Your donation can change someone's life.
For a few thousand dollars you can save or improve someone's life in the developing world. This claim isn't a normal "marketing pitch" you read in direct mail solicitations—it's the result that outstanding charities achieve. For more, see:
The wrong donation can accomplish nothing.
Charities that demonstrably change lives are the exception, not the rule. Why? Fundraisers often rely on social connections or emotional pleas, and almost never make fact-based demonstrations of programs' effectiveness. This means that lots of charities raise money and run programs without ever demonstrating that their programs actually work. Why should charities have to demonstrate that their programs work?
Experts, governments and foundations have tried (and often failed) for decades to solve many of the same problems charities are working on today. This means that many charities may not be accomplishing anything at all. For more, see:
Your dollar goes further overseas.
Ultimately, there's no "right" answer to the question of which cause you should support. As you consider that decision, it's worth recognizing that the impact you can have with your donation varies greatly between causes. If you focus on education in New York City, it costs over $100,000 to educate a student throughout 12 years of school. When supporting international aid, you can save a person's life for $3,000-$5,000.1 That doesn't mean you should necessarily support international aid, but, just like any time you spend your money, it's important to know what you're getting. For more, see:
Our estimate of the cost to save a life is based on our cost-effectiveness model.
You can read more about our approach to estimating cost-effectiveness and its role in our decisions about what to fund and recommend to donors here. Explicit cost-effectiveness estimates are a major, but not the only, input into our decision-making process. More on the principles we use in decision-making here.
We present cost-effectiveness estimates as a range rounded to the nearest thousand dollars on our Top Charities page. This reflects the degree of precision we believe our model can estimate, as well as the range of cost-effectiveness that charities are likely to achieve across the countries they work in. Charities' cost-effectiveness can vary widely by geography, depending on the underlying burden of disease and the costs of operating in a given country. GiveWell: Sources for Top Charities page