We understand the sentiment that "charity starts at home," and we used to agree with it, until we learned just how different U.S. charity is from charity aimed at the poorest people in the world.

Helping people in the U.S. usually involves tackling extremely complex, poorly understood problems. Many popular approaches simply don't work. (See our discussion of education for example.) Many more approaches have simply never been investigated, beyond the stories and anecdotes. (More here.)

In the poorest parts of the world, people suffer from very different problems. A child may die of malaria for lack of a $5 bednet, or of diarrhea for lack of a 5-cent packet of nutrients.

The table below illustrates the difference, comparing U.S.-focused charities to international charities. Click the name of the cause or charity for more detail.

Organization Cost Impact
Developing-world health Against Malaria Foundation Approximately $3,000 per life saved Improve health, save lives
Early childhood care and education (U.S.) Nurse-Family Partnership $10,000 per child served Increase academic performance and reduce criminal behavior
US Education KIPP $7,500-$17,000 per student per year (including state funds) Improve academic performance
Employment Assistance (NYC) The HOPE Program $10,000 per client served Unclear, if any

We estimate that it costs the Against Malaria Foundation approximately $3,000 to save a human life. This includes transportation, administration, etc. (Full details available here.) Compare that with even the best U.S. programs: the Nurse-Family Partnership and KIPP both cost over $10,000 per child served, and their impact is encouraging but not overwhelming.

This is not to say that developing-world aid is easy or simple. Some activities are highly proven and cost-effective; others have very poor track records. As in the U.S., generating evidence of impact (not just stories) is essential. We share what we know at our current report on international aid.

Next: Your dollar goes further when you fund the right program