Examples of High-Impact Charities
These charities are considered to be high-impact charities because independent charity evaluators such as GiveWell and Animal Charity Evaluators have marked them as outstanding giving opportunities.
Every charity in this list is highly-cost effective and has a pressing need for more funding, so donations to any one of them will have a large impact.
These charities are divided into four cause areas: Disease Prevention, Human Empowerment, Animal Welfare, and Environment and Catastrophic Risks.
This list of high-impact charities is by no means exhaustive. The SHIC program encourages students and teachers to research charities on their own, and equips students and teachers with the necessary tools to select charities that will have the greatest social impact.
Please note that many of these charities are not registered in Canada, and Canadian donors will not receive tax benefits for giving to them.
Disease prevention is a high-impact cause area, as preventing is often more cost-effective than curing. The diseases easiest to battle are usually long gone in the developed world. This is because they're extremely easy and cheap to treat and prevent. These are the 'low-hanging fruit' for reducing human suffering and saving lives.
The Against Malaria Foundation
The Against Malaria Foundation distributes long-lasting, insecticide-treated bed nets in sub-Saharan Africa to combat malaria, one of the most common and easily preventable diseases facing the world today.
Malaria is a preventable disease transmitted by mosquitos, which provide a host for the parasite. The infection results in high fevers, nausea, aches, and sometimes death. Even if you successfully recover from malaria it can recur again at anytime in the future. Each year, approximately half a million people die from malaria, which is about seven times the number of people dying in natural disasters every year. 70% of of these deaths are children under five years old.
The Against Malaria Foundation funds and distributes mosquito nets for people to hang over their sleeping areas.
Rigorous studies suggest that the most effective means of preventing malaria is using long-lasting, insecticide-treated nets, which cost about US$5, last for 3-4 years, and protect two people each, on average.
The Against Malaria Foundation is highly recommended by top charity evaluators Giving What We Can, and The Life You Can Save, and GiveWell currently rates it as its number-one charity. Research conducted by GiveWell suggests that this is one of the most cost-effective way to save lives, while also preventing many non-fatal cases of malaria.
The Schistosomiasis Control Initiative
The Schistosomiasis Control Initiative carries out deworming programs to rid children in the developing world of neglected tropical diseases, such as the schistosomiasis worm, that blight their growth and development.
The Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI) works on treating neglected tropical diseases such as schistosomiasis in many regions of Africa and has assisted a World Bank–funded project in Yemen.
Schistosomiasis is a parasitic infection that affects over 200 million individuals. It can be prevented and eliminated through deworming pills that cost about $1, per person, per year. The pills have the added benefit of also treating other diseases, like trachoma and soil-transmitted helminths. These illnesses—while not usually fatal—cause pain, internal bleeding, bowel obstructions, and impaired development in children.
Some randomized controlled trials have suggested that dewormed children have two more weeks of schooling per year and grow up to enjoy higher wages and levels of employment, although other trials do not show as strong an effect. However, since the treatment is so cheap, deworming is still a thoroughly worthwhile global health intervention. The Schistosomiasis Control Initiative is highly recommended by leading charity evaluators GiveWell, Giving What We Can, and The Life You Can Save.
The Malaria Consortium
The Malaria Consortium* distributes preventative antimalaria drugs to children under five years of age during malaria season to significantly reduce cases of the disease.
Malaria is one of the leading causes of death and sickness worldwide, with pregnant women and children under five years of age being especially vulnerable. Malaria risk increases during the rainy season—known as the malaria season in affected countries.
The Malaria Consortium’s Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention program distributes preventative antimalaria drugs to children under five during the malaria season and has been proven to reduce cases of malaria by 75%.
This program is recommended by GiveWell, which believes that with more funding, Malaria Consortium could productively scale up its Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention activities. GiveWell estimates that it costs US$9.37 for a four-month treatment for one person.
Project Healthy Children
Project Healthy Children* works to reduce micronutrient deficiencies by supporting food fortification programs in small developing countries.
Micronutrient deficiencies, which affect over two billion people around the globe today, significantly diminish one’s immune system and are the leading cause of preventable blindness, intellectual disability in children, and maternal death during childbirth.
Project Healthy Children seeks to end malnutrition by adding key vitamins and minerals to staple foods in the developing world through small-scale and large-scale programs. The organization also provides support to national governments (in countries such as Zimbabwe, Honduras, Rwanda, and Malawi) in building a fortification program to address the nutritional gap.
GiveWell recognises Project Healthy Children as a standout charity, as the organization has a rigid policy for keeping track of its own impact and food fortification is recognized as a very cost-effective method of health intervention. Proper intake of diverse vitamins and minerals can mean the difference between a healthy, productive life, and a life fraught with illness.
People often know what's best for them. Human Empowerment is about providing people with the knowledge and opportunities to make their lives better. Charities like these standout as excellent ways to empower who currently struggle to meet basic needs.
GiveDirectly* provides unconditional cash transfers to extremely low-income people in developing countries to help them escape poverty.
GiveDirectly travels to villages in Kenya and Uganda with high poverty rates in search of the poorest households, who on average survive on under one US dollar per day. The recipients receive around US$1,000 over multiple years, often more than twice their annual income.
After identifying recipients based on region-specific criteria, GiveDirectly provide recipients basic cell phones to receive electronic money transfers.Recipients can use the money however they want, with no restrictions. This approach empowers households to use the money for whatever is most important to them.
Common uses include buying food, starting a small business, and installing a tin roof to replace their high-maintenance thatched roof; all things that help bring and keep recipients out of extreme poverty. Rigorous analysis have found that there’s been no material increase in spending in areas like tobacco, alcohol, or gambling, and the average recipient reports an increased income and higher level of life satisfaction.
GiveDirectly is also conducting the world’s largest experiment on Universal Basic Income, testing the impact of giving extremely poor people a small guaranteed income for up to 12 years.
GiveWell (an independent charity evaluator) recommends GiveDirectly’s cash transfer program, placing it as one of its top charities. 90% of every GiveDirectly donation goes directly to an extremely poor household in Kenya or Uganda as part of their grant.
Development Media International
Development Media International* designs and delivers mass media campaigns on radio and TV to educate and promote improved health practices.
Development Media International (DMI) runs television, radio, and mobile campaigns in developing countries to teach families behaviors that reduce cases of malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea. DMI focuses on nutrition, family planning, and education, while also exploring other areas like gender equality, agriculture, and livelihood.
The campaigns are designed to achieve the greatest impact by broadcasting frequently on popular stations, airing in local languages, and using entertaining and creative storytelling to change behaviour. DMI relies on modelling and allocates airtime based on measurable behavior changes to maximise impact.
DMI uses randomized, controlled trials to generate evidence of impact based on robust evaluations and to scale up its most effective campaigns to reach millions of people.
Development Media International is a top-ranked charity of The Life You Can Save and is on GiveWell’s list of standout charities.
Living Goods* employs local workers in developing countries to go door-to-door to sell affordable health and household goods and give basic health advice to low-income families.
Living Goods employs locals—predominantly women—to distribute goods and sell household items essential for health and sanitation to their communities at low prices. These locals go door-to-door to provide health advice and sell products such as simple treatments for malaria and diarrhea, safe childbirth kits, cookstoves, water filters, solar lights, and foods fortified with vitamins and minerals.
Living Goods focuses on four areas: treating childhood diseases, offering free pregnancy and newborn check-ups, improving nutrition, and referring acute cases to qualified facilities.
Randomized controlled trials suggest that Living Goods reduces the number of children dying of preventable illnesses and creates livelihoods for thousands of enterprising women. Living Goods is a top-ranked charity of The Life You Can Save and is on GiveWell’s standout charity list.
Some of the best Animal Welfare charities focus on reducing the impact of factory farming. That's because the atrocious conditions that these animals endure, and the large numbers of animals affected mean the scale of this problem exceeds that of any other human-caused animal suffering.
Mercy for Animals
Mercy for Animals* exposes cruel practices within the agricultural industry, prosecutes animal abusers and inspires consumers and companies to make more compassionate choices.
Each year, people kill 50 billion chickens, 3 billion ducks, 1.3 billion pigs, 1.2 billion rabbits, and 800,000 cattle, many of whom lead painful, unhappy lives before their untimely deaths. For example, most factory chickens live on an area smaller than a piece of regular printer paper, and many pigs live their lives in cages so small that they can’t turn around. Chickens raised for meat are bred to put on weight so quickly that often their legs break due to the weight and they can suffer heart attacks as their hearts are not developed enough for their size.
Mercy for Animals is committed to reducing the greatest amount of suffering for the largest number of animals.
Their strategic approaches include:
- Undercover investigations of factory farms and slaughterhouses
- Collaboration with local law enforcement to ensure those who violate animal cruelty statutes are prosecuted
- Corporate outreach to help businesses adopt meaningful animal welfare reforms
- Education campaigns, including through festivals and Facebook, encouraging people to reduce their meat intake.
Mercy for Animals is one of Animal Charity Evaluators’ (ACE) top three charities. ACE estimates suggest that for every US$1 donated to Mercy for Animals, roughly 10 animals are spared from a life of industrial animal agriculture; however, this figure is rather uncertain.
The Humane League
The Humane League* reduces animal suffering by running corporate campaigns and grassroots education initiatives to change consumer eating habits and improve farming conditions.
The Humane League engages in a variety of programs that aim to persuade individuals and organizations to adopt behaviours that reduce farmed animal suffering. Their largest programs include encouraging corporations to shift to policies dictating a higher animal welfare standard and educating the public using leaflets and online videos. The Humane League also works with schools to implement Meatless Monday programs, presents education programs to students about humane treatment of animals, and trains university activists.
The Humane League is recommended by Animal Charity Evaluators, as they are highly cost-effective as well as strongly committed to using studies and systematic data collection to guide their approach to advocacy.
The Humane League is one of Animal Charity Evaluators’ top three charities. Animal Charity Evaluators estimates suggest that that for every US$1 donated to The Humane League, roughly 10 animals are spared from a life of industrial animal agriculture; however, this figure is somewhat uncertain.
The Good Food Institute
The Good Food Institute* promotes competitive alternatives to animal products by supporting start-ups that design alternative animal products, engaging with policy makers, and building relationships with food organizations.
The Good Food Institute works to transform the animal agriculture industry by promoting the development of competitive alternatives tomeat, dairy, and eggs in order to reduce the harm done to animals in agriculture. They seek out entrepreneurs and scientists to join or form companies to produce plant-based and cultured (lab-grown) meat. GFI also provide business, legal, scientific, and strategic guidance to level the playing field for plant-based and cultured products in the marketplace.
The organization builds relationships with chain restaurants, grocery stores, and foodservice companies to improve and promote plant-based alternatives to animal products. GFI also works with grant-making institutions and governments to push more resources into research on synthetic and plant biology and tissue engineering.
Good Food Institute is one of Animal Charity Evaluators’ top three charities.
Environmental and Catastrophic Risk Prevention
One of the most effective ways of doing good is to take action now to reduce the chances of catastrophic harm occurring in the future. Charities like these are some of the best places to donate to ensure a brighter future. Admittedly the effects of these charities are harder to measure, because their aims are to prevent terrible things from happening in the future. Consequently, charities that focus on preventing future risks can be judged on the scale of the potential disaster they aim to avert, and their likelihood of success.
Cool Earth* helps prevent deforestation by partnering with indigenous villages to build sustainable livelihoods so they earn more by keeping rainforests standing, rather than clearing them. This reduces climate change and preserves the rich biodiversity of the rainforest.
Rainforests are vast carbon sinks, manufacturers of oxygen and fresh water, and homes for 10 million species—many of which are endangered and may soon become extinct due to deforestation.
Cool Earth is working alongside 113 indigenous villages throughout the world, providing them with resources to build their livelihoods so they don’t need to rely on money from logging. These partner villages are protecting over 200 square kilometres of forest that lie directly in the path of chainsaws and bulldozers.
Cool Earth only works with villages that approach them, and the villagers drive the partnership. A village decides what it needs most and how funds are spent—on anything from clean water or a new classroom, to midwife training and mosquito nets.
Independent charity evaluator Giving What We Can believes donating to Cool Earth is the most cost-effective way of reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide. They estimate that for US$1.50, Cool Earth prevents a tonne of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere — that is approximately the amount of carbon dioxide produced in driving a late-model car for 8000 km. For approximately US$400 (~CA$500), the organization saves one hectare of rainforest.
Machine Intelligence Research Institute
The Machine Intelligence Research Institute* identifies ways to make artificial intelligence systems safer and more reliable, to help safeguard the future of humanity.
Development of a sophisticated artificial intelligence would be a huge step forward for humanity's development—but if we create a machine that can think for itself, is smarter than us, and is not programmed to understand human values, disaster might ensue. Many researchers are trying to build an artificial intelligence, but very few are trying to ensure that when it is created it helps rather than harms us, so it is a relatively neglected cause area.
The Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI) carries out technical mathematical research with the agenda of ensuring that artificial intelligence is aligned with human values. Including ensuring that artificial intelligence is developed in a way that humans will be able to understand and change its behaviour if needed, and learning how to teach advanced artificial intelligence systems what we value.
MIRI is supported by the Open Philanthropy Project which aims to find and fund outstanding giving opportunities.
Future of Humanity Institute
The Future of Humanity Institute* aims to reduce global catastrophic risk by researching big issues facing the future of humanity, from pandemics to advanced artificial intelligence.
The Future of Humanity Institute is a multidisciplinary research institute at the University of Oxford that enables leading researchers to bring the tools of mathematics, philosophy, and science to bear on big‐picture questions about humanity and its prospects.They aim to focus their research where they believe it could have the most impact on future generations.
The institute pursues questions that are critically important for humanity’s future, yet unduly neglected. All of its inquiries address problems for which people have useful new insights and at least some ideas for solutions.
Its work includes:
- Ensuring artificial intelligence is developed safely
- Technology forecasting & risk assessment
- Improving government and industry policy
The Future of Humanity Institute is supported by the Open Philanthropy Project which aims to find and fund outstanding giving opportunities.
*Please note that this charity is not a qualified donee in Canada. Canadian donors cannot receive tax benefits from donating to this charity.