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August 17, 2015

Opinion: 'Effective Altruism' Promotes Analytical Giving

The New York Times' Economic View column examines the burgeoning "effective altruism" movement, which encourages donors to take a more scientific, less emotional approach to giving. The piece by Tyler Cowen, a George Mason University economics professor, cites work by nonprofit GiveWell and Oxford University philosophy professor William MacAskill, key figures in the data-driven push.

Effective altruism posits that "the problem behind a lot of charitable giving is that individuals often make donations without doing much analysis," Mr. Cohen writes. "They simply think the best of charities that interest them and accept at face value that these charities are doing a terrific job."

The columnist notes Mr. MacAskill's advice, expressed in his book Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference, that donors more closely consider whether their contributions are needed for a particular cause—for example, a high-profile disaster that is already attracting significant donations—and take into account possible unintended consequences of a gift.

Read a Chronicle of Philanthropy article on the effective altruism movement.