In the following video, Giving What We Can co-founder Will MacAskill discusses the importance of supporting high-impact cause areas:
To select a cause that offers you the greatest opportunity for having an impact, we recommend assessing each cause’s scale, tractability, and need for more funding.
Generally, donors can maximise their impact by supporting cause areas that are large-scale, tractable, and in need of funding. Below, we explore these factors further.
The cause areas that are largest in scale affect many lives, and affect them a significant amount.
For example, curing a rare disease is good, but curing a similar — but more common — disease has a bigger impact because more people are affected. The sizes of the red rectangles in the charts below represent the size of impact:
Similarly, curing a disease which causes a small irritation would have a positive impact, but curing a disease that causes a lot of suffering would have a larger impact. It affects people more significantly:
Of course, the most high-impact cause areas affect many lives and affect them significantly:
The most tractable causes offer a reasonable chance of making progress. All else equal, we'd rather work on a problem that has some potential solutions, or at least has some opportunities for improvement.
For example, if your goal is to reduce the risk of human extinction, you're more likely to make a difference if you support pandemic preparedness than if you try to prevent the heat death of the universe. Preventing the heat death of the universe is not currently tractable, whereas preparing for future pandemics is quite tractable. Your donor dollars are more likely to have an impact if they support a tractable cause.
Causes with a large need for more funding can be fantastic giving opportunities. More popular causes (like those covered regularly in the news) may already be getting a lot of resources. Meanwhile, ongoing or less surprising problems (like the ongoing fight against malaria) tend to be more neglected. All else equal, you can do a greater amount of good by finding and supporting causes that have a greater need for funding.
Using the frameworks discussed, we have identified four cause areas that we think are especially promising. Our research pages discuss each of these causes, including why we think they are high priority and which organisations you can donate to in order to make progress on them:
If you have any questions about donation opportunities, please check out our giving recommendations, read our FAQ, join us at an event, or get in touch. We're happy to help maximise the impact of your donations.
If you haven't already, consider pledging to donate a meaningful portion of your income to help improve the lives of others. It can help you to live up to your values, meet like-minded people, and inspire others to follow suit.