A large body of research in psychology finds that giving money to causes we care about makes us happier. Even if that research doesn’t hold up, I’d argue we still have an obligation to spend some portion of our time and money trying to make the world a better place. And I believe we need to approach charitable giving the same way we approach spending on ourselves. We make sure to get the best value when spending our money for ourselves. We should do likewise for others.
To that end, I’m donating $100,000 to GiveWell. I’m giving some of the money directly to their Maximum Impact Fund – more on that in a second – but I’ll give most of the money through a matching campaign later this year. GiveWell is an evidence-based charity evaluator that looks for the most cost-effective charities in the world. They’ve been producing quality research for over a decade and have identified some incredible charities.
A few examples of GiveWell’s current Top Charities:
- Malaria Consortium gives children medicine to prevent malaria.
- Helen Keller International gives children vitamin A supplements.
- New Incentives “provides cash transfers to incentivize caregivers to bring babies to clinics for routine childhood vaccinations.”
All of these programs is limited by how much money it raises, meaning extra donations expand the number of people they serve. GiveWell has found that each one of them prevents one person’s death for every $3,000 – $5,000 they get.
Instead of giving directly to one of these charities, I’m giving to GiveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund. At the end of each quarter, GiveWell assesses the needs of each of its Top Charities to determine which has the highest-value use for additional dollars right then and sends donations there.
Matching Campaign Experiments
In addition to identifying the most effective charities in the world, GiveWell helps them raise money. In 2019, GiveWell began experimenting with matching campaigns. You’ve seen these before: “double your impact!” GiveWell advises its readers to be skeptical of these claims when choosing the most effective place to send their donations. The large donors who provide the match typically would have donated the money whether or not the small donor came along, meaning the small donor’s impact isn’t really doubled.
But charities run these campaigns because they’re effective at driving small-dollar donations. So the folks at GiveWell came up with an innovative way to use matching campaigns to raise money for their Top Charities while staying true to their principles. They find donors who are interested in supporting them, assess how much they’re likely to give, and then ask them to donate that amount and then sponsor a matching campaign on top of what they would have given otherwise. Estimating what the large donor would have given in the absence of the matching campaign isn’t an exact science, but even attempting to do that differentiates GiveWell from any other matching campaign I’ve ever heard of.
GiveWell has had early success running matching campaigns through podcast ads. In 2019 and 2020 they raised $850,000 to get started. They added an offer to their podcast ad to match donations up to $1,000. The offer increased the average donation 356% and the fraction of new donors giving exactly $1,000 went from less than 2% to 11%. For an ad spend of $180,000 and a matching budget of $250,000 they drove $659,000 in donations from new donors. That means their ad spend had a 5x return, including money from both the large and small donors.
My Matching Campaign
I’ve been supporting GiveWell and its Top Charities with 10% of my income for seven years and I’ve been looking for ways to get more involved. When I read about their matching campaign experiments, I contacted them to offer to be one of their matching campaign sponsors. My $100,000 donation is much more than I have given before and much more than 10% of my income, so the difference between $100,000 and my usual donation will go toward the matching campaign. They’ll run the campaign later this year and I’ll share the experiment results after it’s finished and they tell me how it went. I’m proud to be a part of their work to send more money to the world’s most effective charities.