Grace Woodruff


One of the hardest things to overcome in getting involved in Effective Altruism was the idea that in order to ‘do the most good’ the most effectively, it’s incredibly important to put aside your personal experiences and biases and really look at how to get the most good out of your time or money or whatever you are lending to a cause. Before learning about Effective Altruism, I looked at charity and philanthropy largely as a personal thing - the type of cause that people should get involved in are the ones that ‘hit close to home’. For example, if you know someone who has suffered from cancer, it makes sense that you would want to donate, raise awareness for, or work to improve the lives of those who are in similar situations, because you have a personal and emotional understanding of the suffering they are enduring. However, I have learned through becoming involved in Effective Altruism that if your goal in doing good is to make the most positive impact on the world that you can - which it likely is for most people (if you have the option to make the world a little better or a lot better, I assume the majority of us would chose a lot better) - than you can’t make decisions based on your biases and emotionally involved personal experiences. Or, rather, you can make decisions about where to donate your time/money/expertise, but if what you really want, if what is motivating you to do the giving in the first place is your desire to positively change the world, than more weight needs to be placed on other factors than simply personal connection to a cause area. If you make decisions because you feel personally connected to a cause, it is exponentially easier to overlook warning signs that the organization or cause isn’t really an effective one to be giving to. For example, if you have a deep emotional connection to a certain cause, but it’s already being super well funded and there is a lot of awareness for the problem, it’s almost a sure thing that you giving your money there will be much less effective than if you were to donate to a more neglected cause area, one that you maybe have less of a connection to. Also, if you happen to feel personally connected to a cause its possible that simply the act of giving to any charity or organization will make you feel like you are making a difference because you are ‘taking a step’ towards solving an issue you care about. However, if you make the decision to donate to a cause you don’t necessarily feel connected to, you are more likely to devote time to researching and ensuring the organization is an effective one because the main reason for giving in this case is that you want to maximize the amount of good your donation does. This is a hard idea to accept fully, but an incredibly important one. If everyone in the world gave based on neglectedness, scale, and solvability, the world would be a much better place.