We’re proud of the progress The Life You Can Save made in 2014, and we’re excited to share our review of the year. Our goal is to provide you with a well-rounded picture, so we’ve provided a qualitative assessment of what went well and what didn’t, as well as a more quantitative look at our key metrics.
To justify our activities, The Life You Can Save needs to move significantly more money to effective charities than we spend on our own operations. In 2014, we're confident that we moved over $700,000 to our recommended charities, almost 3 times what we spent.
We believe it’s important to track these “headline numbers,” but they don’t tell the full story. During 2014, we made substantial investments that we expect will pay long-term dividends. The redesign of our website and new content like the Impact Calculator and our Giving Game pages are terrific examples.
We’ve also made investments in relationships that are beginning to pay off. A year ago, many of our internal conversations focused on finding ways to make our case to high-net-worth donors and in media outlets. Today, we’re reaping the benefits of these opportunities and focusing more on how to maximize their impact. In an upcoming blog post, we’ll explore how we plan to do that in 2015, as well as the challenges we still face.
The Year’s Positives
The Year’s Negatives
Detailed Look at Key Metrics
Our conservative estimate is that we moved around $720,000 to our recommended charities in 2014. Our charities can directly track approximately $634,000 of that total through our ongoing web donation tracking ($547,000) or large specific gifts that could be attributed to The Life You Can Save ($87,000). We conservatively estimate that we moved about an additional total of around $85,000 to charities that we are currently unable to track.
How does this compare to last year?
In 2013, we estimated that we moved just shy of $600,000 to our recommended charities, which would suggest we increased our money moved by eight percent last year if both estimates were correct. However, in 2013 we were only able to track donations to AMF ($400,000) and had to estimate totals for all other charities.
In 2014, we significantly improved our ability to track donations, and are currently gathering data from nine charities with more hopefully on the way soon. So we’re considerably more confident in our 2014 estimate than our 2013 estimate.
In comparing 2013 and 2014, it’s also important to note that we received an unusual amount of exposure in 2013 in the form of Peter’s TED Talk and his New York Times op-ed, and his piece for the Washington Post (discussed in more detail in the traffic section). In December 2013, the Times also highlighted Peter’s work and The Life You Can Save in a holiday-themed feature on charitable giving.
Reasons why we may be overestimating our impact
Reasons why we may be underestimating our impact
In 2014, our website had roughly 215,000 sessions (most of them from new users), an increase of 65 percent relative to the previous year. A bit less than half of this increase was driven by our implementation of Google AdWords.
Looking at monthly traffic numbers, the picture becomes a bit clearer. On a steady basis, our monthly traffic appears to have roughly tripled (or doubled if we exclude AdWords) in 2014. However, our traffic in the crucial December “Giving Season” fell dramatically in 2014 relative to the previous December.
The explanation behind our relatively weak Giving Season is a simple one per above: we received high profile media mentions in 2013 that did not repeat in 2014. In December 2013, Peter’s Washington Post op-ed and the New York Times feature on holiday charitable giving alone accounted for roughly 12,000 visitors to The Life You Can Save. And while we were mentioned in Gawker articles in both years, the 2013 article drove almost 4,000 more visitors to our website. Our unusually high-profile media attention in 2013 explains the vast majority of our decline in giving season traffic in 2014.
Considering the year as a whole, we think we’ve made significant progress in our ability to sustainably drive traffic to our website.
Pledges and Subscriptions
In 2014, we placed more emphasis on acquiring subscriptions for our newsletter, and less on acquiring new pledges. These changes are reflected in the prominence we give to the solicitations on our website. This seemed like a natural shift given who our audience is: about 80 percent of our traffic comes from new users, and our priority is establishing a lasting relationship with those new to effective giving. We’re skeptical of the value of pledges we can acquire simply by orienting our homepage around a pledge solicitation, as we did for much of 2013.
We gained 1,566 new subscriptions in 2014, roughly a 30 percent growth rate. We made some changes late in the year that improved conversion rates, which should help improve growth going forward.
There were 707 new pledges in 2014, which represented a significant slowdown relative to previous years as we expected.
Our Giving Games program continues to grow at a rapid pace: we had almost 5,000 participants in 2014, a 127 percent increase over 2013. In an upcoming series of blog posts, we’ll take a closer look at our key Giving Game metrics and discuss why we’re so excited about this program.
 Examples of donations we’re missing: people who donate directly on a charity’s site but don’t self report where they heard about the charity; people who donate through other platforms (e.g. GiveWell, donor advised funds, Charity Science, etc.); donors who are motivated to give after seeing a charity share our recommendation on social media, etc.
 While they didn’t drive much traffic, we did get some media exposure during December 2014 including: the Forbes blog, the Giving Tuesday blog, WUSA9, Gawker, and the Jim Bohannon Show.
The Life You Can Save is a movement of people fighting extreme poverty. We hold that an ethical life involves using some of our wealth and resources to save and improve the lives of those less fortunate than us.
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