Mark Johnson

    Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference

    Friday 6th March, 2020 - 3 min read

    Doing Good Better
    Doing Good Better - William MacAskill

    View my review on GoodReads

    [Updated 5th May, 2020]

    Many of us have given money to charity before. But if you’re like me it was probably for a friend’s fundraiser or a donation box going around work to a charity you knew very little about. Most of us don’t stop to consider the effectiveness of the charity that we’re giving to. Will MacAskill’s book discusses thinking analytically about our charitable giving to help us “Do Good Better”.

    If people do think about how their donation can do the most good they typically think of the charity’s efficiency - i.e., how much of the donation goes to recipients and isn’t taken up by the charities overheads. 95% would be deemed good and 60% deemed bad. But “Doing Good Better” argues there’s a more important metric, effectiveness. A charity may spend more on hiring skilled employees but if this makes the charity more effective, as judged by scientific studies measuring the impact of the charity, this is a good thing.

    And when we consider this more important metric, effectiveness than efficiency, there’s a vast different in effectiveness between charities. Take charities focused on the developing world. They can be orders of magnitude more effective than charities back home due to the drastic different in cost of living. Donations can go much further in Africa, often improving 10x the lives that could be improved for the same cost back home. I don’t know how to reconcile helping people halfway around the world when people are struggling at home, it goes against the ‘charity starts at home’ maxim, but it doesn’t change this fact that these charities are far more effective when considered objectively.

    For me, however, the most important point was on giving now vs. giving later. I had planned to save now and donate later but a few arguments convinced me otherwise.

    • Saving lives won’t get cheaper - As we eradicate diseases across the world saving lives will cost more and outpace investments, so your money will go further today.
    • Hold yourself accountable today – We say we’ll donate in the future, but will we? Starting small today aligns your actions with your values and helps confirm we are the type of person who gives, giving us something to build on in future.

    The first point is contentious. Some people think that waiting to donate can do vastly more good. But to align my actions with my values and to stop perfect being the enemy of good I’ve set up a monthly donation to GiveDirectly, one of the charities recommended by Effective Altruism and GiveWell, and I hope sharing this helps others think about it too.

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