worthy charities to donate to

If you want to make a difference, and are not already wedded to a particular issue, what’s the best charity to donate to? This is a brief summary of the most useful information we’ve been able to find.

First, we’ll sketch a process to use to compare options, then we’ll give our recommendations.

Our top recommendation, if you don’t have much time for research, is to ‘top up’ recent grants made by Open Philanthropy within the problem areas you focus on, a strategy we describe below.

How to choose an effective charity

First, plan your research

  1. Do you trust someone else? If you know someone who shares your values and has already put a lot of thought into where to give, then consider simply going with their recommendations. You can skip ahead to see some recommendations from experts in charity evaluation. It can be worth doing your own research if you think you might find something higher-impact according to your values than your best advisor would find, or if you think you might contribute to the broader debate about which charities should be funded (producing research is a public good for other donors), or if you want to improve your knowledge of effective altruism and charity evaluation. If you want to do your own research, go to the next step.
  2. Consider entering a donor lottery. It’s now possible to put, for example, $20,000 into a fund with other small donors, in exchange for a 20% chance of being able to choose where $100,000 from that fund gets donated. Why might you want to do this? In the case where you win, it’s worthwhile doing a great deal of research into where’s best to give, to allocate that $100,000 as well as possible. Otherwise, you don’t have to do any research, and whoever else wins the lottery does it instead.In short, it’s probably more efficient for small donors to pool their funds, and for one of them to do in-depth research, rather than for each of them to do a small amount. The Centre for Effective Altruism now organises donor lotteries once a year — two of them are open as of Dec ‘19, and will close on 17 Jan ‘20.
  3. If you’re going to do your own research, decide how much research to do. The more you’re giving as a percentage of your annual income, the more time it’s worth spending on research. Roughly speaking, a 1% donation might be worth a few hours’ work, while a 50% donation could be worth a month of research. Though, the more you earn per hour, the less time you should take off for independent research, as that may be dominated by simply earning and giving more. Another factor is that the more you expect your mind to change, the more research it’s worth doing (though bearing in mind we may be overconfident in our current views). Finally, younger people should do more research since it will help them learn about charity evaluation, which will inform their giving in future years (and perhaps their career decisions as well). As a young person, giving 1% per year and spending a weekend thinking about it is a great way to learn. If you’re a bit older, giving 10%, and don’t expect your views to change, then perhaps 1-2 days of research is worth it. If you’re giving more than 10%, more time is probably justified.

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Second, to actually choose an organisation, what steps should you take?

  1. Decide which global problems are most pressing. You want to find charities that are working on big but neglected problems, where there’s a clear route to progress, because this is where it’s easiest to have a big impact. If you’re new to 80,000 Hours, learn about how we approach figuring out which global problems are most pressing, or see a list of problems we think need most attention. If you’re already familiar with the basics of problem selection, check the section further down with tips about which to choose.
  2. Find the best organisations within your top 2-3 problem areas. Look for charities which are well-run, have a great team and potential to grow, and are working on a justified program. Many charitable programmes don’t work, so focus on organisations that either (i) implement programs that have been rigorously tested (most haven’t) or (ii) are running pilot programs that will be tested in the future, or (iii) would be sufficiently valuable if they worked that it’s worth taking a chance on them even if they might not work. Organisations in the latter category are those that have a “high-risk, high-reward” proposition, such as scientific research, policy advocacy, or the potential to grow very rapidly.If you’re doing your own intensive research, then at this stage you typically need to talk to people in the area to figure out which organisations are doing good work. One starting point is that within each of our problem profiles, we include our own list of recommended organisations.
  3. If you have to break a tie, choose the one that’s furthest from meeting its funding needs. Some organizations already have a lot of funding compared to what they can do with it. For instance, GiveWell has tried to find a good organization that provides individuals with vaccines to fund, but funders like the Gates Foundation take most of the promising opportunities. You can assess room for funding by looking at where the organization intends to spend additional donations, either by reading their plans or talking to them. Or you could see that one is further from meeting its baseline funding needed to continue operating.This consideration is a bit less important than others: if you support a great organization working on a neglected problem, then they’ll probably figure out a good way to use the money even if they get a lot.