Quantitative charity evaluation. This website serves as a resource for assessing the impact of different charitable organizations and endeavors. The phrase Back of the Envelope comes from the sciences where it refers to rough calculations that while not precise tend to support a line of reasoning. We are actively seeking from the public improvements to these evaluations and additional evaluations.
This data may be read in two ways. As an indictment of how poor a job society does in allocating resources, or as praise for well targeted high-impact philanthropy.
The Leverage Factor measures how effective each charitable organization or endeavor is. A Leverage Factor of 10 means that for each $1 invested in the organization or endeavor it delivers $10 worth of societal value. Not all charitable endeavors lend themselves to quantitative assessment, but for those that do we attempt to assess them here. In many cases a range of Leverage Factors are reported indicating uncertainty regarding the true Leverage Factor.
Don't get too hung up by the precise Leverage Factors reported. They are bound to be wrong by at least a factor of 2. The key take away though is that charitable effectiveness spans an enormous 100,000 fold range. Give wisely.
Aren't some of the reported leverage factors rather large?
In computing leverage factors we perform all calculations in rich
country terms, and we consider a life equally valuable whether it is
that of a person from a poor country or a rich country. This makes
our estimates of leverage factors substantially larger than those of
the prevailing economic literature which values a life based on its
Why do we map all returns to a dollar value? Wouldn't it be
better to leave them as lives saved, students completing secondary
school, amount raised through a microcredit scheme, and so on? This
would work for comparisons within domains, but it is important that we
also be able to perform comparisons between domains. Is it better to
save a life, or have ten students complete secondary school? The
natural way to answer this is to map each outcome to a dollar value.
Other approaches also assign values to each outcome, but simply keep
the dollar value hidden.
How important is tax deductibility? Not very. Given the
wide range in charitable effectiveness it is preferable to donate less
to a non-deductible charity than donate more to a less effective but
Be aware of the difference between the Leverage Factor for a
charity and a charitable opportunity. A charity has
administrative overheads and risk of program failures to account for
that an idealized charitable opportunity doesn't have. These can be