3rd April 2019

Simply put, effective altruism is an idea, a movement and a mechanism which claims to ensure the best way to give charitably. Effective Altruism emphasises the importance of scientific reasoning and impact when selecting which charitable cause to donate to rather than relying on emotional marketing campaigns. Ultimately, Effective Altruism aims to maximise the amount of good we can achieve.

Whilst Effective Altruism argues that we have a moral responsibility to help those in need, it also offers guidance and practical suggestions as to how we can achieve this. This helps to ensure that people help those most in need in the most efficient way.

Effective Altruism asks the donor to think deeply about how we can help, where we should be donating and the effectiveness our giving has on the lives of the recipients. With all that said, here are just a few of the key questions we should consider when donating according to the Effective Altruism movement:


How many people will the charity effect?

A common problem when people donate is their inability to think rationally about the scale of an issue. For example, when subjects were asked how much they would pay to save 2000, 20,000 or 200,000 birds from drowning in oil ponds the groups respectively answered $80, $78, and $88. The incentive for a donor to give is aroused from the distressing image of a single bird which provokes an emotional response. However, humans lack the ability to visualise 20,000 birds let alone more and their donation does not increase. Therefore, it’s hard to overstate the need to think rationally about the scale of the impact. According to Effective Altruism, a charity that will positively affect 100,000 people should have access to greater funds than a charity that will only affect 100 people.





How many resources are currently in use to combat the issue or is it a neglected issue?

Another key consideration when donating effectively is considering the current attention and resources a problem has. One comparison Effective Altruists have highlighted, is the difference in funds that are usually granted to natural disasters compared with issues that feature less heavily in the news such as medical issues in Africa. One example Effective Altruists have argued where funds were disproportionality allocated is the Tohoku earthquake that devastated Japan in 2011. Effective Altruists argued that the aid received from around the world became disproportionate to Japan’s ability to deal with the devastation. Evidence supporting this appeared when the Japanese Red Cross released a statement saying they have “determined that external assistance is not required and is therefore not seeking funding or other assistance from donors at this time”. Comparatively, the ‘Deworm the World Initiative’, who received smaller donations have had an extremely high impact transforming the lives of children and would benefit enormously from broader public attention and a higher volume of donations.


How effective will my donation be?

Traditionally, a large aspect of charitable giving has been dependent on trust. Trust that once a charity has received funds, they will use them as efficiently as possible and the lives of the people they aim to help will improve. Over time this public trust in charities has started to erode due an increased abuse of charity governance. Naturally this has left people sceptical about giving, so to combat this Effective Altruism promotes transparency and encourages detailed reporting on charitable projects. With many people who give being time poor and who may not be able to conduct extensive research themselves, websites such as GiveWell enable donors to be informed about which charities accurately record their impact.

Ultimately, Effective Altruism aims to reshape how and where donors give as well as reinstating public trust in the effectiveness of charities. It encourages people to think logically when donating and to consider the scale and the impact their donation will have. Perhaps most important of all is the potential this new empirical method of giving has in enabling smaller yet effective charities to grow and help even more people. Prism the Gift Fund seeks to explore this conversation and the varying perspectives on it, hosting an event entitled “The guiding principle for philanthropy: Has Effective Altruism found the answer?” in April. Our expert panel is chaired by Charles Mesquita and consists of Beth Breeze, Natalie Cargill, Wendy Harrison and Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh.


The Panel – 30th April 2019

Charles Mesquita, Prism Trustee and Charities Director at Quilter Cheviot Investment Management

Natalie Cargill, Founder of Effective Giving UK

Wendy Harrison, Executive Director of the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative

Beth Breeze, Director of the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent

Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh, Executive Director of The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk


Find out more about the event: https://prismthegiftfund.co.uk/events/guiding-principle-philanthropy-effective-altruism-found-answer/

Spaces are very limited so please RSVP to register your interest to the following address: events@prismthegiftfund.co.uk

Author: Jack Darby (Prism the Gift Fund)