singer188_GUILLEM SARTORIOAFP via Getty Images_food charity Guillem Sartorio/AFP via Getty Images

Giving with the Heart and the Head

The world’s most effective charities do much more good, per dollar spent, than typical charities, but they often lack the emotional pull that motivates donors to give. Psychological research points to a possible solution.

MELBOURNE/CAMBRIDGE – Worldwide, people donate hundreds of billions of dollars to charity. In the United States alone, charitable donations amounted to about $450 billion last year. As 2020 draws to a close, perhaps you or members of your family are considering giving to charity. But there are, literally, millions of charities. Which should you choose?

If you are like most people, you want to support charities that mean something to you – that speak to your heart. Perhaps it is a charity that helps children in your community, or a local homeless shelter where you have volunteered, or maybe a museum you’re passionate about, or a place of worship for which you want to show support. In the US, 94% of donations go to charities focusing on local or national issues.

Donating to a charity that pulls on your heartstrings is likely to be better than not donating at all. Very few charities are outright frauds. The bigger issue is that following your heart ignores research on which charities are the most effective. Some charities will do hundreds of times as much good with your donation – saving or improving many more lives – than typical charities do.

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