Giving Evidence: not all charities are the same

Charities are not equally good. Neither are techniques for finding and supporting them. Giving Evidence advises donors – individuals, families, foundations, companies, governments – on the ways of giving which will achieve the best ‘returns’, by a fanatical devotion to the evidence.


New book about effective ways of giving: It Ain’t What You Give, It’s The Way That You Give It

‘Freakonomics of the charity sector’, Martin Houghton-Brown, CEO, Missing People

The Body Shop: ‘A very clear guide with insight for any donor’

Dragons’ Den’s James Caan: ‘great advice: inspiring and entertaining’

Available at introductory discount from here, and on Kindle.


Work with donors

Eurostar: ‘Caroline Fiennes is a great source of advice… helped Eurostar become effective very quickly’

We help donors across the whole range from choosing objectives, defining a strategy, gathering relevant partners, implementation (including identifying great charities and other non-profits to support), to tracking the charities’ impact, and tracking and improving the donor’s own impact. Recent clients have included a new family foundation, professional tennis players, Guardian News Media group and global a professional service firm.

All our work is based on evidence about how to achieve the most for beneficiaries: finding great organisations, helping them in the highest-value ways, and minimizing the work-load and wastage created for them.


Press coverage of Giving Evidence and It Ain’t What You Give, It’s The Way That You Give It


Should donors support small charities?

Not universally, no. But neither should they uniformly support large one, or local ones, or old ones or young ones or popular ones or trendy ones, or – as the evidence suggests they do by fully 22% – ones whose names start with the same letter as their own. Data-free fetishes are no more welcome in charity and philanthropy than they are in medicine, policy or the military.

Just has there has emerged disciplines of evidence-based medicine and evidence-based policy, it’s time for robust evidence-based giving.

Sometimes that will favour small charities. They may be more responsive and personal, and some tasks – such as a village lunch-club – just don’t require massive resources. [Smallness in charities can be deceptive because donated goods and volunteer time aren’t evident in an organisation’s revenue or cost figures, so the operations may be substantially bigger than they appear. This is just one of the surprises of the basic maths and demography of the charity world.]

Often it won’t. Small charities – like small anything-elses – don’t get economies of scale so may be expensive. And some of the challenges they face are hard: you just can’t eradicate malaria if you’re small: and in fact, multiple small organizations, if not properly coordinated can – by dishing out different drugs and increasing drug resistancy – exacerbate the very problems they try to solve.

Understanding a charity’s impact is hard, just as isolating the impact of an interest rate is hard. But we must make ‘best estimates’ in order that our limited resources achieve as much as possible. It involves being clear about what actually happened, and how much of that would not have happened otherwise. It’s therefore fundamentally about distinguishing correlation from causation. My book rattles through how to do it – with a short-cut for people in a rush, and the full, rigorous detail for the more patient.

Since charities address problems which, as Warren Buffett said, have already ‘resisted great intellects and often great money,’ we owe it to beneficiaries to abandon childish tastes and fetishes and prejudices, and focus ruthlessly on what actually works – however surprising, small or large an organisation delivering that might be.

This article describes various ways of improving education in India, all of which sound great, but some are 25x better than others.

Here a company gives ~£2.5m in such a bad fashion that it will achieve almost nothing.

This describes a rather better process for giving, in which a company uses a foundation’s existing infrastructure to gain economies of scale.

Great charities’ o

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