Why Effective Giving?
The idea behind effective giving is to rely on science and rational decision-making in order to find the interventions most effective at reducing suffering in the world. In just the same way in which you try to pick the best players for your fantasy teams to achieve the greatest score, when we decide where to make our donations, we want to pick the most cost-effective charities in order to achieve the greatest impact with our gift. It essentially means helping the greatest number of people with your donation to charity.
This is especially important because differences in cost-effectiveness between charities can in fact be enormous. Consider the example of education: Imagine you had to choose to invest a donation of $100 towards hiring an extra teacher or deworming pills for pupils. Research shows that the former leads to 1.7 extra years of schooling, whereas deworming leads to 28.6 additional years. These numbers only compare educational interventions in developing countries. The cost-effectiveness differences between rich and poor countries can be even more extreme: Causing an extra year of schooling in poor countries can be as low as $2.50. In rich countries, it will be hard to cause the same with less than $5,000 (US average: about $8,000).
At first, the concept of cost-effectiveness may appear to be “cold and calculating” to some people, and they might be uncomfortable with the idea of comparing well-intended projects with each other in order to determine that some projects are “less effective” than others. But it is important to realise that such comparisons are unavoidable: No matter which intervention we pick and why, we will end up not picking lots of other interventions. The focus on effectiveness follows directly from nothing more than the belief that all lives are the same, and that all suffering (of equal intensity) matters equally. If we give up cost-effectiveness for some other criterion, more people will suffer or die than if we rationally choose the option that is most effective and thus most compassionate.