9 Strategies for Effective Donors

Written by Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, Intentional Insights Co-Founder and President


This article is also available in: German; French





You're generous and kind. You care about other people and want to help them have great lives. You want to make a positive impact on the world and give from your heart to worthy causes. You're a great person!


Yet there's a niggling feeling of doubt at the back of your head when you donate. How do you know that you're giving to the right causes? How do you know that you're giving the right amount and at the right time? How do you know that your generous gifts of time and money actually have the kind of impact you want on the world?


Yet some donors don't have that doubt. They are confident that they give to the right causes, the right amount, and that they are getting what they paid for with their generosity and kindness. They are effective donors!


What are their secrets? They still listen to their heart -- that's why they want to give in the first place -- but they combine the heart and the head to give effectively and avoid giving regret. You can be an effective donor too, and be truly confident that you're making the best decisions with your giving by following nine simple strategies.



1. Be Intentional


Knowledge is power! Effective donors are intentional about figuring out their aims and strategies for giving. They take the time to sit down and decide what goals they want to achieve through their generosity. They think about the kind of impact they want to have in the world. They decide what causes are most important to them - poverty, disease, animal welfare - and rank them by order of importance. Consider the benefit of donations to meta-charities that promote effective giving in the first place. Now, this ranking can be quite difficult to achieve, and there's no right answer, as it depends on your values. Follow this strategy, and you'll know that you are giving to the causes that are right for you!


2. Listen To Yourself


Another rule that effective donors use to give to the right causes is to make sure to listen to themselves above everyone else. They know that they themselves should determine their giving decisions. While they don't let anyone dictate to them what to do, they listen to and consider the opinions of others, and shift their mental maps of reality based on new information they did not know before. Indeed, effective donors are masters at changing their minds with appropriate evidence. However, the key is that they do so for their own reasons, not to please others.


3. Budget Well


There are so many great causes out there that you can't reasonably contribute to all of them. Effective donors prevent that problem by preparing a giving budget! They decide in advance how much resources they want to spend, of both time and money. They distribute their resources to the causes they outlined above by order of importance to themselves. If you do so yourself, you'll be confident that you are giving the right amount!


4. Plan Ahead


Effective donors plan their giving in advance. They know that most people tend to give during the winter holidays, but charities need money throughout the year. So they time their giving to counter the "holiday effect." They also know that charities most benefit from monthly donors who automate monthly donations from their bank accounts or credit cards. Monthly donors enable charities to plan ahead themselves and make the most effective use of each dollar. Another benefit of monthly donations is that effective donors get to feel positive emotions every month when they get a warm thank-you note from the nonprofit. Since both giving and experiencing gratitude are science-based strategies for improving happiness, effective donors are happier! Likewise, effective donors take advantage of holidays to give to nonprofits. By using this strategy, you can ensure that you are giving at the right time, for your own happiness and satisfaction, and for the charities to which you give.


5. Be Flexible


Effective donors are flexible about their giving. They know that their resources change over time in unexpected ways. For example, they might get an unexpected bonus, and decide they have more to give each month. However, they might be laid off and then have less money to give, but more time. They revise their giving budget and plan to make sure it aligns with their resources and priorities. You can commit to giving something every month but allow yourself to change this plan as your circumstances change. Doing so will enable you to make sure you keep giving the right amount and at the right time, no matter what happens.


6. Be Smart


You're a smart shopper. You don't buy the first thing you see on television or in the store window. You take the time to gain confidence that you'll get what you want, for example by reading reviews from well-known websites. Similarly, effective donors don't give to the first charity that puts a commercial on television, or has volunteers going door-to-door or standing in the street and asking for money. In fact, super-donors know that the charity that spends its money on commercials and volunteer time on gathering donations is not using those resources to make an impact in the world. Super-donors read reviews of charities by reputable charity evaluators. For example, GiveWell provides extensive research and makes recommendations for the kind of charities that make the most powerful and positive impact on the world in various cause areas. The Life You Can Save provides not only recommendations, but also an Impact Calculator that can help you see right away what kind of impact your giving can make! Using such tactics will help you make sure that you make the impact you want on the world with your generosity and kindness.


7. Be Effective


You can also gain confidence about your shopping decisions by talking to other smart shoppers. Those shoppers are generally glad to give you advice - they feel good helping you make wise shopping decisions and get to share their knowledge! Similarly, you can talk to effective donors to ensure that your generous donations are going to the best place. More broadly, they can share lots of strategies for being an effective donor. To talk to super-donors, in-person or online, simply type out the phrase "Effective Altruism" into a search engine. Effective Altruists practice the strategies described above, and have many in-person and virtual forums where they discuss effective giving. They form community groups centered around being an effective donor and would be happy to share about their strategies for being effective donors with you!


8. Be Committed


It’s not easy to keep remembering to make donations and overcoming that part of us that wants to keep the money for ourselves. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for that used by effective donors! Precommitment is a psychological strategy to help us ensure that our future selves will act in accordance with our current desires. In other words, you can help ensure that your future you will keep making the kind of donations that you want to make. The easiest way of doing so is to take a pledge, such as The Life You Can Save pledge or the Giving What We Can pledge, to commit a portion of your income to charity.



9. Be Proud




Effective donors are not only committed to giving intentionally, but also proud of doing so! They spread this message of the benefits of being an effective donor to others they know. They know that doing so helps other people have better lives by getting rid of that niggling doubt at the back of their heads, and also channels their giving in the most effective fashion. Following this strategy, for example by wearing t-shirts such as the one above, starting conversations with friends and family, as well as sharing this article with others, can help you multiply the kind of positive impact you have on the world!



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