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Giving Back in the Month of December

photo via Money Magazine

photo via Money Magazine

As we gear up to celebrate the holidays with loved ones, we’re often reminded of others who are less fortunate. During the holiday season you’ll likely be asked at various store checkouts whether you’d like to donate to their selected charity. But this might leave you wondering: What percentage of my donation will go to covering administrative expenses? Will my donation actually make a difference in someone’s life? Which charities actually give the most, dollar-for-dollar? These are important questions and there are some good reasons to be skeptical about where and how you donate. Unfortunately, we know that some charities, despite having the best of intentions, cost more than they give and have even caused harm.

It turns out that some of the most popular ways we give back might not do as much good as we hope. For example, here’s a video explaining why canned food drives tend to have some drawbacks (spoiler: they’re generally not cost-effective). If you want to see how smart you are about charitable decision-making, this game is designed to test how accurately you can assess which charities work and which don’t.

Good news is that some organizations have already done the heavy-lifting in terms of research to help you make informed charitable decisions! We’ve compiled some resources here for evidence-based charity (called “effective altruism”) so you can be confident in the impact of your choices. Read on to learn how to give back this season using this evidence-based guidance!

  • Using research and rigorous analysis, the nonprofit organization GiveWell is committed to identifying charities that make the biggest global impact in terms of lives improved and lives saved. Here is a list of their top charities, which they define as “evidence-backed, thoroughly vetted, underfunded organizations” that are selected based on their overall quality and cost-effectiveness (click here for their full criteria). They also publish discussions of their selected top charities’ strengths and weaknesses so you have more information to evaluate them for yourself.
  • The Canadian-based foundation Charity Science coordinates events to raise awareness and funds for the most effective charities, as identified by GiveWell. Check their peer-to-peer Christmas Fundraising page in the next few weeks to contribute. The page currently down for maintenance in preparation for the holiday season, so go ahead and bookmark it for now!
  • Intelligent Philanthropy and Giving What We Can are two other online resources you can use to identify high-impact charities organizations.

More Resources:

TED talk on the power of charity science by Esther Duflo

The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas About Living

The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty.


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