There’s no shortage of problems in the world. So how do you choose what to focus on first?
Many people choose to support work on issues they hear a lot about, or that they’ve had personal experience with. However, the issues we hear the most about aren’t necessarily the ones where we can have the greatest impact. While we think donors should give in line with their values and worldviews, it turns out that some problems are both larger and easier to solve than others. Therefore, if you want to make a sizable dent in the world’s problems, we recommend choosing a high-impact cause area that best aligns with your values.
Note: Please note that this video was recorded in 2021 and may contain some out-of-date information; we’ve also since renamed our cause areas to better reflect the types of projects they include. (The text below reflects our current cause area summaries.)
If you want to help people who are suffering now, one of the highest-impact cause areas you can support is global health and wellbeing: supporting people around the world who are living in poverty or suffering from preventable disease. Here’s a quick summary of why:
If you want to reduce suffering in the world, regardless of who is experiencing it, one of the highest-impact cause areas you can support is helping farmed and wild animals. Here’s a quick summary of why:
If you want to help prevent future suffering (or even extinction) as well as large problems that could affect us today, one of the highest-impact cause areas you can support is the reduction of global catastrophic risks. Here’s a quick summary of why:
You may have noticed a pattern here. All of the cause areas we recommend have a few things in common:
All of these problems affect many, many lives.
All of these problems could use more resources.
It’s possible to make progress on all of these problems.
Consider this metaphor: With so much suffering in the world, each of us who wants to help is akin to a firefighter — with multiple fires burning all around them. Some are very large (affecting many people) and some are smaller (affecting fewer people). Some are easy to fight and some just seem to spread and spread no matter what you do. Given this difficult reality, which fire would you fight first?
Would you choose a fire that is:
A. Easy to fight; affecting few people
B. Hard to fight; affecting few people
C. Easy to fight; affecting a great many people
D. Hard to fight; affecting a great many people
Most people would likely agree that you’d have the most impact if you chose Fire C — a large fire (scale) that is also easy to fight (tractable) — before you tackle the others. If you instead begin by fighting a small and difficult-to-fight fire, you might use up all your resources and not actually do very much good. All the fires would continue to burn, and the people you could have helped by putting your resources towards Fire C would instead be consumed by flames while you unsuccessfully fought Fire B.
But what about neglectedness?
Well, imagine that Fire C is actually already being fought by a huge team of people. There are so many people working on fighting this fire that each additional person isn’t really adding much value. It’s also getting hard to coordinate efforts. In this case, it seems pretty clear that your resources would be better used elsewhere, right?
Similarly, some problems receive more funding relative to how pressing they are than others. You’ll likely have more impact if you give to a cause that is underfunded (needs more firefighters) than to a cause where the most promising interventions are already being funded.
Watch the video below to learn more about how the scale, neglectedness, and tractability framework can help us figure out which causes to support first.
Importantly, none of the high-impact cause areas we recommend above rank highest on all three attributes of the scale, neglectedness, tractability framework. Each of them excel on various of these attributes that — when taken together — lead to them being impactful options. For example:
We think the cause(s) you choose to support should depend on your particular worldview and values. Some donors choose to support only one of these causes, while others give to multiple. (If you want to split your donation across high-impact projects within all three causes — either equally or with your preferred allocation — you can donate to our All Causes bundle.)
To help you decide which cause(s) you might want to support, let’s consider what you might get with a $5,000 donation to a charity/fund working in each cause area. (Note that these are just examples of the type of work you might fund; the actual outcome will vary depending on where exactly you donate.)
If you donate $5,000 to a charity/fund working on global health and wellbeing, this could:
If you donate $5,000 to a charity/fund working on improving farmed animal welfare through corporate campaigns, this could:
If you donate $5,000 to a charity/fund working on reducing global catastrophic risks, this could:
So what are the takeaways here? The cause(s) you support depend on a variety of value judgements, and you might want to think about factors like:
Your comfort level with uncertainty vs. how much you value concrete outcomes
The weight you place on the number of lives affected
How you value human lives compared to nonhuman animal lives
How concerned you are about suffering right now versus in the future
These are difficult factors to think through. If you’re having trouble deciding, you’re not alone. Many people in our community have told us that decision paralysis about where to give initially prevented them from giving at all. If that’s you, we recommend simply splitting your donation among these high-impact cause areas via our All Causes Bundle (either equally or with your preferred allocation). You can also choose to donate to individual funds or charities within each cause area, if you prefer.
Overall, just remember that sometimes the goal of maximising (searching for the best possible action) can prevent us from taking action at all, and if we take no action, we’re really not maximising! The bottom line is that all of these cause areas are highly impactful and no matter which one(s) you choose to support, you’ll be doing a lot of good.
We base our recommendations on the research of impact-focused charity evaluators, who have found some of their most cost-effective donation opportunities in these areas. As illustrated by their scale, neglectedness, and tractability (along with other factors) they offer an incredible opportunity for donors to make a difference.
That said, there’s no shortage of important cause areas, and this isn’t meant to be an all-inclusive list. Cause prioritisation is an ongoing field, and there’s vibrant debate about how to approach it.
There’s also a few cause areas we think are very promising but for which we don’t yet have recommendations. We’ll be looking further into these cause areas and the organisations working within them soon.
We appreciate any and all feedback that can help improve our work. Please let us know what you thought of this page and provide any suggestions for improvement using our content feedback form.
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