13  Tools for motivating EA giving

13.1 Introduction

What “tools” and approaches may help to increase effective giving?

We divide this into three categories:

  1. Approaches to overcoming the barriers and biases discussed in previous chapters.

  2. Fundraising approaches and innovations that are particularly suitable for more effective charities, perhaps because these approaches themselves are directly tied to effectiveness. We call these “superpowers” for effective charities.

  3. Mainstream and practical fundraising strategies that have historically been underused by effective charities.


In this section, I highlight a few other proposals that I (David Reinstein) find promising, giving a quick explanation from the blurb in the Airtable database, which is also previewed at the bottom of this section.

Other lists and categorizations of tools

Other authors have tried to lay out sets of tools they deemed promising for addressing the lack of effective charitable giving. We intend to link/curate these here.


13.2 Overcoming the “barriers and biases”

In this section, we intend to:
1. Discuss responses to any barriers presented in previous chapters. Not all barriers have researched solutions, therefore only barriers with responses will be addressed. 2. Outline how the response overcomes this barrier.

13.2.1 De-biasing and misperception correction


Proposed response:


See, e.g., (Caviola et al. 2020):

We found that lay people estimated that among charities helping the global poor, the most effective charities are 1.5 times more effective than the average charity (Studies 1 and 2). Effective altruists, in contrast, estimated the difference to be factor 30 (Study 3) and experts estimated the factor to be 100 (Study 4). We found that participants donated more to the most effective charity, and less to an average charity, when informed about the large difference in cost-effectiveness (Study 5).

One possibility is that people conflate overhead with effectiveness, and (probably correctly) think that the difference between charities’ overhead expenditures are relatively modest.

Another possibility is that people make a mistaken analogy between charities and for-profits. The difference in price for two similar products is rarely higher than factor 1.5, because market pressures usually lead to cost-effectiveness optimization (Mankiw, 2011).

Yet another possibility is that the misconception about differences in effectiveness between charities is related to another misconception: people’s overestimation of how effective charities are in absolute terms, which we observed in Study 1. Since they believe that an average charity is already extremely effective at saving lives, they might believe that it is simply not possible for the most effective charities to be substantially more effective. This leads to a suppressed estimate of the difference in effectiveness between charities.

Barrier(s): Overhead aversion

Proposed Response: Pre-cover overhead costs. Lead donor funds could be used to “cover overhead”, this increases donation incidence and amounts. (This response is from the tools_public_sample Airtable)

Relevant work: Gneezy et al., 2014 https://rady.ucsd.edu/docs/faculty/aGneezy/Published%20Papers/Overhead_Science_2014.pdf

Barriers(s): Scope insensitivity

Proposed Response: Unit Asking

How does this solution address the barrier?:

Make impact more comparable by allowing joint evaluation (Evaluation mode)

Barrier(s): Effect of analytical (effectiveness) information on generosity and evaluation aversion

Proposed response: Make impact more comparable by allowing joint evaluation. Effective charities could present their (e.g. lifesaving) statistics relative to average or popular charities. Although caution should be taken not to demonize certain charities.

How does this response address the barrier?:

Theory: Evaluability bias

relevant work: (Caviola et al. 2014; Kogut and Ritov 2005b, 2005a)

13.2.2 Efficacy framings

Barrier(s): Proportional Dominance Effect

Proposed response: Efficacy framing

How does this response address the barrier?: The proportional dominance effect means that individuals will be less willing to donate if the magnitude of the problem is larger. More colloquially, they feel that their donation may be a “drop in the bucket”. Efficacy framing involves helping people to understand that their donations are valuable and do have an impact.

Michael Justen writes:

Efficacy framings might be particularly suited to increase donation to effective charities. By efficacy framings I mean “letting people know how good the donations to these charities are at solving particular problems/saving lives” or similarly that donations here are the most efficient way known to solve the problem. I’m conceptualizing this similar to Will MacAskill’s common one-liner that “we have a remarkable capacity to do good”

Most of the research I have seen on efficacy in relation to charitable giving has been on “pseudoinefficacy” - the idea that people are less willing to help one person when they are made aware of the broader scope of people in need that they are not helping. This is different than how I’m thinking of efficacy above, but since many EA charities tackle very big problems, EA charities should be cautious to avoid inspiring feelings of pseudoinefficacy. (Pseudoinefficacy could potentially be a barrier to effective giving).


The EA movement’s (perhaps strongly grounded) has recently emphasized the far-future, the vast scope of potential humanity, and the expansion of moral circles to potentially-sentient beings. Although the arguments presented are careful and strong, this may be particularly unhelpful in making individual donation decisions feel like a futile “drop-in-the-ocean”.

13.2.3 Information enhacing to improve the social closeness of the recipient

Barrier(s): Distance (physical and cultural)

Proposed response: Information Enhancing

How does this response address the barrier?: A fundraiser could give information about the potential beneficiaries. This might be used to make them seem socially close, and trigger empathy or the feeling of obligation or community. This could be further developed using VR, which could enable a more visceral reaction. One study found that VR increased donations by between 20% and 62% (Kristofferson et al., 2022).

This may be a ‘superpower’ because distances mean people perceive lack of closeness, but recent tech enables more visceral and interactive presentation (Skype, VR…) [for effective humanitarian charities]

Relevant evidence: Sudhir et al. (2016) Kristofferson et al., (2022) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11002-021-09601-8

13.3 Fundraising approaches and innovations that are particularly suitable for more effective charities

Do the standard collection of psych/behavioral tools “work” for effective charities (aka ‘EA charities’), or can they be made to do so? Do effective causes have any ‘superpowers’ for any of these? E.g., do such charities and causes have advantages in presenting identifiable victims, offering emotional stimuli, incorporating gift exchange motivations, etc.?

In this section we intend to:
1. Briefly highlight those ‘tools’ that give non-EA charities an advantage, but focus on ‘what is actionable’, and how might lessen or flip that advantage.2

2. Consider which tools present particular challenges or opportunities for EA charities

13.3.1 Approaches which are particularly suitable for more effective charities

Unit asking

Michael Justen writes:

“Unit asking” might be one strategy well-suited to promote effective giving. The strategy is presented in “Unit Asking: A Method to Boost Donations and Beyond” (Hsee et al. 2013). Basically, you ask people how much they would hypothetically donate to one needy person and then how much they donate to multiple needy people. It is closely related to the well-documented identifiable victim bias… [It is] presented as a way to mitigate scope insensitivity and compassion fade in (Västfjäll and Slovic 2020) by increasing evaluability (related to ‘joint evaluations’ discussed below).

I think Unit Asking could be used to increase (1) the amount given to effective charities and (2) increase people’s likelihood to donate to a more effective charity over another charity, or more broadly the the intuition behind effectiveness. On (1), effective charities are particularly equipped to introduce a greater number of needy people which could get people to then donate more. On (2), having people recognize how much they value one unit/life and then introducing the differences in how many people the most effective charities vs. less effective charities help could help people recognize why effectiveness is so important (and then hopefully donate more effectively).

(Abramowicz 2004)

Information enhancing

13.3.2 Mainstream pproaches which may be not be as suitable for EA charities

Making donations visible to others

There is varied evidence that people sometimes donate more when donations are visible. This is an example of reputation-seeking behavior. However, in the barrier “signaling concern for effectiveness/impact versus other values”, evidence is presented that demonstrates that effective altruism may be rewarded. It finds that consequentialist choices lead to less favorable treatment relative to emotionally intuitive choices. Therefore, making donations visible to others may have the opposite effect of virtue signaling, instead damaging an individual’s reputation.


13.4 Mainstream and practical fundraising strategies that have historically been underused by effective charities

This section focuses on strategies that are commonly used among large, mainstream charities but not commonly used by effective charities. They will be examined to understand whether they would also be a suitable fundraising strategy for effective charities.

Percentage donations tied to purchases, especially in online auctions

May be a superpower because it triggers *fairness* and EA charities can buy more because of low costs and standards of living in LDCs. Currently: Common practice for certain international charities close to EA (like the water aid funds tied to bottled water); (Examples: Toms gives shoes/shoes; Warby-Parker glasses/glasses) “buy a pair give a pair”; more generally buy ‘consumption tax’ goods like chocolate. Future: Momentum type app (but note COIs)

Relevant work: (Elfenbein and McManus 2010)

Psychometrics, profiling and targeting people likely to be responsive

Who gives to EA and who is ripe to target? This is first-order importance but also may tell us about why people choose to give to such causes, what is their tipping point… At the moment it is a niche but non-obvious demographic.

13.5 EA-movement approaches, successes and pitfalls

What has EA tried and how has it worked; evaluate approaches in light of the evidence. Is the movement too ‘purist’ (e.g., focusing on only the most effective, proven charities instead of those with broader potential appeal but less evidence)?

  1. ↩︎

  2. Jason Schukraft: Instead of trying to get effective charities to use appeals that are more persuasive to the average donors, we might (instead or additionally) figure out who those charities already appeal to and then find more people like that. I seem to recall that a few years ago GiveWell ran a targeted marketing campaign aimed at podcasts whose audiences skewed analytical. I don’t know the details but I remember thinking the campaign was successful.↩︎