Blog post

How to create the world's most effective charity

4 min read
21 Mar 2013

Giving What We Can's charity recommendations - currently Against Malaria Foundation, Deworm the World and the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative - are generally regarded as the most reliable in their field. I imagine many readers here donate to these charities. However, it is surprising that it is potentially pretty easy to start a charity more effective than any of them.

All you would need to do is found an organisation that fundraises for whoever Giving What We Can recommends, and raises more than a dollar with each dollar it receives. Is this hard? Probably not. As a general rule, a dollar spent on fundraising seems to raise at least several dollars. It's a pretty simple and fast multiplier that obviously beats putting your money in the stock market. An independent organisation raising money for Giving What We Can's top charities should do even better than a typical fundraiser, thanks to:

  • the strength of evidence, which is especially compelling to big donors;
  • the independent recommendation, which looks particularly credible and removes the perception of any ulterior motive;
  • a willingness to maximise (for example by focussing on regular or legacy donors);
  • the freedom to choose which of the three organisations they promote, depending on who they are talking to.

Putting your money into fundraising, rather than just giving it directly, does impose additional costs on the donors you inspire, and may 'crowd out' gifts to other charities. However, the logic of giving to Giving What We Can's top rated charities is that they make better use of money than most other individuals or organisations. So if you have a fundraising ratio significantly above 1:1, these downsides shouldn't much matter.

You might ask: if fundraising is the best thing to do, why wouldn't AMF, SCI or DtW just spend the money you give them on fundraising? There are many possible answers; in part it might discourage people from donating, if they believe that their money will only be invested into more fundraising, rather than spent on directly helping people. Also, the charities do engage in fundraising activities, both themselves and through external help, but would potentially be ineffective fundraisers, as their efforts are naturally spent predominantly on their work addressing diseases overseas. This is what they are good at, and efforts on their part to raise more fund would take up time and energy as well as money to research the most effective means of fundraising.

If you are unlike most donors and are willing to help out by having your money spent on effective fundraising, you can therefore easily increase your impact several times over. Just help take the pressure of fundraising off Giving What We Can's top charities by founding or giving to a separate organisation that does it for them.

What Can You Do?

Getting good at raising money for these other organisations is one of the things GWWC aims to do. Because we aren't concentrating on the ground work abroad, we may be in a better position to do that than the charities themselves. We might also seem more objective in fundraising for them than they do themselves. If you agree these kinds of fundraising organisations could the be the most promising charities out there, you can help out organisations like GWWC or GiveWell by getting involved as a volunteer, or donating to them.

Alternatively, maybe you could start up a fundraising organisation yourself. This isn't actually an impractical plan. Starting up a lean and effective fundraising organisation is difficult, but much easier than building a global team to distribute insecticide-treated bed nets. Any bright and energetic person in a rich country who went and received the necessary training would have a decent shot at getting such an organisation off the ground, and by doing so, you will be using your skills where they can help Giving What We Can's charities the most, whilst leaving them to do what they do best.

Here's some next steps you could take:

  • Learn about how to fundraise. For a popular introduction to learning to sell, check out Influence. For evidence-based advice on raising money for charity, we recommend The Science of Giving
  • There are lots of ways to fundraise. Think about which methods might suit you best given your skills and connections. The highest average fundraising ratios are for legacy fundraising, so that's an intriguing possibility.
  • Test it out. See how much you can raise per hour. And how much could this approach be scaled?
  • Create a business plan and raise money from effective givers.

If you would like to discuss the first steps required to make this happen, and how you could coordinate with others already taking this approach, including our sister organisation 80,000 hours, comment below.

Also posted at 80,000 hours.