Appendix A – concept index

General causes

Causes that people don’t have a personal attachment to but would be willing to support in principle.  This is in contrast to people feeling a particular affinity with a cause.

Proactive discovery

Any method that enables you to find appropriate charities and projects without them incurring a large / per-user cost.  For example, finding websites from a database of charities. Examples of reactive discovery are responding to advertising (including both paid and unpaid search engine advertising), events, and street collectors.  Proactive discovery reduces costs for charities.

Widespread giving

Giving smaller amounts to more charities in preference to giving larger amounts to fewer.

This reduces your influence and impact on individual causes but increases your overall impact and efficiency, so we encourage it.  It is the single most effective change you can make now to reduce bias and neglect in the sector. There are complementary ways to increase your influence on individual causes – see group giving.

When we say “more charities”, we estimate that people on average over their lifetime currently give to 20-100 charities,1Roughly based on Blackbaud 4-6 charities per year and recommend increasing this to a minimum of 200.  Based on our experience looking through charitable projects, it would not be difficult to compile a list of thousands of different projects that most people agree are worthwhile.

While this raises new practical problems around how to manage many charities and very small donations, these problems are solvable.  For example, where people were concerned about the cost of processing donations, we provided a way to make many donations in one transaction, allowing people to give 62p monthly to several causes.  While there is a per-transaction cost, there doesn’t need to be a per-donation cost.

Long-term giving

Not everyone expects to be able to give over the long-term, but charities should treat you as though you do by default.

Thinking about how much you could in theory give over many years shows you that your own personal contribution would be a significant one – potentially thousands of pounds.  It should be recognised that every time you donate any small amount, you’re giving up later opportunities either to treat yourself or to make a very large donation in one place.

By considering each small donation as a key part of a bigger whole, we expect donors to be more concerned about how efficient each one is.


Where a donor is persuaded to make a decision based on the exaggeration of relatively unimportant details or needless constraints.  The consequence of all bias is to widen the gap between what a donor believes should happen – the big picture – and how their contributions are used.

Some factors should be unimportant in a decision, but the natural thing to do is to try to use all the information we have.  This is a problem when choosing between very similar charities, especially if everybody has very similar biases, which can become a target for expensive marketing campaigns.

Many of the concepts we advocate are ways to remove and reduce bias and its effects.

Single-impact matching

When a charity says what a small amount of money can do, e.g. “£3 to feed a child for a month”.  This also occurs on a larger scale, e.g. “£31,200 to train 100 community health workers”.

Our position is that this is appropriate for reporting impact simply to existing supporters, and for raising support for local/niche causes.

An ideal situation for single-impact matching is where a small business is looking to spend half their charitable budget on local charities or projects that are of special interest to the business (while the other half might be used for general causes).

It is more problematic when used more widely, e.g. for advertising a general cause, because it tries to distance the giver from the bigger picture in two ways, discouraging widespread giving and neglecting long-term giving, which is potentially damaging from being over-reductive.

We raise the possibility that for some donors it is because the bigger picture looks negative and out of control that they look for more value in single-impact matching.

Group giving

Giving as part of a group, even a small group, is a way to increase your collective influence over the charities you support.  It also allows you in practice to give smaller amounts to individual charities.

Both of these factors encourage and facilitate widespread giving and mitigate bias.

Local (niche) giving

The opposite of general giving, this is giving that is more specific to you, either because it’s geographically close to you, or relevant to your life particularly in some way.

We encourage finding a balance between local and general giving that makes you comfortable.

Planned giving

As there is always an urgent need for charitable donations, it is most effective to give in a planned way rather than solely in response to events such as natural disasters or requests.  It can also help you to plan your long-term giving and so get a better impression of your impact.

Planned giving can be straightforward regular donations, but regularity isn’t necessary.  Tithing is a more advanced approach, linking how much you give directly to your income.

Random selection

Where bias is a significant concern, random selection can be an appropriate tool, even for individuals.

For example, say we have two good charities dealing with unrelated problems, and 100 donors who care about both but can only choose one each.  Both are presented well, though one has a slight but obvious presentational edge. It would be a healthier result for the donors to decide by tossing a coin than for all of them to choose the better presented one, since each donor would prefer them to be treated equally to one of them receiving no funding.

These are not the only options in reality, but the example demonstrates how even small biases can lead to very poor outcomes, where even random choice would have been preferable.

It is feasible that the best possible big picture outcomes are unobtainable without including some randomness.

Delegated giving

Partially or wholly delegating the choice of what to fund to a person or organisation you trust to understand the problem and represent your broad preferences.

We advocate that most giving should be delegated, or “unopinionated”, so that given effective representation and accountability structures, individuals can make donations in confidence without needing to research or keep informed about an organisation.  Individuals minded to get more involved might contribute to the representation structures for a small number of the charities they support, while remaining unopinionated about others. Trust needs to be managed as a top priority to support this approach.

We draw a distinction between “expert” and “sympathetic” delegation – whether you delegate to someone because they have in-depth knowledge or because they are good at representing your personal views.  Expert delegation comes in when you don’t expect to understand the issues involved fully enough; sympathetic delegation enables you to take a large number of decisions or to take decisions without engaging too emotionally with the causes.

References   [ + ]

1. Roughly based on Blackbaud 4-6 charities per year