Part 1, The Effectiveness Mindset:

“We are always in triage. I fervently hope that one day we will be able to save everyone. In the meantime, it is irresponsible to pretend that we aren’t making life and death decisions with the allocation of our resources. Pretending there is no choice only makes our decisions worse.”

Holly Elmore

Over the course of Week 1 and 2, we aim to introduce you to the core principles of Effective Altruism. This week we’ll investigate what opportunities to do good we have available to us, come to terms with the tradeoffs we face in our altruistic efforts, and explore tools that can help us find unusually high impact opportunities.

Required Materials

Recommended reading

                                                                               Part 2, Differences in Impact

In Week 2 we continue to explore the core principles of Effective Altruism. We focus on giving you tools to quantify and evaluate how much good an intervention can achieve; introduce expected value reasoning; and investigate differences in expected cost-effectiveness between interventions. 

Organisation Spotlight 


GiveWell searches for the charities that save or improve lives the most per dollar. They recommend a small number of charities that they believe do an incredible amount of good. Unlike charity evaluators that focus solely on financials, assessing administrative or fundraising costs, they conduct in-depth research aiming to determine how much good a given program accomplishes (in terms of lives saved, lives improved, etc.) per dollar spent.

Rather than try to rate as many charities as possible, they focus on the few charities that stand out most (by their criteria) in order to find and confidently recommend high-impact giving opportunities. See their top charities here. 

They believe that there is exceptionally strong evidence for their top charities, and that donations can save a life for every $3,000-$5,000 donated.

Required Materials

Recommended Reading

GiveWell and the Open Philanthropy Project are sister organisations in the effective altruism community. Both seek to identify outstanding giving opportunities, but they use very different criteria and processes. 

GiveWell has an emphasis on evidence-backed, cost-effective, scalable organizations, while the Open Philanthropy Project is more open to supporting high-risk, high-reward work, as well as work that could take a long time to pay off. We think that the differences in their approach illustrate interesting methodological differences to try to answer the question “How can we do the most good?”.

Exercise (60 mins.)

Your challenge this week will be to practice generating quantitative estimates and comparing outcomes. Through this exercise, you’ll attempt to estimate how much good you might be able to achieve by donating to effective charities. (Though of course this is only one of the options for having a positive impact!).

Part 1 – estimate your likely total future income (10 mins.)

In this part of the exercise we’d like you to estimate what your total future income will be during your life. This is obviously quite a personal question, so this estimate is just for you, and we won’t be explicitly discussing answers to this part in-session. If you’d feel more comfortable, feel free to just estimate what an average graduate from your university will earn.

In making this estimate, of course, it’s difficult to know what this will be and impossible to know what the future holds for you. But we think that you still might be able to make educated estimates based on factors such as what the typical graduate earns, what you think your likely career paths are that you’re considering now, and sense checking the answer. 

Feel free to do any research that you would like to make your estimate. If you’re feeling stuck, we have some tips below.

Write your answer here (In your own copy of the document)

We’re trying to put a number on the total income you’ll earn over the course of your life

If you’re feeling stuck, here are some tips:

  • If you have no clue about what career you’ll likely pursue, try running the estimate for a typical graduate at your university instead of for yourself

  • Sometimes life can throw you curveballs and mess up your plans. Try making worst case scenario, most likely scenario, and best case scenario estimates if you’re feeling uncertain about what the future holds

  • Break the question down eg. you might find it useful to start by estimating how many years you’ll work before retirement

  • Don’t worry about this question too much and try not to spend more than 10 to 15 minutes on it. It’s okay to just go with a very rough and inaccurate guess.

You might want to plug in this value into Giving What We Can’s How Rich Am I? calculator to see how this average annual income compares to the rest of the world.

Part 2 – what could you achieve with your income? (20 mins.)

For the second part of the exercise we’ll try and work out what you could achieve by donating some of the money you’ll earn in the future.

GiveWell is an effective altruism inspired organisation which attempts to identify outstanding donation opportunities in global health and development. Using their reports on their top charities and your earlier estimate of your future income, try and work out what you could achieve if you donated 10% of your lifetime income to one of these charities

If you’re short on time, here’s a cheat sheet with information about three top GiveWell charities. If you’d like to explore further, check out GiveWell’s cost effectiveness models.

Complete this exercise for three GiveWell charities.

Write your answer here (In your own copy of the document)


Malaria Consortium: X months of malaria prevention for one person, with an estimate of N deaths averted

GiveDirectly: $X transferred to recipients 

Part 2b (10 mins.)

In the last section, you ended up with a few different options, (e.g. saving the lives of 200 5-year olds, doubling the income of 1000 people earning $1/day, or a 10% chance of enabling 1000 kids to attend school). Now imagine you get to donate to one of these charities. 

There’s a difficult judgement to be made now: since you have to pick, which charity would you donate to to do the most good? 

Write your answer here (In your own copy of the document)

Which charity do you pick to donate to? Why?

Optional (10 mins.)

What are other decisions in your life that you might consider generating quantitative estimates and comparing outcomes for?

(Optional) Jot your thoughts down here