When people choose to donate to one charity over another, they frequently do it guided by a strong conviction or emotion rather than pure rationale. Charity evaluators, however, are rapidly changing the way people think about giving back to society.

They argue that rather than giving to the cause that is closest to one’s heart, one should give to those charities that are the most effective, in measurable terms. One of the most trusted of these charity evaluators is GiveWell, a San Francisco-based group founded in 2007 by two hedge-fund staffers.

It recommends charities to donors according to four main criteria. First, the organization must provide strong evidence of positive impact on people’s lives. Second, it must be involved in highly cost-effective activities that provide a high, measurable return for every dollar invested. Third, the program must demonstrate that there is room for more funding and that it can productively put to good use additional donors’ dollars. Fourth, the charity must be transparent and accountable to donors.

Although GiveWell has been criticized for its results-based approach – leading it to favor health care interventions in the developing world, while ignoring others that cannot provide evidence of success due to the nature of their activities –  its evaluations do carry weight in the world of philanthropy.

Its top three recommended charities are:

1. Against Malaria Foundation (AMF)

GiveWell believes that AMF effectively expands access to bed nets in sub-Saharan Africa, where over 1 million people – mostly children – die each year of malaria. Through providing insecticide-treated bed nets that cost only $5 each, AMF prevents deaths and many other non-fatal cases of malaria.

2. GiveDirectly

According to GiveWell, GiveDirectly effectively distributes cash to extremely low-income individuals in Kenya. By directly transferring money to the very poor, recipients are allowed to spend more on their basic needs – such as food – and other investments that have high returns.

3. Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI)

GiveWell states that SCI effectively expands access to deworming treatments in sub-Saharan Africa. In this region, a large percentage of the population, especially children, are infected with parasite worms that cause short-term symptoms such as anemia, and long-term developmental problems. This condition is relatively easy to treat: around $5 can protect a child for 10 years.

All three charities work in Africa, which is not surprising given that money can go much further in the poorest regions of the world. Twenty-five dollars, for example, allows someone in the developing world to get an eye surgery, while in the United States, this is an insignificant amount. Although most people prefer giving back to causes that are close to home, sometimes those in greatest need are far off.

– Nayomi Chibana

Sources: GiveWell, The Guardian, The New York Times
Photo: Harpers