Effective altruism

It’s common for people to people with good intentions to donate to causes they can directly see the benefit from. It is commonly quoted that “charity starts at home“.

However, it is demonstrably apparent that this is not the case; that the easiest charities to give to are often the least efficient.

Often, charities with great ideas or concepts are deliberately inefficient to provide a larger or more secure income for those running them. Others spend a large amount on campaigns or advertising to promote their charities; but previous donations have been used to pay for these.

For the person who simply wants to give their money to a good cause and know their money isn’t being wasted, this can be enough to put them off giving at all.

This skepticism is justified; but fortunately some folks have done the research for you. Commonly, this field of study is called effective altruism.

Effective altruism is a philosophy and social movement that uses evidence and reasoning to determine the most effective ways to benefit others. Effective altruism encourages individuals to consider all causes and actions and to act in the way that brings about the greatest positive impact, based upon their values.

Giving to charities that have been well audited and operate on causes advocated by effective altruists is a reliable way to ensure that your donations go to the right place.

Where to give?

Organisations such as GiveWell are based upon this principle.

GiveWell tells you where you should actually be giving your money.

Here is a list of their recommended charities: https://www.givewell.org/charities/top-charities

The numbers

According to GiveWell, the AMF (Against Malaria Foundation) can save a person’s life for every US$4,000 donated. That’s been rigourously tested, measured and proven.

According to this World Health Organization report, in 2016 there were 445,000 deaths from malaria. The same report says that in the same year, there were 216,000,000 cases of it.

Dividing the latter with the former, we see that approximately 485 people contract malaria for every one person who dies from it. This means that not only are you saving on average one life per $4,000 donated, but also preventing nearly 500 people from contracting it at all. Five hundred people who can spend extra time at school, or work to feed themselves and their families.

A new car (Toyota Corolla) costs $19,990. That’s the equivalent of approximately 5 lives and 2,421 non-lethally infected.

The best time to contribute to saving lives is likely right now - and in many developed countries, these donations reduce the amount of tax you pay - so if you’re currently employed then now makes even more sense.

How much should I give?

To visualise a potential donation, I developed a simple web app to calculate the numbers of lives you could save with a one-time donation.