Most of us like to help those who need it and contribute to one or more charities. While your intentions might be good, have you ever wondered how much difference your donation makes? And, more importantly, if your donation would make more impact when given to another charity? More often than not, people donate their money without much thought. When someone on the corner of the street holds a charity box in front of you, do you ask about the impact and effectiveness of their programme, or do you just hand them a few coins?
Learning about effective altruism has been a real eye-opener for me. The concept itself is simple: to help others most with the resources available to us (read about this on effectivealtruism.org). Things get more difficult when trying to establish what that most effective option is, especially when it concerns choosing a charity to donate your money to. Many charities don’t measure their impact or are not transparent when doing so, as this article that appeared on The Conversation earlier this week points out. The good news is that charity evaluators like GiveWell, Impact Matters, and Animal Charity Evaluators have jumped into this vacuum and identify the most effective charities based on thorough research.
Their websites are great resources but might not include any of the charities you are considering. William Macaskill proposes a basic checklist in his book Doing Good Better, that will help you choose the most effective charity and cause with your own preferences in mind. When deciding on the right charity, he advises to ask yourself the following questions: What does it do? What is the estimated cost-effectiveness? What is the robustness of evidence? What about programme implementation? And is there room for more funding? Similarly, to find the best cause to support he suggests to keep the following three things in mind: Scale, or the magnitude of the problem, Neglectedness, and Tractability.
But while these frameworks are a good starting point, some things remain difficult to measure. It is simply not always possible to determine the difference in impact between different causes. Things get especially blurry when it concerns animals (and to a lesser extent the environment), as not everyone values the lives of animals to the same extent. However, it is clear that within the field of animal welfare factory farming causes the most suffering, with an estimated 70 billion land animals slaughtered every year for food production. Yet the charities that focus on pets have been significantly more popular with the public. Let’s hope that recent media attention for the gross abuse of farm animals will bring in more funds to help put an end to this.
Effective altruism is more than just effective giving, it is a social movement that covers all areas of life: from purchase decisions to choosing a career. And while for now I won’t switch to different charities to donate to (but I might add one or two), it is definitely food for thought.