How can you do the most good with your charitable donations?

Video Transcript

Most of us believe that it is important to help others. We value the lives of others and care about their wellbeing.

When we care so much it can be overwhelming to see so many pressing problems in the world:

  • ~1 in 10 people live in extreme poverty1.
  • 6 million children die yearly of easily preventable diseases[2].
  • A third of women have suffered from sexual or physical violence[3].
  • Bacteria are becoming antibiotic resistant[4].
  • Partisanship is increasing, and democracy may be in decline[5].
  • Climate change is set to wreak havoc on the environment[6] and hurt the economy[7].
  • Our food systems cause suffering to hundreds of billions of animals[8].

I could go on...

In the face of so many problems it is really easy to feel like we can’t make a real difference.

But, fortunately, we can.

We have an amazing opportunity to significantly improve the world with the resources we have, if we use them effectively.

However, a lot of people don’t think much about how charities compare to each other. Only about a third of people do any research before giving to charity, and only 3% give based on what they actually accomplish[9].

This is probably because it's a common assumption that a really good charity might only do a little bit more good than average[10].

But it turns out the difference is much more dramatic.

The best charities can be at least ten times better than a typical charity within the same area, or hundreds of times better than poor-performing charities. Some charities even actively harm those they seek to help[11].

These huge differences don’t tend to come from trivial things like administrative costs. Instead, they almost always come from the kinds of interventions the charities pursue.

To make this more concrete, we will look at some numbers from the World Bank on interventions working on waterborne illnesses.

Sanitation is very important. It's not something we think about that much in rich countries, but water-borne illnesses kill more than 3 million people each year, mostly children[12].

Lets see how many years of healthy life different water related interventions get us for 1000 US dollars.

Providing piped water and flushing toilets give us roughly 6 months of healthy life.

$1,000 for 6 months of healthy life seems like a fantastic deal.

However, it turns out that giving people chlorine to disinfect their water is about 10 times more effective.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Giving sick kids zinc with their electrolyte salts can result in an extra 33 years of healthy life for the same $1,000.

But if we broaden our search to the treatment of any disease within low-income countries the differences are even more incredible: the World Bank’s best guess is 200 years of life per $1,000 spent treating and preventing malaria.

If we go on to compare this to high-income countries where we will often be willing to spend $1,000 for a week of healthy life gained through new cancer drugs[13] – the difference is even greater.

Of course, funding sanitation programs and cancer drugs are really important, and well worth spending money on. This only serves to emphasise the incredible opportunity funding malaria prevention represents. And it is critical that we act on this opportunity, because people’s lives are on the line.

Each one of those little heart icons represented a year of life of a human being unlike any other.

They have a best friend. They have a favorite song. They have plans, hopes, and desires. THAT'S what the statistics represent. That's why we're so worked up about the numbers[14].

We’ve covered why we give more effectively, but why also give more?

On the Giving What We Can website you can use the “How Rich Am I?” calculator to see how you compare to the world.

For example, a median post-tax income for a person in the US is around $40,000. That’s over 14 times more than a typical person in the world earns.

This means that just by living in a high-income country, most of us have an incredible opportunity to use our money to make a difference.

Here’s the impact a typical American could have if they donated 10% of that income to the best charities in global health.

Over the course of their career, they could expect to save many people’s lives – all while remaining in the top richest 3% of people in the world.

Most of us don’t expect to save lives during the course of our workday.

But by working a regular job and donating a portion of our income to effective charities, we can expect that our donations will save lives.

Members of our community have turned their care into commitment by pledging to use their income to help improve the lives of others.

Since 2009 we have grown to:

  • 5,000+ members
  • $200+ million donated
  • $1.9+ billion pledged

The most popular pledge is 10% of lifetime income, but many people also make shorter and smaller commitments, and some make much bigger commitments.

We find that taking a public pledge helps inspire others to follow suit. Together we can forge a world in which giving effectively and significantly is a common practice.

So, If you’re someone who wants to use your current or future wealth to make the world a much better place: we applaud you, welcome you, and are excited to see the impact you’ll have.

To learn more about effective giving, I encourage you to check out the Giving What We Can website at where there’s information on our giving recommendations, pledges, and tools like our How Rich Am I calculator.

To learn more about effective altruism and the other ways to make our limited resources do the most good, check out

Thanks to Simon Panrucker for his outstanding work in editing and voicing this video, and to the many other members who provided resources and feedback.


This video was developed with significant contributions from the following resources:

Join our effective giving community

If you’ve made it this far, we hope you’re inspired to give more, and to give more effectively.

Join the Giving What We Can community by taking a pledge 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.

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