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How cost-effective are the charities you support? Innovative organisation Giving What We Can investigates

2nd October 2013

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As its pledged donations hit $140m, Giving What We Can is being hailed as one of the most exciting organisations in the not-for-profit landscape - and it all started just four years ago in Oxford’s student digs.

Back in 2009, Toby Ord was a DPhil student of philosophy with big ideas. Should we sacrifice small luxuries to save lives? And how can we make sure that our money has the biggest possible impact?
Fast-forward to 2013, and Giving What We Can, the charity founded by Ord and his friend William MacAskill, has chapters in Oxford, Cambridge, London, Warwick and Birmingham, and is about to launch in Edinburgh, St Andrews, and Atlantic College, Wales. Their mission: to encourage people to commit to long-term donation to those charities that provide the most cost-effective poverty relief.
But what’s caused this explosion of interest? And why are so many students getting involved? Of the online list of people who’ve pledged 10% or more of their income to Giving What We Can-recommended charities, about a third were students at the time.

One of those, Ben Clifford, says: “I really liked the idea that I could know that I was doing something really great, and that there was a large amount of other people doing it made me feel like it was a real option.”

Ben was a member of the Warwick chapter, which helped publicise the charity with events like ‘The Big Match’, in which prominent members of the university community promised to match donations. Their chosen charity was Against Malaria, which, according to Giving What We Can research, is one of the most effective charities in the world: they raised £8,000.

That’s 1,600 anti-mosquito nets for some of the most vulnerable people in Africa: statistically, one of the best possible uses of the money. But Ben was not alone in getting the message across whilst still a student.

Stephanie Crampin was a student at Oxford when she undertook the sponsored Living Below The Line challenge - spending just a pound a day on food for a week. “I wanted to raise money for SCI because I know how much good they do for every pound they are given. For just 50p they can cure a child of a debilitating neglected tropical disease.”

It’s a powerful message. Some medical interventions are 1,000 times more costly than others; Giving What We Can encourages donations to those which make the greatest impact in relieving the effects of poverty. And although the idea of giving 10% of your income away isn’t new, it’s one that is gaining increased traction.

It’s especially easy for students to get involved - they’re expected to give just one per cent of their income until they start earning. Making the pledge, as Oxford chapter member Rosalind Brody puts it, “is actually a very small change to make with boundless benefits. Even without a large income, it is totally viable.”

Perhaps Giving What We Can's appeal to students lies in its efficiency. For cash-strapped undergraduates, it's important to know that the money they can spare is being used as effectively as possible. But there's also a feeling of community surrounding the movement. Student Joey Savoie says that "it is easy to keep my pledge because I have a community and friends and family that both support and donate themselves."  
Get involved, donate, or find out more at

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