Giving Games


Giving Games are a method of teaching people about charitable giving. They employ “experiential philanthropy”:
participants learn by giving away real money to real charities.

Most Giving Games take the form of a 60-90 minute workshop (sample agenda here). Participants hear an introduction covering basic concepts of effective giving, learn about several pre-selected charities, think about and discuss the relative merits of each, and choose which charity will receive the money at stake (which is typically sponsored by an outside party). By framing giving as a choice between good options, the Giving Game model encourages people to be intentional, informed, and impactful in their giving.

Universities are the most common settings for Giving Games, but the model has also been used at businesses, high schools, religious and secular gatherings, conferences, and online. Stylized examples of the most popular Giving Games formats are provided below, but please bear in mind that these are not at all comprehensive as the Giving Game model is extremely flexible. Advice for anyone who wants to run a Giving Game and have a deeper discussion of how the model can be adapted to different settings can be found in the Giving Game Instruction Manual.

Example:Classroom Giving Game

A university philosophy professor runs a Giving Game with students in their Ethics class. Before the session, students are assigned readings on how different schools of philosophy view the ethical quandaries that surround giving. The Giving Game then allows students to explore those questions themselves, not as abstract philosophical arguments but as practical considerations for a decision with real world consequences.

The 20 students in the class have the choice of giving $200 to either Against Malaria Foundation (AMF), which distributes anti-malaria bednets, or Give Directly, which gives “no strings attached” cash grants to people living in extreme poverty. These organizations prompt discussion about topics including:

  • The role of paternalism (donors imposing solutions) in giving
  • The relative values of preventing deaths vs. improving lives
  • The strengths and limitations of metrics like Quality-Adjusted Life Years (QALYs) that seek to compare benefits of disparate interventions
  • The relative cost-effectiveness of the two organizations

After the professor leads a group discussion in class, students write a short paper about why they voted the way they did.

Further reading: A teacher’s gift: Engaging high school students in Giving Games; Four philanthropy educators weigh in on Giving Games; Are Giving Games a better way to teach philanthropy?

Example:Outreach Giving Game

An “effective altruist” student organization runs an extracurricular Giving Game to encourage their peers to take interest in high-impact philanthropy and raise awareness for their group. The student group publicizes the event by reaching out to other student organizations, professors, and campus institutions that might be interested. Promotional materials highlight that $10 will be donated for each attendee, so people know that they’ll do some good just by showing up.

The group starts the Giving Game with a short presentation about what “good giving” is and why it matters. Topics include:

  • The importance of intentional giving
  • The importance of informed giving
  • What it means to have “impact” and why it matters
  • Helpful resources for donors

Participants then learn about three nonprofits: Against Malaria Foundation (distributing bednets in Africa), Nurse Family Partnership (early childhood development in the US), and Play Pumps (an intervention that sounds good on paper but was found to fail in the field). In small groups (to encourage engaged conversation), they discuss issues including trading off greater cost-effectiveness abroad vs. helping one’s local community, the value of preventing deaths vs. improving lives, and lessons to be learned from the Play Pumps example.

After participants vote to select the winning nonprofit, the student group that hosted the event collects email addresses for its mailing list and invites people to their next meeting.

Further reading: Launching a campus group with a Giving Game at UPenn; How to run a Giving Game and start a local chapter; Giving and team building in the workplace; Meaning at work: Conference Report

Example:Speed (or “Mini”) Giving Games

A campus group that promotes effective giving facilitates a Giving Game to spread awareness of their message and find new members. The group sets up a table in a busy area and asks passersby: “Do you want to give someone else’s money to charity?” They explain that anyone can give $1 to their choice of Seva (which fights preventable blindness in the developing world), the Against Malaria Foundation, or a local food bank.

The organizers provide a few key bullet points describing each charity’s work, and most interactions last only a minute or two. Some interactions last longer when participants ask for more information about the charities or the group itself. Rather than simply trying to cycle through as many participants as possible, the group focuses on giving an “elevator pitch” about their work to those who seem interested, collecting email addresses for their mailing list, and publicizing an upcoming event.

Further reading: How Giving Games can spread the word about smarter charity choices

Example:Experimental Giving Games

The Giving Game model elicits preferences about and across charities, making it a natural tool to study those preferences. By randomly varying the context in which participants make their choices, researchers can gain insights about how those variations shape preferences in this area shed light into a wide range of human behaviors.

For instance, a researcher might want to test whether priming subjects with the concept of “global citizenship” might increase their preferences for international charities relative to domestic ones. To study this, they could randomly assign subjects to a “prime” or “no prime” condition, and endow them with money they could give to either an international or domestic charity (holding information about those charities constant across conditions), and see whether preferences between charities differed across the two conditions.

Experimental Giving Games can be used to study topics including:

  • Understanding drivers and magnitudes of preferences for certain beneficiaries
  • Understanding drivers of preferences for charities with certain characteristics (e.g. high-impact, relationship to donor, geography of operation)
  • Identifying choice architectures that promote more effective giving
  • Mitigating known biases (identifiable victim effect, scope insensitivity, etc.)

Further reading: Can Giving Games change donors behavior? We did an experiment to find out; Plans for additional experimentation

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