People often ask me: "Which charity, or charities, should I donate to?" This letter explains how I arrive at my answer, which takes the form of The Life You Can Save’s list of recommended charities.
Our recommendations are intended to offer donors a variety of outstanding giving opportunities and provide them with the information they need to find those that best fit their beliefs and values.
We take this approach recognizing that reasonable people will disagree about many issues surrounding the best ways to fight global poverty. Should we favor targeted or holistic interventions? How should we balance the relative merits of health, education, and economic empowerment? What threshold of evidence constitutes proof of impact? How literally should we interpret cost-effectiveness estimates? On these questions it is possible for reasonable people to take different views, and we want our recommendations to be a useful resource for those who answer them in different ways.
Each charity we recommend is an organization that we feel comfortable supporting now and for the foreseeable future. We believe that promoting these charities represents an effective use of our time and effort toward ending extreme poverty. They are also organizations to which I, or other members of our team, donate.
We don't consider our recommended charities the only ones worth giving to. There are many organizations doing excellent work around the world, but for practical reasons we are not able to identify, or support, them all.
We place a great deal of weight on recommendations from charity evaluators that specialize in finding outstanding giving opportunities that help the world’s poor. We favor an approach that begins by identifying issue areas with promising cost-effectiveness and then finds particular charities that are best at implementing those interventions. GiveWell has been a leader in conducting this sort of analysis and Giving What We Can has built on this progress with their own research. When one of these evaluators recommends a charity, we consider that to be a powerful and diligent endorsement, and we’re glad to recommend that charity as well.
Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) are often considered the "gold standard" of evidence, and these experiments underlie much of the work that rigorous charity evaluators like GiveWell do. In an RCT, some people receive an intervention while others do not. People are randomly assigned to these groups, so subsequent differences in outcomes can be attributed to the intervention. Many of our recommended charities run programs that are backed by RCT research.
RCTs are a valuable tool for donors seeking to understand which interventions work, but they are not the only type of evidence that matters. An RCT can give us confidence, for example, that deworming programs lead to improved health and educational outcomes. But for other interventions, they're less relevant. We don't need an RCT to know that a cataract surgery can restore someone's vision, or that young mothers who receive surgery to repair an obstetric fistula benefit from the operation. But it's also important to know that organizations that perform these surgeries are not carrying out operations that would have happened without their intervention, or unduly diverting local medical resources away from other areas. When considering these types of charities, we look for organizations that not only perform a large number of surgeries, but also target underserved populations, have strong reputations, and have a track record of success and innovation in the field.
Due to our position in the effective giving movement, we are privileged to have access to a tremendous body of expertise. We stay in close contacts with experts, including researchers testing interventions and nonprofit professionals fighting poverty. We also have discussions with like-minded foundations to understand what the "smart money" is doing. In short, we seek out ways to stay informed about relevant topics, and share what we learn with you.
The information pages we've published about each of our recommended charities include information about what evidence was used in its selection. These sheets also include links to more information for those who want to do additional research.
We're proud to support the work of our recommended charities, and I hope you'll show your support by making a significant donation.
Your partner in the fight against extreme poverty,
The Life You Can Save has a focus on eradicating poverty, but we're also aware of significant interest in Peter Singer's opinions on charities working in other areas. If your priority is fighting climate change, we suggest you consider donating to Cool Earth , based on Giving What We Can's analysis on the topic . For donors seeking to improve animal welfare, we suggest reviewing research from Animal Charity Evaluators , whose top charity recommendations are The Humane League , Animal Equality and Mercy For Animals (each of which run programs designed to yield significant environmental benefits in addition to reducing animal suffering).
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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