December 23rd, 2014
12:34 AM ET

Want to give to charity? Look at impact

By Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Editor's note: Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn are the authors of A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity. This is the first in a series of three guest posts.

One of the mistakes we make is that we mostly give to those who ask. And those groups that are good at asking aren’t necessarily the same ones that are good at spending. So we wrote A Path Appears partly to highlight some great organizations that are doing a remarkable job sprinkling opportunity worldwide – whether that’s through empowering women, chipping away at poverty, or bolstering health and education.

We would never buy a television from a marketer who cold calls us on the telephone. Yet remarkably often we donate to cold callers from charities, even though we know nothing about the charity. The caller drops key words like “children with cancer” or “disabled veterans” and we are guilt-tripped into donating, even though we know nothing about the organization or even if it’s a genuine charity. So try to think of charitable giving as an investment, indeed one that can have a greater impact than money flowing into your retirement. For charitable donations can save lives, and turn kids’ trajectories around.

So don’t just focus on a charity’s financial ratios or its overhead, but look at impact. Traditionally, non-profits have focused on inputs. Instead we should focus on outputs and impact. We write about GiveWell, run by two former hedge fund analysts who rank organizations based on effective outcomes and the biggest bang for the buck. And in the back of the book we list some great organizations working in the United States and abroad to bring about change.

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Topics: Development

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