Your charitable donations might not be helping people


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Everyone wants to change the world, and donating money, time or supplies to charities gives us a sense of making a difference. Yet, some would say the charities of our choice aren’t using their donations to help people.

One approach to donating money or time is to give to the charity that is going to help the most people and change the most lives for the least cost. This tactic, which is gaining favor among some, is called effective altruism.

Derek Thompson defined effective altruism in an article for The Atlantic as thinking scientifically instead of sentimentally to “find the greatest need for the next marginal dollar.”

Simply put, this means getting the most bang for your buck when you give money to charity.

According to GiveWell, which evaluates charities on their effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, room for funding and transparency, the best charity to give to is the Against Malaria Foundation, which sends insecticide-treated bed nets to Africa.

Other organizations GiveWell recommends donating to include Give Directly, which gives cash transfers to people in Kenya and Uganda; Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, which helps people infected by parasites in Africa; and Deworm the World Initiative, which helps people with parasites.

GiveWell said The Red Cross, arguably one of the most popular charities to donate to, was “considered but not contacted” and is not listed as one of the most promising organizations to donate to. This could be because it did not share enough information about the positive changes it was making on its website or donate to any of GiveWell’s “priority programs.”

Some disagree with effective altruism because they say it focuses too much on charities that have quantifiable impacts. In fact, effective altruism even discourages donating money to natural disaster relief.

“Critics of effective altruism argue that if you’re trying to scientifically maximize the greatest good, there is a risk of privileging the causes that are most easily quantifiable,” Thompson wrote. “The value of deworming might be measurable, but what of the values of women’s rights, equality, or democracy?”

Ken Berger and Robert Penna said charitable donations should be managed by individuals and based on what they are passionate about, rather than controlled by one group of people.

“This approach [effective altruism] amounts to little more than charitable imperialism, whereby ‘my cause; is just, and yours is — to one degree or another — a waste of precious resources,” they wrote for The Stanford Social Innovation Review. “This approach is not informed giving. Were such opinions limited to a small audience, we could reasonably dismiss them as a danger only to those unfortunate enough to hear them.”

But Peter Singer, an advocate for effective altruism, said in a TED Talk that this approach to giving is important because it combines the head and the heart to make well-informed decisions, rather than focusing on yourself.

“But then the money (spent on material goods is) gone, you have to work hard to get more, spend more, and to maintain the same level of happiness, it's kind of a hedonic treadmill,” Singer said. “You never get off, and you never really feel satisfied. Becoming an effective altruist gives you that meaning and fulfillment.”

Email:, Twitter: shelbygslade.

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