Cost-effectiveness Benchmarks

A crucial part of ‘Investing for Impact’ is understanding the most effective funding opportunities in each area.

Below is our short list of charitable opportunities that can serve as useful cost-effectiveness benchmarks.

The list just contains charities that we have found useful across a range of opportunities. It is not intended to be comprehensive but to be a useful reference and illustration. Our belief is that it is better that investors learn how to find a cost-effectiveness benchmark that fits the impact they are seeking rather than to tell them what their benchmark should be.

We do not claim that these charities are the only highly effective charities in the world. If you believe we should include other highly effective charities, please contact us.

The ‘Rough Quantitative Estimates’ are all meant to be interpreted assuming the ‘worldview’ of the relevant charity. It is highly unlikely that any one investor would be excited about donating to all of these options at the same time. Which option is the best reference point will depend on the context.

The ‘Rough effectiveness relative to GiveDirectly’ column indicates how the highlighted charity’s cost-effectiveness might be compared to GiveDirectly, again assuming a ‘worldview’ oriented around the Area in question.

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AreaCharityRough Quantitative Estimate of Effectiveness (impact per dollar)Rough effectiveness relative to GiveDirectlyWebsiteResearch SourcesDate of Source Research
Poverty
GiveDirectly
Doubling consumption for 1 person per $300
1
Sep 2021
Global Health
Against Malaria Foundation & Malaria Consortium
1 life saved per $4,000-9,000 (6-17x GiveDirectly)
6-17x
Sep 2021
Global Health
Helen Keller International
1 life saved per $1,000 - $10,000 (7-70x GiveDirectly)
7-70x
Sep 2021
Mental Health
Strong Minds
12 point improvement in mental health per $1,000
9x
Oct 2021
Climate
Advocacy initiatives like those funded by the Climate Change Fund
>1 tonne CO2 averted per $
17x
Founders Pledge; TPP analysis
2022
Climate
High-certainty, scalable CO2 removal initiatives like those funded by Stripe Climate
1 tonne CO2 averted per $100-1000 (the indirect impact of being an early customer of removal technologies is likely to be much higher)
0.2x (not counting indirect benefits)
TPP analysis
2022
Animal Welfare
The Humane League
10 hen-years in improved conditions per $
2018-2021
Safeguarding the future
Patient Philanthropy Fund
10-200x GiveDirectly
10-200x
TPP rough indication based on world view of the fund
2022

Keeping the list short

While this list of cost-effectiveness benchmarks is not meant to be comprehensive, for those investors who are open to the challenge of comparing between different impacts then this list can be all you need.

For example, suppose you were looking at an opportunity with an impact measured in tonnes of CO2. Also, suppose that you only knew about the Global Health benchmarks. Then you could convert between tonnes of CO2 and lives saved using evidence-based conversion rate such as this one (roughly 4,000 tons of CO2 per excess death caused over the 21st century).

Similarly, if the metric you’re looking at is not on this list then potentially you can figure out a reasonable conversion rate to these benchmarks and use them, rather than find a unique benchmark.

If you commit to the challenge of drawing connections and comparisons between different types of impact, then you may conclude there can be a single benchmark for everything. Certainly, GiveDirectly has become a respected reference point for philanthropic donors in many different areas. While it may not be the benchmark outside its own focus area, it is a valuable reference that is used to inform strategies in that work across multiple areas.