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The Best Ways to Donate to Charity Effectively

The authors of 'A Path Appears' show you how

By Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

(Dec. 2 is “Giving Tuesday,” a day when we’re encouraged to make charitable donations and the unofficial kickoff to charity-giving season. In this adaptation from A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn offer advice on how to donate wisely.)

Helping people is harder than it looks. People rarely give money away as intelligently as they make it, and frankly, much charitable giving isn’t very effective. The good news is that experts are gaining a much better understanding of how to make an impact.

Researchers are developing new evidence-based approaches, and more charities are staring to measure and track their results, so there is an emerging science of how best to make a difference. Anyone can now harness this science and be reasonably confident that donations are having an impact.

Measuring Your Impact

It’s also much more feasible today, through the Internet, to see the impact of your contributions, because a wave of social entrepreneurs have built organizations that act as bridges between donors and beneficiaries.

(MORE: How Warren Buffett Made Me Smarter About Charity)

There has been a flowering of organizations like Bead for Life that bridge the gulf between those who want to help and those who need help. These include online sites such as GlobalGiving, Kiva and Givology, all of which let you find a particular beneficiary to support with a gift or loan.

If you want to give effectively, we have five suggestions:

1. Find an issue that draws you in and research it. If you’re looking for a cause or an organization, you can get ideas at the websites for GiveWell and Focusing Philanthropy. There are also good suggestions on the website for the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, which pays rigorous attention to what works.

Likewise, we regularly cite great organizations on Twitter ( and and Facebook ( and

Once you have found an organization you like, check the Internet for ratings, reviews and critiques of its work. Treat making a gift as seriously as you would making a big purchase.

(MORE: Charity Divide: Boomers Vs. Gen X and Gen Y)


2. Narrow your giving. It’s more efficient, for you and for the causes you support, if you donate to five organizations each year rather than 75. Your time and money will go further, you’re more likely to understand what those five groups do and they may become long-term relationships.

3. Look for verifiable impact. How many people does the charity help? Does it cite metrics of success? Does it cite outside evaluations or comments by scholars or journalists that can be verified on the Web? When an organization doesn’t back up its claims and relies on vague feel-good anecdotes, it’s probably because that’s all it has to offer.

4. Volunteer, get involved, or do something more than just writing checks. Think about the skills and passions you have and how they could be put to good use. Browse the volunteering opportunities at the websites of Idealist and Omprakash and get inspired. Organizations have sprouted to help people address social needs, too. VolunteerMatch, Catchafire and MovingWorlds connect people with expertise to initiatives that can benefit from their skills.

(MORE: How More Women Can Become Philanthropists)

Maybe you can start an informal giving club to get together with friends and make donations or volunteer together. Email friends and ask them if they’d be interested in creating an informal giving circle that meets once a month to explore powerful ways of making a difference — perhaps over drinks or a meal to keep it fun. Or if you’re in a book club, maybe it can include a giving dimension as well.

5. Make a gift in someone’s name that will truly have a transformative impact. For instance, a $25 donation at supplies a village savings and loan group with a lockbox, ledger and other startup tools to help them save and manage loans. At, it buys a brownie gift box from Greyston Bakery, which employs and supports the homeless and formerly incarcerated in Yonkers, N.Y.

A $50 gift at funds a student’s savings account in the financial literacy component of the Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program in the United States. At, $50 gives a child in need 20 books for a year of bedtime stories.

Similarly, a $100 gift to AARP’s Experience Corps provides one year of books and supplies for Experience Corps volunteers to use in K-3 classrooms. And a $125 donation to funds one inner-city community workshop that engages 10 high-risk youth in addressing neighborhood conflicts nonviolently.

This article was adapted from A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

Nicholas Kristof is co-author of A Path Appears and three other books. They won the Pulitzer Prize in 1990. Kristof is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times. Read More
Sheryl WuDunn is co-author of A Path Appears and three other books. They won the Pulitzer Prize in 1990. WuDunn, a former Times business editor and foreign correspondent, works in banking. Read More
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