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How to Do Good Better: A data-driven approach to measuring charitable efficiency

Most people want to do good in the world during their lifetime, whether it is through monthly charitable donations, buying local organic ethical products, choosing a career with a non-profit or volunteering with an organization with a mission close to your heart. Doing good gives us all a sense of accomplishment. We take pride in having made an impact and brought about positive change in the world we live in. The issue with simply being satisfied with doing good is that the good you’re doing could likely be done better.

Last time you made a charitable donation, did you ask yourself any of the following questions:

How much impact am I really having?

How much good am I really doing?

Is this really the most effective use of my time and/or money?

Effective altruism: Using data for doing good

These are the questions William MacAskill, an associate professor of philosophy and pioneer of the Effective Altruism movement at the University of Oxford, seeks to answer in his 2015 book Doing Good Better. Instead of making decisions about charitable donations based on sentimental gut feelings, MacAskill uses data to determine which causes truly as the most effective in achieving good. The book provides an easily-approachable practical guide to MacAskill’s school of thought, Effective Altruism, centering on finding the most impactful ways in which one can make the world a better place.

To provide a brief introduction to Effective Altruism, Doing Good Better begins with the anecdote of the Playpump. The Playpump is a merry-go-round type device that is installed and connected to a water pump. It is designed so that as children play on the merry-go-round, water is pumped from the ground into a storage tank. The idea behind the pump is simple, and there’s no wonder why many people saw it as the future cure for the water shortages facing many villages in the developing world. The Playpump generated quite the stir and many were eager and excited to contribute. Everyone who donated to the efforts to build Playpumps around the world meant well but in the end, the pumps fell flat; the pumps were very costly and in many cases, villagers were forced to “play” on the merry-go-round to get access to their essential water. Most polled claimed they wanted their old system back.

How you can do good better yourself

Directly in contrast with the Playpump is the simple yet incredibly effective charitable cause of deworming. As you will hopefully read in MacAskill’s book, deworming, carried out by ingestion of a single inexpensive pill, provides much more benefit to a person than having a Playpump in their community. Although it certainly doesn’t carry the allure of the novel Playpump, compared Euro to Euro, deworming is far and away more effective in bringing about real positive change to an area in need. Just because the idea, in theory, appeals to the masses, does not mean it is the most effective way to do good in the world.

MacAskill’s procedure is clear and concise and his conclusions are often unexpected and astounding. Doing Good Better is sure to change the way you think about how you give to charity. As a company that relies on data on a day-to-day business, we applaud seeing data used wherever possible, especially if it means increasing the efficacy of our charitable contributions. We know how critical it is to look past the notoriously inaccurate personal feelings and opinions that drive decisions of all kinds and trust the numbers. Data doesn’t lie.

We wholeheartedly encourage you to purchase Doing Good Better for yourself and let us know what you think. It’s well worth your time.

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