A Guide to Giving to Charities Effectively
By: Namra Khan
The holidays are here and while we all look forward to gleaming presents under the Christmas tree, it’s important to remember this is the season of giving. It seems like every day we wake up, read the news, and check social media only to see that more people are suffering. This generation is plagued with a global pandemic, political unrest, widespread racism, climate change, genocide, poverty, violence, and a war-torn refugee system. It can be hard not to feel hopeless and guilty—most of us want to help causes we are passionate about but it can be overwhelming to understand which charities are legitimate, what causes to donate to, and how to maximize the impact of our donations.
So how can we start to be effective altruists? An altruist is someone concerned about the welfare of others. Peter Singer, a philosopher and philanthropist, helped coin the term effective altruism. This involves someone supporting causes based on the maximum positive impact they can have on the largest number of people. So, how should you start and how much of a difference can you make?
What causes should you give to?
One thing to consider when finding a cause you are passionate about is how big, traceable, and crowded the cause is. First, make sure that the problem you are trying to solve affects a large number of people, then consider its traceability, is there a clear way to show progress? Perhaps the charity has an end goal or specifically tells you who received your donation. Causes that are less crowded also tend to be favorable, this means that it’s a cause that needs more funding and attention, so your contribution will be worthwhile.
Once you find a cause you are passionate about, find charities aligned with that cause who are bona fide, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) public charities. In simple terms, these are non-profit organizations that conduct their activities in a way to serve the public good, not commercial purposes. This step requires a good amount of research but thankfully there are sites like Charity Navigator that allow you to understand if the charity you choose is tax-exempt, financially healthy, has a fair contribution breakdown, and is transparent.
Tracking charity effectiveness
A major concern that people have is if their money is reaching the cause they are trying to help. An effective charity is one where your donation directly reaches a specific amount of people or animals.
The Life You Can Save is a great resource that has a broad list of vetted charities as well as impact calculation software. Causes on this site include ending hunger and malnutrition, helping women and girls avoid poverty, improving children’s health, fighting infectious diseases, giving the gift of sight to low-income blind communities, providing clean water to impoverished communities, and so much more. For example, if I were to donate $50 today to Project Healthy Children, I would provide 94 people with food-based micronutrients for one whole year.
These resources include impact calculators, where you can input your donation amount, the frequency (monthly or one-time), and how many people can be helped or saved. Giving What We Can also provide additional resources on donating, including how to do a long-term pledge, podcasts, books, and quick articles.
How to give the most effective donation
You don’t have to be a millionaire to donate to charities, all you need is a consistent income. Having a consistent income allows you to give monthly or yearly to the charities of your choice. Giving money consistently is more beneficial for charities, since it may cost more to remove you from email or donor lists.
If you are interested in increasing your monetary commitment to effective altruism long-term, consider looking at the site 80,000 Hours, which conducts research on which careers have the largest positive social impact and provides career advice based on that research, to give more. 80,000 hours is an estimate for the number of time people spend on their careers, and the nonprofit publishes a yearly impact report, job bank, and tips on how to achieve these careers.
You have the power to make a difference in the world, even if you aren’t dedicating your whole life to volunteering and being a social impact worker. You can empower people in your home country or abroad to live a better and more fulfilling life. You glow different when you give, so start your effective altruism journey today!