Common Concerns About Donating to Charity

There are many good reasons to donate to charity — especially highly-effective charities. However, there are also many arguments against charity. These common objections to charitable giving can be pervasive and self-enforcing, and we often don’t take the time to critically examine them.

This page is designed to help you (and others you know) dive deeper into some of these concerns, which often don’t hold up well under scrutiny. While some may contain elements of truth, fully examining them reveals a variety of biases, problematic assumptions, and even myths/misconceptions that can prevent us from doing what we can to help others.

In contrast, better understanding these common objections to giving (and critically examining their underlying logic) can help prevent the spread of misinformation and inspire more people to use their resources to actively confront the world’s problems, taking advantage of the incredible impact we can have on the world when we give effectively.

Below, we’ve grouped some common concerns about charitable giving under broad categories of thinking, for example: “It won’t make a difference.” If you have a question or comment that has not been addressed here, please feel free to get in touch and/or leave us feedback. We also recommend checking out our misconceptions and concerns about effective altruism and charity evaluation page.

Note: Many of the objections covered on this page relate most closely to poverty alleviation. While we think donors can achieve incredible impact with this focus — and as such, improving human wellbeing is one of our three recommended high-impact cause areas — we also recommend organisations focused on improving animal welfare and creating a better future. Common concerns about these cause areas are covered here.

“It won’t make a difference.”

“Why me?”

“International giving?”

8 Common Concerns About Charitable Giving

#1: "I'm just one person, so my actions won't really make a difference."

Assumption: One person can't make a difference.

Deeper examination: How valid is the assumption above?

Read more:

#2: "I’m an average person earning a modest salary. Shouldn’t the ultra-wealthy, who have an excess of resources, be the ones donating?"

An average person earning a modest salary doesn’t have many resources, even compared to the rest of the world.

It’s unfair to expect an average person earning a modest salary to donate any resources when they have so much less than the ultra-wealthy.

Deeper examination: How valid are the assumptions above?

  • Because of the vast income inequality in most countries, it’s entirely justified (even if you live in a high-income country) to feel like you have less compared to others. It also makes sense to believe it should be the billionaires at the very top who should part with their resources! Can’t big philanthropy handle this?

  • That said, it’s important to recognize that the inequality you understandably feel so keenly is magnified on a global scale. In other words, if they live in a high-income country, even an average person earning a modest salary is often wealthy compared to the rest of the world. See how you stack up: (How rich am I?)

  • We view effective giving as a rewarding and empowering opportunity to help others, so we certainly don’t think it should be reserved for just the billionaires! However, since it wouldn’t be fair to expect an average person to give the same amount as someone who is ultra wealthy, we do suggest approaching giving as proportional to your income (our benchmark pledge amount is 10%). If that 10% benchmark feels like either too much or too little, we also suggest some other ways to determine how much to donate to charity. The great thing about giving effectively is that even very small donations can have a large impact.

Read more: You can make a difference (yes, you!)

#3: "Charitable giving is just a temporary solution and doesn’t get at the underlying causes of inequality. Only political action can create meaningful, systemic change."

Donating to charity means ignoring system change

Advocating for system change is always more effective than donating

Charitable giving can't bring about system change

Deeper examination: How valid are the assumptions above?

  • It certainly makes sense to try to get at the root causes of the world’s problems. However, charity and political action are not mutually exclusive, and both play an important role in changing the world. Here are some things to keep in mind:
    • When someone is hurt, we must treat the wound and try to prevent it from happening again; a doctor certainly wouldn’t let a patient bleed out and die while they searched for the cause of the bleeding!
    • Systemic change takes time, and the issues that cause global poverty and inequality are complex and difficult to solve. Theories of change that focus solely on overturning current societal structures generally lack concreteness: for example, there’s very little specificity (or agreement) about how the average person should “overcome systems of oppression.” And while this is certainly a noble goal, it could well take decades to achieve, even if it did come with a clear path.
    • Meanwhile, people are dying every day from preventable causes and we know concretely that certain (surprisingly cheap) public health interventions could prevent these deaths; the infrastructure is in place but the funding is lacking. This is therefore often a more accessible route to change.

Again, this isn’t to say the buck should stop there, but neither should we ignore people suffering now while we advocate for a better world.

  • Additionally, charitable giving can facilitate long-term change:
    • Many seemingly symptom-treating charities may have long-lasting consequences for the communities they serve — deworming is one example.
    • The lack of basic public health services often faced by those in lower-income countries causes a host of issues related to class mobility, educational access, etc; in fact, these types of problems (often thought of as root causes of inequality) are often symptoms of public health failings. Thus, addressing issues with public health may get closer to a root cause than one might initially think.
    • It's worth noting that changing the culture of giving is, in itself, a significant shift away from the status quo: when it becomes the norm for those in high-income countries to give some of their resources to those in lower-income countries, we could be looking at a sizable knock against the global inequality responsible for much of the world’s suffering. (To help illustrate this, consider that international remittances — when those in higher-income countries send money back to family in lower-income countries — can cumulatively make up a substantial part of a country's GDP. For example, The World Bank estimated that in Haiti they represented about 12 percent of GDP in 2011; in some areas of Somalia, this climbed as high as 70% in 2006.)

Read more:

#4: "Foreign aid and international giving is usually ineffective, and can even cause harm because of dependency and/or corruption."


Foreign aid and international giving have had little or no effect on the world’s problems.

International charity and aid just make low-income countries dependent on handouts.

If I donate internationally, I can’t be sure that my money will actually reach those in need; it could get diverted because of government corruption.

Deeper examination: How valid are the assumptions above?

  • We know that governments do fund some foreign aid (though not nearly as much as people think!) and because problems persist, it’s natural to wonder how effective this is. Does it enable oppressive governments, giving them an excuse not to act? Could certain programs cause dependency?

  • While these are valid concerns, foreign aid, when done well, has helped make significant progress in global health and development — from smallpox eradication to immunization programs. Effective aid programs can help strengthen local institutions, create opportunities for long-term growth, and actually reduce dependence on foreign aid in recipient countries. Here are a few examples of organisations working to set up systems that support local communities, rather than making them dependent on aid:
    • Project Healthy Children and the Iodine Global Network help governments to fortify staple foods with micronutrients. Setting up fortification standards and processes can reduce or even eliminate the need for continued "handouts."
    • The END Fund helps local governments and NGOs to treat and prevent neglected tropical diseases by providing funding and technical assistance.
    • GiveDirectly provides unconditional cash transfers directly to those who need it most. According to their research, recipients spend their money on essentials like medicine, farmed animals, and school fees. These investments can stimulate economic growth and strengthen institutions in recipients' communities.
    • Helen Keller International supports government-run vitamin A supplementation programs by providing advocacy, technical support, and funding.

If anything, concern about foreign aid should make international giving more appealing, since we as individuals can choose the programs and initiatives we support. Donating to organisations that have been evaluated for their efficacy helps ensure that our money will have a positive impact.

Read more:

#5: "Growth will lift people out of poverty, so we should focus on growth, rather than charity."

Assumption: Focusing on economic growth (without charity) is the best way to alleviate poverty.

Deeper examination: How valid is the assumption above?

  • Meanwhile, effective charitable giving can save or improve millions of lives right now. Many of these life-saving interventions also have far-reaching economic benefits; for example, the potential economic benefits of malaria reduction are significant. This makes sense given that when people are ill, they are not able to work, teach, or function as well as when they are healthy.

Read more: Shouldn't we focus on economic growth, which can lift people out of poverty?

#6: I already support my community by paying taxes, so I don’t need to give to charity.

Assumption: Paying taxes is just as effective at helping others as donating to charity

Deeper examination: How valid is the assumption above?

  • Taxes do support public services in your home country. However, donating to charity can help you improve — or even save — many lives around the world. Donating to charity not only makes it possible to expand your circle of concern to those outside of your home country, but also allows you more choice in the causes and interventions you support. By choosing the most cost-effective and high-impact interventions, you can maximise your impact and make a difference in the lives of many more people!

Read more: If I pay my taxes, why should I also give to charity?

#7: "My country already spends too much on foreign aid; why should I donate more?"

The government spends a lot on foreign aid.

Because of foreign aid, there's no need to donate to charity.

Deeper examination: How valid are the assumptions above?

Read more: Don't we spend too much on foreign aid already?

#8: "I prefer to support charities in my local community. After all, charity begins at home, right?"

I can make a bigger difference by donating locally

I have a greater duty to help people in my local community over others

We should solve our own problems first before helping others

Deeper examination: How valid are the assumptions above?

  • Extreme poverty in lower-income countries is both much worse and more tractable than in higher-income countries. This means that illnesses that can be easily prevented (with cheap and effective public health interventions) are instead responsible for unnecessary suffering and death. So it makes sense to do what we can to prevent this needless suffering. After all, if someone is suffering and we can help them, does it really matter where they happen to live?

  • Of course, helping one’s local community and those abroad don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Charity can begin at home, but when we extend our compassion (and funds) around the world, we can make an even bigger difference. Note: For those looking to give to a favorite local charity but also maximise impact, check out Giving Multiplier.

Read more: