Part 2: Differences in Impact

In this sequence, we continue to explore the core principles of effective altruism. 

Here,  we focus on:

  • Evaluating how much good an intervention can achieve.
  • Understanding the drastic differences in expected impact between interventions.
  • How to uncover these differences through research, so that you can find the most promising opportunities.

Two ways to read

There are two ways to get started, depending on whether you have access to Will MacAskill's Doing Good Better — and if you don't, we'll send you a free copy!

First option (no book): Read the sequence as written (click on "Start reading").

Second option (book): Read chapters 4-6 of Doing Good Better, as well as Eliezer Yudkowsky's "Scope Insensitivity".


Start reading

<— Part 1: The Effectiveness Mindset

—> Part 3: Expanding Our Compassion

Organization Spotlight: GiveWell

In some sequences, we'll showcase an organization whose work is relevant to the topic. This time, we chose:

GiveWell searches for charities that save or improve lives very effectively, with a high bar for evidence. They recommend a small number of charities that they believe do an incredible amount of good. 

Unlike charity evaluators that focus solely on financials, assessing administrative or fundraising costs, GiveWell conducts in-depth research aiming to determine how much good a given program accomplishes (in terms of lives saved, lives improved, etc.) per dollar spent.

Rather than try to rate as many charities as possible, they focus on the few charities that stand out most (by their criteria) in order to find and confidently recommend high-impact giving opportunities.

They believe that there is exceptionally strong evidence for their top charities, and that $3,000-$5,000 in donations to some of those charities can save someone from dying.

Photo credit: Christophe Maertens

The Essentials

These readings cover, in order:

  • How much good we can do by seeking out cost-effective interventions
  • The cognitive biases that lead us to care too little about the scale of our impact
  • An overview of methods we can use to find and evaluate promising opportunities (with stick-figure illustrations)

Further Reading

GiveWell and the Open Philanthropy Project are sister organizations in the EA movement. Both look for outstanding giving opportunities, but they use very different methods. 

GiveWell has an emphasis on evidence-backed, cost-effective, scalable organizations, while the Open Philanthropy Project is more open to supporting high-risk, high-reward work, as well as work that could take a long time to pay off. These differences illustrate how tricky it is to answer the question: “How can we do the most good?”.

The first three posts cover both organizations' approaches, while "More to Explore" shares additional material on related topics.

Interactive Exercise

We've taken this exercise from the online course, in case you'd like to try it out.