Blog post

Effective Giving Day 2021: Maximising your charitable impact

13 min read
Nov 30, 2021

Today we are co-hosting many Effective Giving Day events around the world where a panel of effective giving experts will be available for a Q&A. This is the introduction video, links, and transcript accompanying those events.

Introduction and Q&A playlist

In this post you can learn about how to do the most good with your charitable donations, and hear the latest updates from charity evaluators and expert grantmakers.

Giving effectively

Have you ever helped someone in need? Then you know how good it can feel. But good feelings and good intentions don't always produce the desired outcomes.

Like charities. There are millions of them to choose from and the choice matters, because lives are on the line. Depending on the one you pick, you could do a little good or a lot of good -- and with some choices, you can actually cause harm.

So how can you make the best choice? How can you be sure your donation will have the impact you want, and trust that your generosity isn't wasted?

Giving What We Can is a community of thousands of like minded people who are ready to help you maximise your charitable impact. We can help you find the most pressing problems and then identify the most impactful charities working to solve them. We provide the support, community, and information you need at every stage of your giving journey, whether you're just getting started, or want to make effective giving a meaningful part of your life.

We would love you to join us. Together, we can make the world better for all its inhabitants, for generations to come.

Choosing a cause

If you want to do the most good with your resources then it can help to start by identifying what it is that you value, what resources you have, and what the world needs.

What do you value?

You'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't value happiness. In fact,many people within the effective altruism movement think that we should be trying to increase the amount of happy lives in the universe. This is often articulated by looking at the number, duration and quality of lives.

Valuing lives

If you value happy lives, you also need to consider whose happiness you value, and by how much. For example:

  • Do you just care about people like you, or do you care about all humans alive today, wherever and whoever they may be?
  • Do you just care about the people living right now, or do you care about our descendants, and the kind of lives they may have?
  • Do you just care about humans, or do you also care about other animals: from pets to farmed or wild ones?

At Giving What We Can we recommend trying to have a wide moral circle: to value many lives without prejudice. You can often have much more impact by helping those whose needs tend to be unfairly ignored.

Valuing certainty

Another important value for you to consider is certainty: do you need to be convinced by concrete results or are you happy with having greater uncertainty but a chance at creating an extraordinarily big impact?

How much you value certainty will significantly impact the best approach for you to maximise your charitable impact.

What resources do you have?

Different causes will benefit more or less from different resources. We have many resources that we can apply to important causes, such as our money, careers, volunteering time, and our social and political capital. Today we're looking at how to do the most good with your charitable donations.

What does the world need?

Once we know what we value and the particular resources that we can personally apply to doing good, we need to match that up with what the world actually needs. We need to find the most pressing problems where our resources can have the greatest impact.

This is where a three-factor cause prioritisation framework that is frequently used within the effective altruism community can really help.

A problem's higher priority, the bigger, the more easily solvable and the more neglected it is.

  • Bigger is better, because we've got more to gain if we do solve the problem.
  • More easily solvable is better because it can solve the problem with less time or money.
  • And most subtly, more neglected is better, because of diminishing returns. The more resources that have already been invested into solving a problem, the harder it will be to make additional progress.

You can learn more about this cause selection framework and the causes that score well on it at givingwhatwecan.org/choosing-a-cause.

Choosing a charity

After choosing a promising cause to support, we are ready to select an outstanding charity working in that area.

To ensure that every donation does as much good as possible, it's important to support charities that are cost-effective. In other words, we should try to determine which charities can accomplish the most good with the resources we give them. We want "the best bang for our charitable buck".

These charities are likely to: be supported by strong scientific or theoretical evidence, be cost-effective, and have room for more funding.

We go through charity selection criteria in great detail at givingwhatwecan.org/choosing-a-charity, but fortunately there are two promising ways to rely on experts who have done the work for you. We recommend you use charity evaluators and expert grantmakers.

Choose individual charities: using charity evaluators

Charity evaluators assess charities based on how effectively they use donations. We particularly recommend following the advice of GiveWell, which evaluates charities working on global health and development, and Animal Charity Evaluators, which evaluates charities working on animal advocacy.

GiveWell

GiveWell was founded to help donors find and support the nonprofits where donations will save or improve lives most per dollar.

"This is the exact position I was in back in 2006. I was a young person, was very fortunate to have money to give away and felt like it was impossible to figure out where to give and be confident that I was having a big impact on the world. And so GiveWell now gives donors the ability to put those good intentions to work and use that money to have a big impact on people's lives."
Elie Hassenfeld -- Co-founder & CEO, Givewell

Research is the core product at GiveWell. It's what we put out in the world to share with donors to help guide their giving,

GiveWell spends over 20,000 hours each year looking at academic studies to figure out which programs are the most promising, connecting with organizations that implement those programs to figure out which are the most effective at doing so and ultimately bringing all of that together to come up with a short list of recommendations that we think can help people the most per dollar donated.

They try as much as possible to put numbers to the effectiveness of their giving efforts.

Since 2007, GiveWell has directed more than $700 million dollars to its recommended charities --- taking zero fees for themselves along the way. And because these donations reach effective organizations, more lives are saved from malaria, more kids are treated for parasitic worms, and more children receive vital nutritional supplements.

Animal Charity Evaluators

Like many people, you love animals. When they're suffering you want to help them. Unfortunately, many different kinds of animals need help: from abandoned pets to endangered elephants.

Most of us have limited time and money and it's hard to know where to start in order to make the biggest difference for the most animals. It's important to think strategically.

Say you have $100 to donate or five hours of your time to volunteer. What if spending time and money on Project A helps five animals but spending the same time and money on Project B helps 100 animals? The more impactful choice is pretty clear but how do you know which projects will help the most animals?

That's where Animal Charity Evaluators come in: they do the research for you. Using their free resources you can discover the best ways for you to help as many animals as possible. Whether you're a volunteer or a donor, visit animalcharityevaluators.org and they'll help you be the best advocate you can.

Giving together: using funds

Funds are easy for donors and highly effective. They help donors pool their money together to find outstanding giving opportunities that are evaluated by expert grantmakers and trusted charity evaluators.

Using a grantmaking fund is similar to using an investment fund instead of trying to pick which individual stocks will be the best investments. The fund distributes your donation among multiple grantees on the basis of expected impact.

GiveWell and Animal Charity Evaluators both have funds that regrant to their top charities -- this is a great option for donors who value more certainty alongside expert advice. We also recommend other funds that make more bespoke grants, such as Effective Altruism Funds and Founders Pledge -- these are great options for donors who take a 'hits-based approach' to giving so that they can have higher expected-value.

Effective Altruism Funds

Effective Altruism Funds helps donors to maximise impact across the four key cause areas:

You choose your allocation across the funds, donate with cash, crypto, or stocks and then these expert-led funds regrant your donations to where they'll have the biggest impact.

EA Funds is trusted by thoughtful donors around the world, and tax-deductible in the UK, USA and Netherlands.

Founders Pledge Climate Change Fund

The Founders Pledge Climate Fund gives you as an individual the opportunity to maximise your positive climate impact. This year they've spent over 1,000 hours finding the best opportunities for climate philanthropy and navigating a quickly changing landscape.

As a fund, they're able to act quickly: when Biden won they directly deployed over $1m to our top charities, enabling the top charities to engage with the incoming administration; and just last month they greenlighted a PR grant within hours, allowing a major report launched at COP26 to be featured in global media.

They're able to incubate new organisations too: last year they did this with Terrapraxis and this year with Future Cleantech Architects, an innovation think tank which we think has the potential to largely increase Europe's contribution to global decarbonisation.

They're also able to act boldly and adapt to this changing landscape: this year they're making a multiple year globalisation grant for the Clean Air Task Force, enabling new programs in China, India, Africa and Asia-Pacific where emissions are rising and a large part of our climate future will be shaped.

Innovations in charity

Individually evaluated charities and grantmaking funds are a great way for most donors to give effectively. However, it doesn't end there. Next we're going to highlight two other innovative approaches to maximising your charitable impact.

Charity Entrepreneurship

Every great charity had to start with a small donation. One of the ways to have a huge impact is by leveraging your donation and supporting organisations that are small and underfunded and might be potentially the next most-impactful thing.

When you think about The Against Malaria Foundation, The Human League, or these massive organisations that are having a huge impact; at the beginning, funding them would have been extremely high leverage (giving them the ability to expand and grow and eventually have the massive impact they have today).

Charity Entrepreneurship is an organisation that focuses on creating organisations with this sort of potential. They do substantial research to brainstorm top ideas and then dig deeper into them to see whether they're implementable and tractable.

They scour the globe for talented individuals who can come together and in a 2 month program match up with each other, balance each other's skill sets, and eventually found a fantastic charity. Then they give them a bunch of support, whether that's logistical support, mentorship, or a seed grant.

They've founded 18 charitable organisations that have received over $1 million funding from Charity Entrepreneurship and several million dollars more from other charitable organisations.

They think that supporting early-stage organisations as a whole has a unique potential to leverage donations in a way that is hard to get anywhere else. This sort of innovative approach, a hits based approach will result in some misses, some charities that don't turn out to have 'the most impact'. But for the occasional charity that does have this massive impact the benefits to donating them and supporting them early is massive.

Charity Entrepreneurship has a fund to support these kinds of organisations and they constantly receive donations and constantly keep an eye out for new opportunities that might be the field leaders of tomorrow.

Patient Philanthropy Fund

Humanity is impatient. Collectively, we spend more on ice cream each year than on preventing our own extinction and we neglect our own interests (and those of future generations) in doing so.

The new Patient Philanthropy Fund is a first-of-its-kind vehicle, designed to compensate for our collective impatience. The fund aims to identify not only what to fund to safeguard and benefit the future, but also when is the best time to deploy funding.

Rather than giving everything away now, the Fund pools contributions and invests them to grow and to ensure capital is at the ready when we need it most.

As such, the Patient Philanthropy Fund functions as an ultimate rainy day fund for humanity and as an insurance policy for our common future.

Effective giving news & updates from 2021

Effective giving around the world

For donors in the US, UK, and The Netherlands it is easy to donate to most of the high impact charities evaluated by organisations mentioned today using Effective Altruism Funds.

There are also many country-specific regranting organisations that have been set up to help donors around the world donate to highly impactful charities while receiving a local tax-deduction or other government benefit. We have an exhaustive list of these regranting organisations available at givingwhatwecan.org/countries.

Make a lasting commitment

If you want to do even more good: we recommend taking a public giving pledge.

By taking a pledge, we think you can do even more good than you would by donating alone for three main reasons: commitment, community and culture.

  • Commitment: Stick to your goals
    Making public commitments helps us to live up to our values and stick with the goals we may otherwise let slide.
  • Community: Get support from others
    Joining a community provides us with support and advice that helps us to follow through with our commitments to help others.
  • Culture: Inspire effective giving norms
    Taking a public pledge helps inspire others to follow our example. Together we can forge a world in which giving effectively and significantly is a cultural norm.

Anyone can take The Giving What We Can Pledge to commit to use 10 percent of your lifetime income to most improve the lives of others.

A person on a median income in the US would still be in the top 3 percent of global income earners in the world after giving 10 percent of their income.

If ten percent of lifetime income isn't right for you, we encourage you to consider one of these starter pledges:

NameHow muchTo whatWhenWho
Trial Pledge1%+ incomeEffective charitiesAny periodAnyone
One For The World Pledge1%+ incomeGiveWell’s Top CharitiesLifetimeAnyone
The Life You Can Save PledgeA barely noticeable amountTLYCS Charities1 yearAnyone
As well as these starter pledges, there are also more significant effective giving pledges designed for people in specific circumstances:
NameHow muchWhenWho
Further PledgeEverything above a living allowanceLifetimeHighly committed givers
Founders Pledge5%+ equityUpon liquidity eventEquity holders
Generation Pledge10%+ inheritanceWithin 5 years of inheritingWealth inheritors
High Impact Athletes Pledge2%+ winningsAnnuallyAthletes
deciding how much to donate to charity

Finishing up

Thanks for joining us today to learn about effective giving. Time for a quick recap:

  • We have an incredible opportunity to help others by giving effectively.
  • We can find the most important causes by looking for ones that are big, solvable and neglected.
  • We can find and donate to cost-effective charities with help from charity evaluators, expert grantmakers, incubators, and the international effective giving community.
  • By taking a public giving pledge we can do even more good due to the benefits of commitment, community and culture.

To learn more about charity effectiveness we recommend you check out our giving recommendations for 2021, download our free 2021 effective giving guide, or join our community of effective givers.

We also hope that those of you who are attending Effective Giving Day events around the world enjoy your discussions and Q&As with our esteemed guests.

Finally, a big thanks to all our partners who contributed to this presentation and to all of you who have taken the time to learn more about effective giving.

Until next time, keep on doing good!