A skeptic's guide to charity
Are you a charity skeptic?
A charity skeptic is anyone who has:
Are all charities good?
Some people think that all charities are great, but this is simply not so. The world is rife with stories of charities embezzling money, spending only 2% of donations on program expenses, and otherwise being poorly run. Additionally, despite having the best of intentions, charities often just aren’t doing much good, or are actually making things worse.
Are all charities bad?
Also no. As with most things in life, the world is not black and white. There are charities out there who have good leadership, use their donations intelligently, and run programs that have scientific evidence backing their impact.
However, it can be hard to tell which charities are good and bad because most charities lack evidence (particularly evidence that is publicly available) and mostly rely on having a flashy website and a good story to convince people that they are doing good. Few donors require rigorous evidence of impact before giving.
How do you tell the best from the bad?
The method most people use is based on convenience or their intuition, neither of which are great methods. Convenience is choosing whichever charity we hear about in the news or learn about from a friend. Generally it is not connected to how much good the charity does, but is often connected with the size or fundraising ability of the charity.
Intuition is likely even worse. We live in a pretty complex world. Even experts in the charity sector have trouble telling what is going to work and what won’t. Often our intuitions are based on only a page of writing, or even just a single paragraph. This is not to mention that humans have many biases (systematic errors in their thinking). Even the smartest and most informed people would find it near impossible to tell what charity does the most good with so little information.
Test your charity intuition here to see how well you do
To really know what works in charity takes years of research and careful comparison of the strongest scientific evidence. Now most of us do not have time to spend years studying charities. Luckily, there is a group that has already done the research and published it online for all to see.
GiveWell is an organization that has transformed the charity world, especially for charity skeptics. They are an independent, scientific and skeptical charity reviewer.
Unlike other charity review websites, they do not spend only minutes looking at each charity. They spend thousands of hours investigating each of their top charities and publish their research methodology, findings, and anything they learn about them, be it positive or negative.
They have been called the “gold standard for charity review” and this title is well earned. Not only do they have pages and pages of write-ups on top causes, charities and research findings, they have also been independently reviewed and spot checked by other experts and enthusiasts in the field.
We have double checked much of their work ourselves and have consistently been impressed by the quality and accuracy of it. If you are a charity skeptic and want to see all the details about the best charities, check out GiveWell’s analyses of their top charities. Or, if you want easy reads which succinctly summarize the charities and the evidence behind them, check out our Proven Charities page.
You also might be interested in our operations blog that details: our month to month organizational progress, the more technical ideas we have, and our board meeting minutes