Make Christmas 2013 a highly effective charitable giving season

Earlier this year, I wrote for Guardian Voluntary Sector Network about effective charitable giving, as researched by charity evaluators such as Giving What We Can and GiveWell. They both aim to maximise the impact of donations by finding highly effective charities, usually highly-focused charities working in the developing world on healthcare.

US-based GiveWell revises its recommendations each year in time for the US charitable giving season at the end of December, generated by a combination of Christmas and the end of the tax year: this year, it lists three charities, discussed in detail here. Giving What We Can, a British organisation set up to encourage people to donate 10% of their income to charity, has a similarly short list of recommended charities with just two rated with ‘high confidence’. If you want to donate money effectively, these very short lists are a good place to start.

There is one charity that appears on both: Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, run from within Imperial College London by Professor Alan Fenwick, the college’s professor of tropical parasitology (who I interviewed for the Guardian article). The charity works “to improve the health and development of the world’s poorest populations by eliminating the poverty sustaining and life-threatening effects of schistosomiasis (bilharzia) and intestinal worms (hookworm, whipworm and roundworm)”. Its website, a corner of Imperial College’s, explains what it does in detail and accepts online donations.

Giving What We Can’s other ‘high confidence’ charity is the Against Malaria Foundation, also UK-based, which pays for anti-malarial nets in developing countries – a cheap (US$3/£2 a net) and highly effective healthcare intervention. This is also recommended by writer Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save website, but has been dropped from GiveWell’s recommended list – not because it no longer believes AMF’s work is valuable, but because the charity has not been distributing many nets recently: details are set out here. A response from AMF includes the following:

We could distribute all the nets we can buy if we were prepared to tolerate high rates of theft. We feel a strong duty to our donors to wait until we can use the funds without significant net losses.

AMF is a very strong proponent of transparency and monitoring – you can see where your donations end up online – and pausing until it can spend donors’ money well has a strong justification. GiveWell says it may well reinstate its recommendation when it starts a major net distribution, and still lists it as its only ‘past top-rated charities with limited room for more funding’. Ottawan skeptic Darren McKee is currently matching donations to AMF dollar for dollar, pound for pound, up to an as-yet unreached limit of C$25,000 (although not far off), so if you want to donate, you can double your money.

Other charities have found ways to double donations. Oxfam, recommended by Peter Singer and one of the best-known development charities, is currently getting matched funding from the UK government for donations to its Syrian refugee appeal, until 14 December. It has also arranged co-funding for some of its Oxfam Unwrapped donations, such as buying a goat (these are effectively donations, and like the others mentioned here can be Gift Aided). Sightsavers, highly-rated by the Department for International Development for its work treating trachoma in the developing world, will get donations made throught The Times’ Christmas appeal matched by retailer River Island up to £25,000: Times article and donation link here.

Evaluating charities and seeking matched funding may seem rather hard-headed. But I’d argue that it makes sense to treat charitable giving seriously, because it means you get the most good done for your money.

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