Introduction

This post is part of a series on common myths and misconceptions about charity. Taking time to learn the facts will help prevent the spread of misinformation and inspire more people to use their resources effectively to improve the world.

Can an individual donor really make a difference?

A persistent idea is that, if a problem is very large, one individual donor cannot make much of a difference. With more than a billion people living in extreme poverty, one individual's actions certainly are unable to end it, or to reduce its burdens by even one percent.

While it is easy to be distracted by looking at our impact on poverty in relative terms, it is our impact in absolute terms that matters. By using evidence and reason to ensure that their donations are effective, an individual donor absolutely can make an important difference.

Myth Graphic: Causal Impotence (V1)

Not all charitable donations have the same impact. Donating to an ineffective charity might not make a big difference. However, when directed to a highly effective charity, even a small donation can have a surprisingly large impact.

For example, purchasing and distributing a single anti-malarial bed net costs around $4.95 USD and can protect two to three people for up to three years. If a donor gave $6,800 (10% of the U.S. median household income.) to the Against Malaria Foundation every year, they could fund the purchase and distribution of over 1,400 mosquito nets annually. This amounts to nearly 60,000 nets through their working life — which can avert over 60 deaths from malaria.

Giving What We Can recommends many charities that pursue similarly cost-effective solutions or research across cause areas. Our recommended charities pursue a range of work, including: providing vitamin A supplements in low-income countries, deworming children to prevent parasitic infections, promoting plant- and cell-based meat alternatives to reduce animal suffering, and researching existential threats to protect the future of humanity.

These organisations provide incredible results for problems that may seem intractable at first. By supporting them, we can each have a great positive impact in the lives of thousands of people living in low-income countries at modest personal cost. Of course you cannot solve the problem on your own, but we shouldn't ignore the truly profound impact you could have. If we all donated a meaningful percentage of our income to the most effective charities, together we could have an enormous positive impact in the world.

Consider making a giving pledge and joining our worldwide community of like-minded people who are working to make the world a better place.


This post is part of an update of our "Myths about Charity" page. Multiple authors contributed.