Put your money where your data is – the science behind effective giving

When was the last time someone knocked on your door asking you to sign up to donate monthly to a charity? Or someone stopped you on the street asking for just a couple of coins? What did you say?

I know I normally say ‘sorry, no’. I’m sure most people say the same – but there are a variety of reasons – if you’re being really honest – why you don’t wish to give your money away. Let’s think about these for a minute…


Image courtesy of Luis Felipe Salas via Flickr

Perhaps you cant afford it – if you’re living off your pay week to week, donating money to charity just isn’t an easy option.

Perhaps you already donate to one charity and so you don’t feel the need to give more.

Or perhaps you just don’t believe that your small contribution will really make a difference – and that you could spend that $30 on yourself far more effectively than a charity could use it to help thousands of people.


If this last option sounds like you, then I have good news; evidence is here to help!


Over the last few years charities and organisations asking for donations have realised that showing the effectiveness of donations/ dollar based on evidence is a very powerful way to send money where it’s most needed – because that’s what donors want to know – that their money is saving as many people as possible.


Imagine being told that your $100 can buy a single life-saving blood donation for one fatally wounded person in Vietnam OR it can buy 1000 condoms for women in Somalia.

You may be tempted to decide your money is best spent on saving the one fatally wounded person – sure you’ve actually saved a life with your donation right? Well, consider that the use of condoms can prevent transmission of many sexually transmitted infections that are lethal for women in poor countries who don’t otherwise have access to contraception or treatment. So, statistically, you can save more lives (more than 10!) by donating your money to providing condoms.


Condoms save lives

Image sourced via robertelyov @ flickr

Does this surprise you? It made me think twice about where my money was being sent. So if all the choices seem too overwhelming there are now fantastic resources to help us find out how to donate money most effectively.


Let me introduce:

Effective Altruism – an Australian social movement of people dedicated to improving the world by linking donors with effective charities


GiveWell – a nonprofit dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities through in-depth analysis with a focus on global poverty


People in poverty can benefit greatly from effective donations

Image courtesy of Sean Ellis via Flickr


These organisations use a combination of criteria to determine the effectiveness of charities including:

Evidence of effectiveness – looking for charities that implement rigorously studied programs with benefits that can be spread to large populations

Cost effectiveness – estimates of cost per life saves or cost per total economic benefit

Room for more funding – asking where any additional funds be spent

Transparency – continual review of strengths and concerns as well as progress over time


Personally I really like this approach to giving because finally you can be confident that your money, whether its $20 or $20,000 is going to be used in the most effective way and thus have the largest possible positive impact. If that’s not an inspiring way to use data I don’t know what is!