Learn more about smart giving

Learn more about smart giving

Smart giving is measured by the number of lives saved, or the amount of suffering reduced, per dollar.

It’s a different way to give.

Most of us base our giving decisions on the heart: a loved-one has suffered from a disease, a friend asks us to invest in a cause, a local organization asks us to support the community. This personal connection to giving is good and necessary. It’s what inspires charitable donations in the first place.

But truly making an impact also requires the head. We need to base our giving on an objective analysis of what works. You’re short-changing yourself — let alone the people you’re trying to help — if the charity you choose to support isn’t cost-effective, evidence-based, and well-run.

Some charities provide hundreds, even thousands, of times greater impact per dollar than others.

When we say this, we’re not comparing a fraudulent charity with a genuine charity. We’re comparing genuine charities that are doing good in the world.

Consider this: It costs about US$50,000 to train a guide dog that will help a blind person in the United States — a very good cause. For that same cost, an organization like Seva or the Fred Hollows Foundation can restore sight to at least 1,000 people living in extreme poverty through interventions like cataract surgery and trachoma prevention.

Smart giving requires us to grapple with the question: Does it matter if my donation could help more people who are suffering?

We think the answer is yes.

The most impactful donations are those made to highly effective nonprofits working in the developing world.

In the US, a typical doctor’s visit costs US$130–$200 or more, and surgeries cost thousands of dollars. In the developing world, however, $100 can cover a year of high-quality healthcare for four patients — including home visits and surgery. It can also deworm 992 children or protect 500 people from iodine deficiency for life.

The bottom line: your money does more overseas.

Monthly donations are the best way to make a difference.

Historically, nonprofits receive the majority of their donations during a couple of months of the year: the holidays. It’s a wonderful season for giving, but smart giving moves beyond the traditional model of sporadic, short-term donations to a longer-term model of engaging with charity.

Most charities have ambitious goals and year-round operating expenses that are easier to set, plan, and budget for with a predictable revenue stream. Recurring donations — even very small amounts — add up fast and make considerable impact.

Learn more about smart giving


What is extreme poverty?

What if you had the chance to save the life of a child? Most of us would do so without a moment’s hesitation. If we saw a small girl drowning in a pond in front of us, we would do everything possible to save this child’s life. Read more >

Why donate?

When considering poverty in the developing world, many people feel deep sorrow but conclude that there is nothing we can do. The scale of poverty is immense and we seem powerless to stop it. Such despair is understandable, but the facts tell a very different story. Read more >

Why give internationally?

The world is making rapid progress toward ending extreme poverty. Twenty years ago, nearly 30 percent of the global population struggled to survive on the equivalent of US $1.90 per day, adjusted for local buying power. Today, according to the latest World Bank estimates, that number stands at just under 10 percent. Read more >

What makes a charity effective?

When we give money to a charity, we assume our donation will be used to do good. But that’s not always the case. Some charities accomplish very little; a few may even unintentionally cause harm. Read more >

Common objections to giving

While we have a natural desire to support our local communities, there is a large imbalance between domestic giving and international giving. Ninety-five percent of the $240 billion that individuals in the United States give to charities annually goes to domestic non-profits while only 5% is donated internationally. Read more >

Free online courses on effective giving

Want to learn more about extreme poverty and what you can do about it? Check out these free online courses from Princeton, Stanford, the World Bank, and more. Take a free course >