December 2014

Best Charities for 2015 and Our December Newsletter

Peter Singer's UnselfieWe are happy to announce The Life You Can Save's 2015 recommended charities (see list below). You can read about our selection methodology here. As you know, there are many great charities effectively reducing suffering and premature death among the poorest people in the world. We are confident that the ones we recommend are among the most effective and they are ones we personally feel great about donating to ourselves.

We hope you'll generously support these charities, as each of them can use your gift to profoundly improve, or even save, the lives of people suffering in the grips of extreme poverty. Like us, these individuals have hopes and dreams, friends and families. Through our donations, we have the opportunity to make a tremendous difference in their lives.

We continue to recommend many of the charities we've supported in the past, but we've also made several important changes to our list.

We've added Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), replacing the Proven Impact Fund (a sub-project of IPA). IPA conducts vital research, particularly Randomized Controlled Trials (RCT's), to identify interventions that are effective, and those that are not. Many of our recommended charities use interventions that IPA's research has helped assess.

We've also added four charities (with asterisks below) that have recently been recommended as standouts by the respected charity evaluator, GiveWell, which focuses on identifying outstanding giving opportunities serving the world's poor. We hope you'll take the time to learn more about these organizations, and the wonderful work that they do.

This year we have removed the numerical rankings from our list. Our team made this decision because the rankings suggested more precision in our internal assessment of the relative merits of the charities than is actually the case. Further, it failed to acknowledge the importance of subjective value judgments in establishing a rank. I discuss these issues in more detail in our "Selection Methodology".

Our expanded methodology description is an example of how The Life You Can Save's staff has been hard at work to make our website a more valuable and transparent resource for you. We have also added functionality to our Where to Donate page to make it easier to find charities doing the kind of work you care most about, and that you can give to tax-deductibly where you live.

Later this month, we'll be releasing our Impact Calculator, an exciting new tool that estimates how much bang-for-the-buck our recommended charities provide.

On behalf of everyone at The Life You Can Save, I wish all of you a healthy, joyous and productive New Year. I sincerely hope that you will donate to one or more of our recommended charities so others may experience a life-sustaining year for themselves and their families.

Peter Singer
Founder, The Life You Can Save

The Life You Can Save's 2015 Recommended Charity List
(in alphabetical order)

Against Malaria Foundation (AMF)
Development Media International (DMI)*
Evidence Action
Fistula Foundation
Fred Hollows Foundation
Give Directly
The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)*
Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA)
International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD)*
Living Goods*
Population Services International (PSI)
Project Healthy Children (PHC)
Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI)

In December's Issue


Opening Message

Peter Singer shares our 2015 list of Recommended Charities


Charity Voices

PSI achieves 1,000,000 male circumcisions for HIV prevention; GiveDirectly's new website raises the bar for transparency; How Innovations for Poverty Action's evaluations lead to improvements, from education to migration; Possible maintains quarterly stakeholder connections; Fred Hollows Foundation shines light into darkened lives of young and old; Gifts that give from Fistula Foundation.


Team Picks

Get down (literally) and do the worm dance for a great cause; see the BBC's cool animated interpretation of Peter Singer's "girl in the pond" argument; is Band Aid just a bandaid? Videos, books and more suggested by The Life You Can Save staff.


Supporter Story

Clare Morris's travels led her to giving 40% of her salary to simple, cost-effective poverty interventions.


This Month in Giving

Take a break from feasting and shopping to share some of the love with those who need it most – December brings Giving Tuesday, new 2015 top charities lists, awareness days for modern slavery, migration and disabilities, and more.


Highlights from Our Blog

How to invest so your dollars do good AND turn a profit; Sharing meaningful data with donors; Small interventions can make big differences; The power of researcher / nonprofit partnerships.


Closing Thoughts from the Executive Director

Resolving to do more "optimal giving" in 2015.

Charity Voices
Six of our recommended charities report on recent highlights.
Population Services International (PSI)
1 Million Male Circumcisions and Counting

Population Services International provides life-saving information, products and services to tackle the world's most pressing health problems.

Recently, Population Services International (PSI) circumcised its one millionth client. A pioneer in voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC), PSI launched these services in Zambia in 2007, when the World Health Organization (WHO) first recommended the procedure for HIV prevention. Today, PSI implements VMMC activities in eight countries, and continues to explore ways to more safely, easily and comfortably perform this procedure with the introduction of new devices.

With an uncompromising focus on providing the highest quality services, these collaborative efforts between PSI and national governments throughout Africa demonstrate that VMMC services can be – and have been – safely and efficiently taken to scale. This milestone moment underscores the strong commitment and support of partners such as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, domestic governments and other implementing organizations.

Also take a look at PSI's beautiful new website:

New Website, Radical Transparency

GiveDirectly delivers money into the hands of the extreme poor to use as they see fit.

GiveDirectly recently launched a new website that brings "transparency" to a new level.

We're excited to announce that we have just opened up our internal data to the public by connecting our website directly to the database we use to manage our field operations. What this means is that anyone can now access real-time information about what's happening in the field. The site has new features and a new look, but the important stuff hasn't changed: it's simple, direct, and puts the data and evidence front and center.

Specifically, you can see how GiveDirectly is doing against its most important performance metrics – from how productive our field staff are to whether recipients demonstrate they understand the program – at the same time that the organization's managers do. You can also verify those performance metrics by accessing the underlying raw data.

We hope you'll check out the new site and let us and GiveDirectly know what you think.

Innovations for Poverty Action
Two examples of the wide range of programs we evaluate.

Image courtesy of Juan Hernandez-Agramonte Caballero

Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) designs and carries out randomized controlled trials to investigate what works and what does not in poverty interventions.

Learning Math with Songs & Games
Over half of Paraguayan third-graders lack the math skills they need to pass grade-level tests. Girls, poor children, rural communities, and GuaranĂ­ speakers are particularly affected. Educators believe the problem starts in preschool where kids are not learning the "pre-math" concepts that prepare them for more complex work. To address this problem, the Paraguayan government decided to adapt the Big Math for Little Kids math curriculum developed by a team of US education scholars. The program employs songs and games to teach math concepts, and delivers lessons via CD to work around gaps in teacher knowledge.

IPA evaluated the impact of the program over five months in 265 schools in the Cordillera region in Paraguay—half of the schools were randomly selected to run the program. Results show children in Big Math schools improved their math skills over the five months of the program as much as other accepted education programs do, in less time. Encouragingly, schools that were worse off to begin with saw greater average improvements from the program, though boys overall improved more than girls. IPA is now running a second year of the evaluation to learn more about how it works and how we can use what we learn to design education programs that help everyone.

Encouraging the Poor to Migrate
Farm families in northern Bangladesh rarely earn enough from selling crops to support themselves for the whole year. Many continue to reside in rural areas during the "hungry season" between planting and harvest, even though income earning opportunities are available in nearby towns. To understand why and to encourage seasonal migration, IPA ran an evaluation to test different approaches. Participants were randomly selected to either receive information about the benefits of migration or to receive information and $11.50 in cash—roughly the cost of travel and a couple days of food.

The results show that offering cash encouraged a quarter of all households to send a seasonal migrant. Those families experienced less hunger at a cost far lower than what the government pays per family in food subsidies. Even more promising is the longer-term impact: the farmers received the incentive only once, and have continued to migrate for three more years without the extra nudge. Information alone did little to change migration patterns, suggesting that monetary risk is the real constraint to migration.

Frequent and transparent reporting to keep stakeholders informed.

Possible arranges and delivers health care to the poorest of the poor in remote areas of Nepal.

Possible is pleased to share our latest Quarterly Impact Report.

Similar to businesses who produce monthly earning reports, at Possible we find it crucial to create quarterly reports that transparently expose our successes, finances, and failures. Here are some highights from our recent Q4 2014 report:

  • In the last quarter, our Co-Founder and Chief Programs Officer, Duncan Maru, was awarded the prestigious Early Independence Award from the National Institutes of Health.
  • We started building Nepal's first rural electronic medical record system, and finalized costing so the model can be expanded throughout the entire district.
  • In Q4 we treated 15,431 patients, bringing our total patients treated to 207,131.
  • The average cost per patient treated was $29.75.
  • We expanded our initial 3 clinics into 6 (hitting our missed Q3 goal).
  • The annual household survey of our catchment area was completed.
  • We received $190,770 in individual donations, our second-highest source of income after foundations ($625,750).

Fred Hollows Foundation
Restoring sight across generations and nations.

The Fred Hollows Foundation works to help millions of the extreme poor keep or regain their sight.

This month, we at Fred Hollows Foundation share two examples of the light you help us rekindle--figuratively and literally-- in so many lives every year.

72 year-old Reggie Uluru, a traditional owner of the Uluru area in Australia, near Alice Springs, is a man with great responsibility for his community. But when his eyesight began failing due to cataract in one eye, and a diseased eyelid in the other, Reggie was fearful that he would no longer be able to fulfill that responsibility.

Reggie's father had died soon after losing his sight. "I was worried it would happen to me," Reggie told me. And who would teach the young ones then? "The knowledge I know, I pass on to my grandchildren, so that they can pass it on too."

Reggie visited one of the week-long intensive surgery sessions The Fred Hollows Foundation runs in Central Australia. They recommended having the eyelid taken care of now and the cataract later. The operation, though complicated, was a success, allowing Reggie to continue caring for his community.

Your gift to someone like Reggie means you don't just restore his sight, you also restore his role in the community, his ability to share his knowledge and provide leadership. You restore his dignity and independence.

Hao, a young boy In Laos, developed cataracts and lost his sight by the age of 5. He went from being energetic, mischevous, and a good student, to not being able to play with friends, and he had to give up school. Hao's father had to give up work to care for him – pushing this already struggling family deeper into poverty.

Hao's future looked bleak. But luckily his father heard that his son could get help from an eye clinic built by The Fred Hollows Foundation, so the pair travelled to meet Dr. Phetsamone, the only ophthalmologist in their province. He was the family's last hope. And thanks to him and to your donations, Hao had successful surgery and his sight was restored. He has returned to school and is back to his happy, cheeky self.

For Dr. Phetsamone, restoring Hao's sight was a chance to restore the family's hopes and dreams for a future free from poverty. He told us: "It was really, really important for me that the operation was a success because if he has his sight, he could go on to study and have a good future and a good life." And that's what your donations to the Foundation do.

Fistula Foundation
Holiday shopping for good.

Fistula Foundation supports surgical repair of debilitating obstetric fistulas in the developing world.

For a seasonal gift that supports our life-changing work, see the Fistula Foundation's Gifts That Heal catalog:

Team Picks
An unusual dance, videos from humorous to sobering, and thought-provoking readings, suggested by our staff.

Could your dance moves (or lack thereof) help protect children from parasitic worms? Thanks to the #WormVsWorms campaign, the answer is "Yes"!

Jon Behar
Director of Philanthropy Education

Read our blog post (and view the linked videos) from David Neal, a Cambridge student who started the Worm vs. Worms social media campaign. And see why this scourge of extreme poverty must be stopped, and can be stopped, for only fifty cents per child.

Read More

Nonprofit executive and former NPR CEO Ken Stern makes a compelling case that billions of dollars of charitable donations and government subsidies are misallocated, largely due to reactionary politics and marketeering unrelated to the actual performance of nonprofits. Stern sees hope in the growing movement of evidence-based charity performance assessment, giving special recognition to TLYCS partner GiveWell as a respected source of information on nonprofit efficiency and effectiveness.

With Charity for All: Why Charities Are Failing and a Better Way to Give by Ken Stern

Laura Gamse
Media and Outreach Director

Get the Book

The BBC Radio 4 series - "A History of Ideas" - presents this unique animation of Peter Singer's "child in the pond" ethical argument. I love the way that this important question is presented, and I think this dilemma is worth revisiting and considering, especially during the giving season.

Robin Raven
Social Media Manager

Watch the Video

Good to know that recognized artists, with lots of fans, are involved in efforts to mitigate an epidemic like Ebola. But they probably don't know that in the nine months during which 5500 people have died from the disease, about 4.5 million children have died from preventable causes; Who will sing for them? For me, Band Aid 30 is an effort, though with the best intentions, that distorts the reality in which we live. Isn't poverty more epidemic and infectious?

Llamil Silman
Chief Marketing Officer

Read More

Randomized controlled trials are the "gold standard" of intervention research, but are they appropriate when searching for an antidote to a disease that causes 70% mortality? The Life You Can Save founder Peter Singer shares his thoughts about the ethics of fighting Ebola.

Charlie Bresler
Executive Director

Read More

Supporter Story

Clare Morris

Clare Morris, originally from Lancashire, is a Masters student at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

It was a trip to Zambia/Zimbabwe when I was 18 that really got me interested in the developing world. Since then, I've continued to travel extensively. A few years ago I joined a team of twenty medics on the Sahara Health Initiative. We were in Algeria working in refugee camps, helping children with Trachoma infections. Trachoma is an eye infection that affects the children in that region, and is one of the Neglected Tropical Diseases. The initiative covered all aspects of healthcare including endemic disease, immunisation, increasing the number of medically trained professionals in the camps and public health policy. It was heart breaking seeing people who were already having to contend with dire poverty, heat and drought suffering under this added burden. Knowing how easily cured Trachoma is with the right medication, I realised I wanted to do whatever I could to get those tablets into the mouths of the children who need them – whether that meant encouraging companies to donate the medication, or donating to the charities who distribute it.

After working at Oxfam in the health policy team, I joined Giving What We Can because I firmly believe that every pound raised for charity should be spent in the most effective way. Treatments for Neglected Tropical Diseases are the best health buys available, and it's important to make sure more people know about them! I'm glad that by giving a portion of my income, I can save lives and massively benefit the health of those who aren't as fortunate as I. I started out giving 10%, and am planning to increase my donation percentage to 40% starting this month.

This Month in Giving
All Month

1st December

World AIDS Day

Globally an estimated 34 million people have HIV. Despite advances, many people still do not know how to protect themselves and others, and stigma and discrimination remain a reality for many living with HIV. World AIDS Day reminds the public and governments that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and persecution, and improve education.

1st December

The Life You Can Save's 2015 Recommended Charities List

Along with the 12 cost-effective, highly impactful non-profits we endorsed this past year for combating global extreme poverty, we have added 4 exciting new organizations we feel are well worthy of your consideration as you complete your giving for 2014 and begin planning for 2015.

1st December

GiveWell's 2015 Top Charities list

Highly respected for their rigorous evaluations, GiveWell releases their new list of recommended evidence-backed, thoroughly vetted, underfunded organizations, along with detailed analyses.

2nd December

#Giving Tuesday: A National Day of Giving

"We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back." ( Started in the U.S., Giving Tuesday is now an international celebration of generosity kicking off the holiday "Giving Season". Individuals, families, businesses, organizations and communities promote the belief that everyone, whether a large or small donor, can play a role in helping solve challenges at a local and global level.

2nd December

International Day for the Abolition of Slavery

21 million people are trapped in slavery today. This day is for highlighting the dire need to eradicate contemporary forms of slavery, such as trafficking in persons, sexual exploitation, the worst forms of child labour, forced marriage, and the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has teamed up with prominent artists, athletes and advocates in its new campaign to End Slavery Now.

3rd December

International Day of Persons with Disabilities#IDPWD2014

"Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology" is the 2014 theme set by the United Nations for IDPWD. Focus areas are: the role of technology in disaster risk reduction and emergency responses; creating enabling working environments; and disability inclusive sustainable development goals.

5th December

International Volunteer Day#IVD2014

United Nations IVD is a global celebration of volunteerism, honoring the work of hundreds of milions who help make change at all levels, leading to stronger governance, social cohesion, peace and sustainable development.

10th December

Human Rights Day#rights365

This day promotes awareness of human rights issues around the world, and highlights the efforts of the United Nations to improve global human rights conditions. This year's slogan, Human Rights 365, encompasses the idea that every day is Human Rights Day.

12th to 13th December

Project for Awesome video contest#p4a

In an effort to "decrease world suck," brothers Hank and John Green have established a yearly event in which anyone can upload their homemade videos about their favorite causes, which are then streamed live for 24 hours, raising awareness for a range of causes. Viewers vote for their favorites and proceeds from donations to the campaign are split between the 5 to 10 top vote-getters. Upload a video for your favorite of The Life You Can Save's recommended charites, and let us know about it at

18th December

International Migrants Day

The number of international migrants has increased from an estimated 175 million in 2000 to 232 million persons today, and one of every ten is under the age of 15. United Nations Member States have adopted a Declaration recognizing the important contribution of migration to development and calling for greater cooperation to address the challenges of irregular migration and to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration.

Highlights from Our Blog

Impact Investing: Have your money do good and still earn a return.

Over our lifetimes, many of us will invest more money for our retirement and other goals than we give to charities. Impact investing offers a way to put those investments to work in doing good, achieving social and environmental results that can complement your giving...

Read More

Impact evidence vs. cherry-picked stories

GiveDirectly's distinctiveness has been an emphasis on rigorous data rather than on stories about individual recipients to demonstrate success. We focus on providing donors with evidence about average effects rather than on stories about individual recipients, which can often be cherry picked to serve marketing objectives...

Read More

Measuring and leveraging "what makes donors tick?"

If you ask someone to choose from a list of charities, how does the size of that list and the similarity of the charities on that list impact how donors give to the charity they select? These questions have obvious implications for The Life You Can Save's recommended charity list...

Read More

Give Brighter Eyes and Brighter Life (all for $50)

This is the second of a two part series addressing some of the more common concerns about giving any significant portion of what is yours to help others. I explore why the scale of the problem you seek to remedy isn't what counts, and how you can find the right perspective to give...

Read More
Closing Thoughts from the Executive Director
Charlie Bresler - Director of The Life You Can Save

As subscribers, I know most of you already agree with the point of view expressed here, but I am including this so you are aware of what I am communicating outside of The Life You Can Save. This will be an OpEd piece and used as the basis for talks I am giving over December. Thanks for your support!

Creating a Culture of Effective Philanthropy

It was just a few cases, but when the Ebola epidemic "came home," it evoked a much more intense and widespread emotional response in our communities, and in the press, than when it was very far away and therefore, more abstract. Certainly, irrational fear played a role in this amplified response; however, data from a variety of sources strongly suggests that the closer to home victims are and the more like us they are, the more likely it is that they will evoke an emotional response, presumably empathy, that results in our providing financial assistance.

Even when the victims are geographically far away and of a different race, humanitarian crises, like Ebola, yield an outpouring of sympathy and financial aid that is almost entirely absent when there is no salient emergency. The fact is that the devastating effects of extreme poverty – living on less than $1.25 per day – a fact of life for approximately 44% of people in developing countries – present numerous ways to effectively reduce premature death and reduce suffering. Interestingly, non-crisis aid to the most effective charities could save substantially more lives and reduce more collective suffering than the aid we provide during crises when there is very often lack of clarity as to how the aid will reach and benefit those in need.

This contrast between our response to crises as opposed to the suffering of everyday life, is consistent with our giving behavior generally. Graphic media attention during humanitarian crises increases the immediacy of the victims' distress by bringing those individuals into our living rooms. Now our desire to help those in desperate need is activated much like it would be if someone were bleeding profusely or having a heart attack right in front of us. Most of the time though, this instinctive desire to help is dormant. Consider the following facts:

  • 18,000 children die each day from preventable causes associated with extreme poverty. For example, 700,000 children die yearly from malaria. These problems are essentially non-existent in the developed world.
  • 90% of all blindness and vision impairment is in the developing world. 80% of these cases could be prevented or treated successfully.
    • SEVA and Fred Hollows Foundation both offer surgeries in the developing world that can cure blindness for estimates ranging from $25-$125.
  • Obstetric fistulas, serious childbirth injuries virtually non-existent in developed countries, cause young women to be completely ostracized from their communities, leading to hopeless non-productive lives.

According to the "Money for Good" study, commissioned by the Hewlett Foundation, Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, The Metanoia Fund, and the Rockefeller Foundation, only 35% of people do any research on the impact of their donations and of those, 75% do less than two hours. More upsetting is that only 16% of individuals surveyed report that their priority is the impact of their donations. So how do we reconcile the outpouring of humanitarian concern and aid during crises and the relative dormancy the rest of the time?

I suggest that there is a useful distinction to be made between "warm glow" giving and "optimal" giving. Understanding this distinction helps make sense of our behavior. Most of our giving induces a "warm glow." This giving is generally familial, personal, local, or at least domestic. While this giving does not produce "the most bang for the buck," it fulfills us emotionally: we can see the impact of our gifts (or at least imagine the impact), right in front of us.

Similarly, "crisis giving" occurs when the media brings a crisis into our lives in such a vivid way that it can grab us as if it is right in front of us. This effect does not persist or, unfortunately, generalize to other desperate situations that are ongoing among those living in extreme poverty.

"Optimal" giving, on the other hand, is when a donor wants to get the most "bang for the buck." Since a dollar goes dramatically further in the developing world than in developed countries, and most extreme poverty and its effects are centered there, charities operating effectively in the developing world are best positioned to achieve optimal results.

At The Life You Can Save (TLYCS), we encourage donors to do two things: 1) move some "associational giving" to "optimal giving" in order to get the most impact for their dollars and 2) consider giving more overall, including taking an income-based pledge. For this Giving Season and the New Year ahead here's a resolution worth considering: I will investigate the charities I donate to more thoroughly than I have in the past and give more generously to support the charities that deliver "bang for the buck." We wish everyone a Holiday Season and New Year filled with good giving and good living!

Good living and good giving,

Charlie Bresler is Executive Director of The Life You Can Save, an organization founded by the philosopher Peter Singer and based on the basic tenet of Effective Altruism: leading an ethical life involves using a portion of personal wealth and resources to efficiently alleviate the effects of extreme poverty.

The Life You Can Save is a 501(c)(3) - an official non-profit registered with the United States Internal Revenue Service. Donations to The Life You Can Save are tax-deductible to individuals filing taxes in the U.S.

The Life You Can Save, 10540 NE Morning Lane, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110, USA
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