving lives isn't everything
    If you only care about reducing early mortality and giving people more years to live, then you should give all your donations to the AMF. But the rest of the charities GiveWell recommends don't mainly focus on reducing mortality. Quality of life matters, too. Parasitic infections hamper children's development and education, which can have negative consequences lasting decades. An increased access to cash may not extend the life of a recipient, but it does make life considerably more pleasant.
  6. 6.
    Don't give to a big charity
    You'll notice that all of the charities GiveWell recommends are reasonably small, and some big names are absent. That's not an accident. In general, charity effectiveness evaluators are skeptical of large relief organizations, for a number of reasons. Large organizations tend to be less transparent about where their money goes and also likelier to direct money to disaster relief efforts, which are usually less cost-effective, in general, than public health programs.
  7. 7.
    Maybe just give money directly to poor people
    As the World Bank's Jishnu Das once put it, "'Does giving cash work well' is a well-defined question only if you are willing to say that 'well' is something that WE, the donors, want to define for families whom we have never met and whose living circumstances we have probably never spent a day, let alone a lifetime, in." If you're not willing to say that, then you should strongly consider giving cash.