Effective Altruism: How to Give Smarter

“No one has ever become poor from giving” – Anne Frank

It is better to give than to receive. Agreed. In fact, Americans gave a record $471 billion to charities in 2020, according to Giving USA, a 5.1% increase over 2019. And the richer are even more charitable: nearly 90% of affluent households gave to charity in 2020. The average American gives a generous $5,931 per year to charity, close to $500 per month.

But whatever the amount, it matters where you put your money. In 2013, the Center for Investigative reporting put a list together of the 50 worst charities in America. These organizations raised almost $1 billion, but much of that money was kept by the corporate fundraisers themselves.

Those are the bad guys. But, some good-guy charities help 100 times more causes than others even with the same resources! This is effective altruism in action.

So if you want to be charitable, where’s the best place to put your $10, $100, or $1,000? Try an organization practicing EA. ” Effective Altruism is a movement started in Oxford, England in 2012,  devoted to doing good and getting better results in more than 70 countries.  It’s currently fighting poverty, homelessness, global health, social inequality, animal welfare, and risks to the survival of humanity.

Some of the organizations involved in the research and strategies to find places where your good deed dollar goes the farthest include GiveWell, 80,000Hours, and SoGive. Effective altruism is about more than greenbacks. It also involves giving of your time or choosing a career/ working in a field devoted to doing the most for the people most in need.

William MacAskill, an Associate Professor in Philosophy and a Research Fellow at the Global Priorities Institute, University of Oxford is one of the primary voices in the philanthropic movement and co-founder of three non-profits based on effective altruist principles: Giving What We Can80,000 Hours, and the Centre for Effective Altruism. He’s also the author of Doing Good Better: Effective Altruism and a Radical New Way to Make a Difference

Effective altruism, sys MacAskill is a philosophical and social movement that advocates “using evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible, and taking action on that basis.” With that in mind, EA tries to:

  • Find charities that are the best in the world at helping others.
  • Help people find careers where they can have a significant social impact.
  • Conduct research into what the world’s most important, neglected, and tractable problems are and how they might be prioritized and solved.

Getting Involved, Getting Informed   

*Check out organizations aligned with the Effective Altruism Center that you can feel safe donating to or working with.

*Don’t pick a charity by name alone; your donation may go to a questionable group. This charity watchdog notes that some organizations may spend too much on administrative costs, or worse — be outright scammers. Watch out for groups who mimic the name of a reputable charity (the Kids Wish Network, for example, is NOT the Make-A-Wish Foundation).

*Before giving, check out the charity in question with one or more of the major charity watchdogs, including the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, and Charity Watch. To become accredited by groups like these, the organization must meet 20 standards, including adequate board oversight and solid conflict-of-interest policies. They are also required to spend at least 65 percent of their total expenses on their charitable programs and no more than 35 percent of their total contributions on fundraising.  You can rest easy if they pass that high bar.

* Beware professional fundraisers.  It is better to give directly to a charity instead. That self-interested pro might be keeping two-thirds of the donations, warns CharityWatch.

* Look for “A-rated” charities that have been vetted to spend at least 75 percent or more on their programs, not on compensating employees, infrastructure, or telemarketing (Here’s a list of 20 charities that actually give 99% of their intake directly to the cause).

* What about smaller (less structured) online giving—like donating to help a family that has lost its home to a fire? Sounds worthy and pretty direct. However, if it’s sponsored by GoFundMe, for example ( the largest personal online fundraising site), you’ll pay a processing fee equal to 2.9 percent of the total amount raised, plus 30 cents of each individual donation. So if 150 people contribute $20 each, the website would collect $132 of the $3,000 donated.

*Consider getting outside the big tent and checking out top-rated charities and lesser-known nonprofits invested in effective altruism. Websites such as GiveWell, GlobalGiving, and ImpactMatters can be your guide. GiveWell’s top-rated list, for example,  focuses mainly on nonprofits that operate in regions of extreme poverty. Even if you’re not a big-time philanthropist, you can make a difference. A $1 donation to Water for Good, for example, provides clean drinking water to one person in the Central African Republic for one year, according to ImpactMatters.

*Join the EA community. Meet other activists and dedicated donors online or at EA-sponsored live conferences. You will create hundreds of connections at once, and remember, two or more people working together can have more than twice the impact of one person alone.  The effective altruism community will help you find like-minded people who want to make a difference. Visit for their subscriber list, podcast, and more.

-Frances Goulart


Other Posts You Might Like

0 comments on “Effective Altruism: How to Give Smarter

Leave a Reply (and please be kind!)