Giving What We Can bases its charity recommendations on the research of impact-focused, expert charity evaluators like GiveWell, Longview Philanthropy, and EA Funds. We decide which evaluators to defer to for our recommendations and grantmaking based on our evaluators research.
Our educational resources are informed by the work of these impact-focused evaluators and others, as well as scholars, thinkers, and philosophers contributing to the effective giving and effective altruism projects, including the foundational effective giving texts Doing Good Better and The Life You Can Save.
Below, we summarise why we believe that careful thinking about how and where you donate can make a surprisingly large difference in the lives of others. We also provide some additional information on the research and approach we use to inform our recommendations.
With so many problems in the world, we make hard choices every day, whether or not we are aware of them. We simply can’t do everything; our time and resources (both individually and as a society) are limited. Thus, by choosing to work on one problem, we (often by necessity) deprioritise another.
It makes sense to make these decisions consciously rather than unconsciously. By carefully examining which problems make the most sense to work on right now, we’re in a much better position to help. This is especially true since the problem you choose to focus on could (based on a recent 80,000 Hours estimate) lead to up to 1000 times more impact.
At Giving What We Can, we believe you can maximise the impact of your charitable donations by first choosing a high-impact problem (cause) that aligns with your values and worldview, and then choosing to support a high-impact fund or charity working within that cause.
While your choice of cause (see above) may be even more important than your choice of charity, there are also large differences in efficacy between different organisations working on the same or similar problems. These differences are not always intuitive; a charity’s programs sometimes sound highly impactful (and may indeed be well thought-out and well run) but turn out to do little…or even in the worst cases, to do harm.
We use the research of impact-focused charity evaluators to find and suggest what we believe to be some of the very best organisations. We think donating to any of these organisations will allow you to do much more good per dollar donated than the average charity (see below).
We do want to note that the charity evaluators whose research we use take a diversity of approaches; for example, some of the charity evaluators informing our recommendations use a “hits-based” approach to charitable giving (such as certain funds managed by EA Funds) while others (such as GiveWell) only recommend charities whose programs have a strong, verifiable evidence base behind them. We think including recommendations from both approaches — along with maintaining worldview diversity — is an important part of what we offer: we recognise that people’s values and beliefs can and should influence which organisations and charities they choose to support, and encourage donors to choose among our recommendations based on the specific types of impact they value.
in addition to recommending charities and funds, we also make it easy for donors to support a wider range of promising programs (which we call "other supported programs") via our donation platform. Learn more about the different types of programs we support and why here.
We think you can — and in some cases, it may be possible to do even more than that, depending on where you donate and what you’re comparing it to.
Importantly, this isn't to say that all of the charities on our recommended list are at least 100x more impactful than the average charity; for some, the multiplier may be less and for others, it may be more. You can learn more about the cost-effectiveness (impact per dollar spent) of charities we recommend by reading the write-up from the charity evaluator who recommended it.
Below, we’ve included three examples of how much different actions can vary in “good done per dollar.” Please note that these are estimates and don’t always represent the complexity of individual circumstances; as such, we don‘t recommend taking them literally.
Rather, we’re including them to illustrate a core reality of charitable giving: some charities end up being significantly more impactful than others. (This would be true even if the differences discussed below were significantly less than we’ve estimated them to be.)
Both cataract surgeries and seeing eye dogs help aid those with visual impairment. Cataract surgery is estimated to cost about $1000 USD per visual impairment reversed while one seeing eye dog is estimated to cost $30,000–$50,000 USD.
In his book Doing Good Better, Will MacAskill estimates that your money will do about 100x more good to “benefit the extreme poor” than to “benefit typical citizens of the United States” (MacAskill 22) due to the stark income differences between lower and higher income countries. A more technical explanation of that multiplier can be found here.
These are such different outcomes that we aren’t going to estimate an exact impact multiplier, but we’re including it to show that sometimes the difference in impact is much greater than 100x, especially if one donation option ends up doing harm rather than good.
Note: Giving your dollar to the average American is not the same as donating it to an average charity. We are making the claim that donating your dollar to a particularly impactful charity can do 1000x more than if you were to give it to the average American (or, if you’re an average person living in a high-income country, than if you were to spend it on yourself); we’re not necessarily making the claim that the best charities are, on average, 1000x more impactful than a typical charity.
Some other organisations in the effective giving space advocate a particular “worldview”; for example, they might believe it is most impactful to focus on safeguarding the long-term future and as such, recommend giving to organisations working to reduce existential risk, rather than other high-impact causes like global health. Others may believe it is best to focus on non-human animal wellbeing, because the scale of the problem (if you value all sentient beings equally) is so enormous compared to human wellbeing and the solutions are much more tractable than attempting to safeguard the long-term future.
At Giving What We Can, we believe there are compelling arguments and reasons for focusing on any of the high-impact cause areas we recommend, and that no matter which one you choose, you’ll have the capacity to help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems and prevent the suffering of many. We’ve outlined why the cause areas we recommend are particularly impactful (and why we encourage supporting these over others) but we don’t currently take a view on which of our high-impact cause areas we deem most impactful as we think this is quite value-specific. Instead, we wish to provide the public with a variety of highly effective giving options, and then empower them to determine which ones best align with their own worldviews/values. Some of our donors feel strongly that they’ll have more impact by prioritising one of these cause areas; others prefer to diversify their giving portfolio across several cause areas.