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At Giving What We Can, we encourage you to give more to the best causes. We evaluate charities with the aim of offering authoritative advice on where you should give in order to do the most good. Our research is done by a mix of volunteers and employees - primarily academics based at Oxford, Cambridge, and Rutgers. Here, we explain, in broad outline, how we go about the difficult task of seeking out the best charities.
Many people think that identifying the best charities is a matter of finding those that spend the smallest percentage of their income on administrative costs. We don’t agree. At Giving What We Can, we compare the size of the benefit that you can achieve by giving to one organisation as opposed to another. Ultimately, that’s what really counts: helping people to the greatest extent possible. If you can do more to help people by supporting a charity that spends more on administrative costs, you should do so. Learn more about how we differ from other charity evaluators here.
It’s relatively easy to compare different organisations if all you want is to find the one that spends the lowest percentage on admin. How does one rank charities according to the size of the benefit they will typically achieve with a donation of a given size?
You might think that we should try to find those charities that will save the greatest number of lives given a certain sum of money. It’s not clear, however, what it means to ‘save a life’. Sadly, every human life must end at some point. We can extend people’s lives, of course. We should also try to improve the quality of their lives, even if this doesn’t mean extending their life measurably. For these reasons, we tend to measure benefit using a metric known as Quality-Adjusted Life Years or QALYs, which is standard in health economics, and takes account of both quantity and quality. For an in-depth explanation of the QALY metric, please see our section on QALYs and DALYs.
A TOP-DOWN PROCEDURE
In finding the best charities, one could start by looking directly at individual organisations. We go about things a little differently. Evidence suggests that most of the variance in the effectiveness of charities will be due to the kind of intervention(s) that they implement: whether they are building schools, treating trachoma, providing microloans, and so on. Even amongst treatments for individual diseases, some can be hundreds or even thousands of times more effective than others.1
For example, see the comparisons of treatments for HIV/AIDS on this page: http://www.givingwhatwecan.org/resources/hiv-aids.php. (Close footnote)
When looking for excellent charitable opportunities, we therefore employ a top-down down procedure. We start with the big picture, looking at different areas (health, education, climate change, etc.) and try and decide which of these are the most promising. We then identify more promising sub-areas (e.g. malaria treatment, within health), and examine the programmes available in those sub-areas (e.g. bednets and antimalarials, for malaria). Finally, we look for particular charities which are exemplary in carrying out the best programmes (e.g. Against Malaria Foundation). To learn more about why we take this approach, see our page on prioritisation.
Our top-down procedure explains why the material you’ll find in our pages on charity evaluation doesn’t look much like that provided by other charity evaluators. So far, the best opportunities we have found lie in poverty relief: the bulk of the information on this site assesses particular interventions in that area. For this we use a variety of world-class sources, including WHO-CHOICE and the Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries report. In recommending particular charities, we have also drawn on the work of Give Well, another excellent charity evaluator. You can learn more about our sources here.
We keep a list of our recommended charities, which can be found here. We currently advise giving to Against Malaria Foundation, Deworm the World, and Schistosomiasis Control Initiative. We are still actively conducting research at all levels, looking into opportunities in areas that we have not previously covered in depth, such as advocacy, vaccination research, and climate change. Our goal is to help you to help people in poverty as much as possible: we hope, with further research, to find even more outstanding opportunities for bettering the lives of the global poor. To keep you up to date, our research team post regular updates on our blog, to which you can subscribe.
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