Frequently asked questions
The Life You Can Save (TLYCS) was founded to promote high impact philanthropy—giving that is informed and cost-effective. Our mission is to help transform the culture of giving by raising awareness of the dramatic difference that effective charities can make in improving health and opportunities for those living in global extreme poverty, and how much easier it is to share a portion of our resources in this way than most people realize. Our organization recommends highly effective charities delivering proven interventions that make it easy for people to do “the most good” with their donations. We also provide concise information to enhance your knowledge about these organizations and about effective giving.
Our organization was founded by bioethicist Peter Singer, widely recognized as one of the world’s most influential contemporary philosophers.
In 2009, Singer wrote the book The Life You Can Save, about ways that we can all support work that alleviates poverty and the suffering that stems from it around the world. Bill and Melinda Gates described the book as “A persuasive and inspiring work that will change the way you think about philanthropy.” In it, Peter argues that if we can provide immense benefit to someone at minimal inconvenience to ourselves, we should do so—illustrated by his famous Girl in the Pond thought experiment. And since there are organizations that dramatically improve—or even save— the lives of people living in extreme poverty at relatively little cost to those of us living in relative comfort, living an ethical life should include supporting such work.
Peter founded the organization bearing the same name to advance the book’s ideas. In 2013, Charlie Bresler, formerly president of a large U.S. apparel company, approached Peter about expanding The Life You Can Save. Charlie and his wife, Diana, provided funding for TLYCS to become a registered 501c3 charity, and Charlie began serving as the organization’s non-salaried Executive Director. Since then, the organization has worked to inspire people to help the world’s poor, and empower them to make the greatest impact possible. You can read more about our organization here.
Our most important metric is our “Net Impact:” the money we raise for our recommended nonprofits minus our operating expenses. In 2019, this figure reached over US$12 million, up 150% compared to approximately US$5 million in 2018. Since 2014, our Net Impact has grown at a rate of 83% compounded annually, which we feel indicates our consistent ability to increase the amount of money we move to great charities.
Another key metric is our “Leverage Factor:” the ratio of money raised for our recommended nonprofits to our operating expenses. For 2019, our Leverage Factor was about 13:1 — in other words, we raised ~$13 for our recommended nonprofits for every $1 we spent running our organization. Since 2014, our Leverage Factor has grown at a rate of 29% compounded annually.
In addition to sustaining these key metrics, we have recently accomplished a number of major initiatives that we expect to promote effective charitable giving, reduce poverty, and improve lives for the years to come. These include:
- updating and releasing online, free to anyone in the world, the 10th-anniversary edition of our founder Peter Singer’s seminal 2009 book, The Life You Can Save: How to do your part to end world poverty (download the book for free here),
- expanding operations into Australia and the UK, and
- establishing the “Giving Game Project,” a form of experiential philanthropy education designed to educate people about the importance of high-impact philanthropy and introduce them to resources that can guide their effective giving journeys.
Please read our Annual Reports for more details about our year-to-year accomplishments.
Our ongoing goal is to spread Peter Singer’s ideas in order to generate increased donations to charities proven to improve health and opportunities for those living in global extreme poverty.
Some of the initiatives we are pursuing to accomplish this are:
- Promoting the 10th Anniversary Edition of The Life You Can Save. We aim to reach new and expanded audiences by offering the e-Book and celebrity-narrated audio-book for free via our website, and by marketing the book via a range of channels, including advertising, interviews, news coverage, and podcasts.
- Increasing TLYCS’s presence in our new markets of India and Australia.
- Partnership development.
- Building relationships with high-net-worth donors, inspiring them to take action against extreme poverty.
There are a wide range of poverty interventions designed and delivered by a wide range of entities with a wide range of motivations. Some do no little or no good, or even cause serious harm, not to mention wasting valuable resources. Others are highly successful, at times providing sustainable improvements and at others alleviating immediate suffering.
Governmental assistance (both internal and external) has been and continues to be crucial to addressing poverty, but vested interests, red tape, and many other factors often hamper such efforts. The best nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are often able to assess and address needs more effectively, often by serving as a crucial partner for governments, companies, and other stakeholders.
Therefore, while we urge people everywhere to engage in advocacy with their governments to support effective foreign aid programs, The Life You Can Save’s focus is on addressing poverty via nongovernmental organizations. However, not all charities are equal, so we promote charities that do some of the best work in this sector. These NGOs have proven track records for making dramatic impact in improving lives. We therefore recommend supporting their work with your donations.
Leading philanthropists and thinkers have endorsed The Life You Can Save as a valuable resource for donors and our work has been recognized in numerous news stories. Our selection process emphasizes reliability and transparency and is overseen by a Panel of Experts from the fields of economics, ethics, nonprofit management, and business. Our founder, Peter Singer, was named one of the world’s most influential people by Time Magazine, and as the world’s third most influential contemporary thinker by the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute. His work has made him widely recognized as a key figure in the effective altruism movement, which encourages individuals to give more thoughtfully and to direct a portion of their income to effective charities.
Although we generally encourage donors to support our recommended charities, The Life You Can Save itself relies on donations to keep our organization running. This is a great way to leverage your dollars, as every $1 we spend on our operations has historically generated $13 for our recommended charities. You can support The Life You Can Save here.
TLYCS seeks to increase donations to our recommended charities through all channels. However, donating through our website helps us measure our impact more accurately, which in turn helps inform our self-assessment and planning. Also, when you donate through our website, unless you sign up as a TLYCS subscriber, we do not add you to any mailing lists or send you any promotional materials.
If you do choose to donate via a charity’s direct website, it would be very helpful to us if you would indicate that you learned of their organization through TLYCS.
The Life You Can Save and GiveWell complement each other’s activities. GiveWell conducts and publishes in-depth primary research to evaluate charities and identify the most impactful giving opportunities. TLYCS focuses on promoting and fundraising for outstanding nonprofits that GiveWell and other evaluators have recognized, which often involves making technical research more accessible to everyday donors. TLYCS’s list of charities is also longer and broader, providing more options to choose from. See more at How We Select Our Charities.
We are happy to discuss interview possibilities for spreading the word about TLYCS and our recommended charities. Please submit your inquiry via our Contact Us page.
Giving Games are experiential philanthropic exercises during which participants learn by doing, giving away real money to charities engaging in critically important work. A facilitator introduces two to four charities for participants to consider. Ordinarily, this takes the form of a preliminary vote where participants make an initial choice based on short fundraising pitches. The facilitator then provides further information on the impact of the non-profits, the evidence supporting their work, and the program’s potential challenges and opportunities. Participants divide into groups and discuss which charity should be awarded the funds, which are ordinarily provided by The Life You Can Save or an external sponsor.
The Life You Can Save prioritize sponsoring events that have a clear vision of how a Giving Game can generate value. You can apply for sponsorship by completing this application. We will then let you know whether the application has been approved and schedule a short call to discuss any questions you may have. We will additionally direct you to any resources you may find helpful, including those available in our Resource Library.
Our annual reports, blog and newsletter all provide regular information about recent progress of TLYCS and our recommended charities. Our founder Peter Singer’s Ted Talk is viewable on our website and on YouTube. Another wonderful resource is the 10th Anniversary Edition of The Life You Can Save, Peter’s landmark book about addressing extreme poverty through effective giving. You can download the eBook and audiobook versions for free on our website here.
U.S.-based donors can make tax-deductible donations to all of our recommended charities. Australia-based donors can make tax-deductible donations to most of our recommended charities with the exception of Development Media International, Population Services International and Zusha!. Through The Life You Can Save UK, eligible UK donors can claim Gift Aid by donating to D-Rev, Fistula Foundation, Innovations for Poverty Action, Seva and Village Enterprise as well as to The Life You Can Save itself, or to all of our recommended charities via our All Charities Appeal.
Donations to many of our recommended charities are tax-deductible in other countries as well. For more information, check out our comprehensive Tax Deductibility page. You can also filter our list to see which organizations are tax-deductible where you live by changing the tax-deductible filter on our charity recommendations page.
A list of all the ways that someone can give can be found on our Other Ways to Give page.
The United States
The Life You Can Save does not take any percentage of your donation. 100% of your gift goes to the charity of your choice, less a 3% transaction fee charged by Network for Good when donating by credit card. There are no transaction fees for donations made by check.
When you make a donation via The Life You Can Save Australia, 100% of your donation (after any credit card fees) will be used to support the charity (or charities) of your choice.
When we give money to a charity, we assume the money will be used to do a great deal of good. But that’s not always the case. Some charities accomplish very little; a few may even unintentionally cause harm. Most charities probably have some positive impact, but the amount of good they achieve varies widely. By ensuring that you give to effective charities, you can be confident that your donations will make a significant difference.
To measure the effectiveness of charities, we typically ask two questions: Are the charity’s initiatives proven to work? and Are the charity’s interventions cost effective? In addition to these questions, we consider a range of other indicators of effectiveness. You can read our more at What Makes a Charity Effective.
We believe that “overhead ratio” is a highly problematic way to measure a charity’s worth. In his 2013 TedTalk, activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta argues that equating frugality with morality is a limiting way of measuring nonprofit effectiveness. The biggest problem with this metric is that it completely ignores how much good a charity’s programs accomplish, and even whether they accomplish any good at all.
We encourage donors to think about the cost-effectiveness of their gifts: how many people can be helped and how much those lives will be improved from a donation of a particular size. To read more about the overhead myth, read GuideStar’s open letter to donors here and TLYCS COO Rickard Vickstrom’s blog on this topic here.
Many of our recommended charities deliver interventions that avert fatalities that would otherwise likely occur. For instance, numerous studies show that malaria interventions, such as those run by Against Malaria Foundation and Malaria Consortium dramatically reduce child mortality. Development Media International’s recent mass media campaign of health messaging is estimated to have saved approximately 3,000 children’s lives over the course of three year radio campaign. A randomized controlled trial showed that Living Goods-supported community health workers reduced under-5 mortality by 27%.
Just as significantly, the work of all of our recommended charities improves lives in a range of ways that provide people a better chance to stay healthy, attend school, work productively, plan families and escape the downward spiral of poverty. Restoring a blind person’s vision through cataract surgery, keeping children safe from parasitic worm infections, providing inputs and training to improve crop productivity or to start a new business, and giving a woman her life back through obstetric fistula surgery are just a few examples of the types of life-transforming work our charities do.
Our charities provide a range of interventions across a broad range of causes, improving and saving lives in different ways. Our Impact Calculator helps you see the impact your donation can have with each of our recommended organizations.
The work of our recommended charities spans a range of cause areas. Our goal is to provide a wide range of donors with effective giving options. The cause areas can be roughly broken down into:
- Save a child’s life
- Help women & girls
- Improve health & fight infectious disease
- End hunger & malnutrition
- Provide clean water & improve sanitation
- Create economic opportunity
- Improve charity effectiveness
- Prevent blindness & restore sight
- Protect people against malaria
Our charities fight the devastating effects of extreme poverty in over 90 countries worldwide. Our interactive map depicts charity operations by country.
We know that many people in the U. S. and other developed countries live in terrible poverty, and we do not seek to diminish their plight. Our aim is to point out that we have a greater capacity to help those living in degrees of poverty in the developed world. However, since donors can’t give to every charity, we encourage people to direct their dollars to where they will go the farthest. GiveWell’s excellent piece “Giving 101: Your dollar goes further overseas” offers some striking examples of the difference in cost-effectiveness between giving domestically and giving to organizations that work in the world’s poorest countries.
We recognize that there are multiple issues which demand attention and that most of them are intertwined. However, The Life You Can Save was created to focus directly on improving health and opportunities in “real time” for those living in global extreme poverty, as discussed in our founder Peter Singer’s book of the same name.
If your priority is fighting climate change, we suggest reading Founders Pledge’s report, which recommends donating to Clean Air Task Force and Coalition for Rainforest Nations. For donors seeking to improve animal welfare, we suggest reading Peter’s seminal book in this area, Animal Liberation, and reviewing research from Animal Charity Evaluators.
Our recommendations are based on rigorous assessments by charity evaluators such as GiveWell and Impact Matters. Charities are recommended based on factors such as proven impact, cost-effectiveness, transparency, sustainability, and room for funding. To learn more about how we select our charities, click here or see below.
Our charity selection process rests on two pillars. The first is a Panel of Experts comprised of value-aligned experts who offer a range of informed perspectives. The second is the excellent charity evaluation work performed by organizations such as GiveWell and ImpactMatters on which we draw. By aggregating recommendations from multiple evaluators and having our Panel provide an extra layer of scrutiny, we intend to offer donors outstanding opportunities across a variety of causes. You can learn more about our charity selection methodology here.
Not necessarily. We only recommend organizations for which there is considerable evidence of effectiveness and impact. Generally our recommendations come from rigorous charity evaluators such as GiveWell and ImpactMatters and they are also approved by our Panel of Experts. Sometimes – as with Oxfam, for example – this evidence comes from Peter Singer’s own contacts with the organization over many years. In other cases I rely on reports by those I trust – Fistula Foundation is an example here. The fact that an organization is not listed may just mean that the charity evaluators with whom we partner have not yet been able to assess it. Of course, it might also mean that it has been evaluated, and no one was able to conclude that it was doing an effective job. So if you are giving to an organization that is on the list of recommended charities, you can have more confidence that your donation is doing what you want it to do.
The Life You Can Save does not perform charity assessments. Rather, we aggregate recommendations from rigorous charity evaluators such as GiveWell and ImpactMatters. To learn more about how we select our charities, click here or see above. Please contact GiveWell or Impact Matters if your organization would like to explore being evaluated.
Extreme poverty means not having enough income to meet the most basic human needs for adequate food, water, shelter, clothing, sanitation, health care, and education. Its manifestations include hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination and exclusion, as well as the lack of participation in decision-making. Since 2015, the World Bank has defined the extreme poverty line as being $1.90 or less a day. According to the most recently available data, 736 million people live in this income bracket.
The definition of “regular” poverty varies by country. As noted by GapMinder, poverty “may refer to the threshold for eligibility for social welfare or the official statistical measure of poverty in that country. In Scandinavia, the official poverty lines are 20 times higher than the poverty lines in the poorest countries, like Malawi, even after adjusting for the large differences in purchasing power. The latest US census estimates that 13 percent of the population lives below its poverty line, putting it at approximately $20/day.”
In determining the international poverty line, the World Bank has already made the adjustment in purchasing power: its figures refer to the number of people existing on a daily total consumption of goods and services—whether earned or home-grown—comparable to the amount of goods and services that can be bought in the United States for $1.90. This means that the international poverty line is helpful in comparing poverty levels between countries.
It is important to emphasize that the International Poverty Line is extremely low. When we say extreme poverty, it refers to people living beneath this very low threshold. This should not, as noted by Our World in Data, “lead one to conclude that ‘there is no poverty in rich countries,’ but rather that the standard used to measure extreme poverty is indeed extreme. So extreme that governments in high-income countries do not use it as a guideline to assess the living standards of their own citizens. Measurement instruments in these countries are simply not designed to capture such levels of extreme deprivation.”
In wealthy societies, most poverty is relative. In the United States, 97% of those classified by the Census Bureau as poor own a color TV. Three quarters of them own a car and three quarters have air conditioning. These figures do not in any way deny that the poor in wealthy societies face genuine hardship, but rather that poverty measurements in wealthy countries are simply not designed to capture levels of extreme deprivation.
Extreme poverty is characterized by difficulties of a different order. The 736 million people living in extreme poverty are poor by an absolute standard tied to the most basic human needs. This kind of poverty kills. While a child born in Spain today can expect to live beyond 83 years, children born in countries such as Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Chad have a life expectancy of less than 55 years. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the region with the highest under-five mortality rate in the world: one child in 13 dies before his or her fifth birthday, a ratio 20 times higher than the 1 in 263 mortality rate in Australia and New Zealand. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 7,500 children under the age of 5 die each day from preventable causes associated with extreme poverty. This is over 300 children an hour or 5 per minute. These causes of death include insufficient nutrition, lack of access to clean water, inadequate health care services, malaria, dysentery, and neonatal infection. These are diseases and health problems that are essentially non-existent in the developed world thanks to countless advances. And yet despite these improvements, several billion people continue to live and die in poverty, struggling daily with its dire effects.
Effective altruism is a movement that involves trying to make the world as good a place for as many people as possible, using evidence and reason to identify the more effective ways to do so, rather than just doing what feels right. Charity evaluator GiveWell offers an informative post on the topic here.
International giving helps those who need it the most (see above for What is Extreme Poverty). In addition, giving internationally allows you to accomplish the most good with your donation. Your charitable gift goes much farther in the developing world, where services and goods are typically much less expensive. In the U.S., a typical doctor’s visit costs $130-$200 or more, while an emergency room visit can cost $500-$700 before any services are added on. Surgeries cost thousands—or often tens of thousands—of dollars.
In the developing world, however, $100 can cover a year of high-quality healthcare for four patients, including home visits and surgery, with no fee-for-service at the point of care. $100 can pay for two blindness-reversing cataract surgeries. It can also deworm 992 children or protect 500 people from iodine deficiency for the rest of their lives. $700 can fund life-transforming obstetric fistula surgery restorative surgery and rehabilitation. The bottom line: your money goes further overseas.
You can read more about The Case for Giving Internationally here. Also see FAQ “Why doesn’t your list include charities that help Americans (or people in other developed countries) in need?” and GiveWell’s piece, “Giving 101: Your dollar goes further overseas“. Also, visit our Impact Calculator to see the range of good your donation can do with each of our recommended charities.
You do not need to stop giving to local charities. However, we encourage you to start giving—or giving more—to highly impactful international nonprofits that can accomplish more good per dollar donated and help those living in the most serious deprivation.
When asked whether the United States allocates more, less, or about the same amount to foreign aid as other developed nations, only 1 out of 20 Americans guessed correctly. Most are surprised to learn that the U.S. ranks near the bottom of developed countries in the percentage of national income allocated to foreign aid. In 2016, the U.S. gave only 18 cents of every $100 of earnings — a total of 0.18% to foreign aid.
The United Nations Millennium Development Goals encourage all developed nations to allocate 0.7% of their gross national income to overseas development assistance — that’s 70 cents in every $100. For comparison, this is less than the credit card fee many consumers barely notice when paying for overseas purchases. Few countries have reached that target.
For more, see Peter Singer’s column Trump’s Unethical Aid Cuts.
When giving to an effective charity, the size of your donation directly correlates with the number of people you are able to help. But you don’t have to be a millionaire to make a significant difference; even small donations have the potential to help improve an individual’s quality of life.
As you decide how much to give, we encourage you to take The Pledge. The Pledge reflects Peter Singer’s suggested public standard for what we should expect ourselves and others to give to effective charities such as the ones on our Recommended list, with a general minimum of 1% of our income. Beyond the minimum, our pledge calculator can be used to determine the percentage of your particular income that Peter suggests you donate annually. These levels are intended to get you started and to set you on a path toward challenging yourself and working toward doing more as your giving habits evolve (your “personal best”).
Even very small donations can make a big difference in the lives of people living in extreme poverty. It costs less than a dollar per year to protect a child from parasitic worms or to give a young mother access to clean drinking water for her family. With our Impact Calculator, you can see for yourself how even small gifts can make a significant difference in people’s lives.
Many people who live in affluent countries don’t realize how their incomes compare to the rest of the world. In 2013, the average U.S. household income was $51,939. For a family of four, that income is more than 12 times the global average, placing among the richest 9.8 percent of the world’s population.
Still not convinced? See our responses to common objections to giving.
Is it truly better to give than to receive? Research has shown that spending money on ourselves does not significantly increase our sense of happiness or wellbeing. A Harvard Business School study suggests that giving to others is directly correlated with an increased sense of happiness. The Harvard researchers write: “Happier people give more and giving makes people happier, such that happiness and giving may operate in a positive feedback loop.”
Other studies have shown that people experience pleasure when they see money go to charity—even if this money isn’t their own. People experience the most pleasure, however, when they give directly to charity themselves.
To learn more about the benefits of donating to charity, read 9 Positive Effects of Donating Money to Charity.
Our founder Peter Singer suggests a public standard for what we should expect ourselves and others to give to effective charities such as the ones on our Recommended list, with a general minimum of 1% of our income. Beyond the minimum, our calculator below can be used to determine the percentage of your particular income that Peter suggests you donate annually. These levels are intended to get you started and to set you on a path toward challenging yourself and working toward doing more as your giving habits evolve (your “personal best”).
Two of the main reasons for taking a giving pledge are:
- It helps you hold yourself accountable for following through on your good intentions.
- When you tell your community (family, friends, coworkers, etc.) about your pledge (which we encourage you to do), it influences others to join you in taking action to improve the lives of those living in extreme poverty.
Unfortunately, no. The public pledge you make on our website includes donations to our recommended charities only. When you pledge, you are pledging to help those living in extreme poverty – to directly save their lives or to make it possible for them to access the basic necessities required for a minimally decent human existence. “Poor” is a relative term; The Life You Can Save seeks to eliminate extreme poverty. People living in extreme poverty make less than the purchasing power equivalent of $1.90 per day. We encourage you to give to effective aid organizations that provide access to basic necessities including clean drinking water, food and medical care for people who have been living without these necessities. When your dollar is applied to meeting these basic needs, you can make a significant, long-term difference in the lives of those you help. Within your (globally) affluent community or country, it would take a much larger donation to have the same sort of impact. We seek to affect those living under life-or-death circumstances, for whom a few hundred dollars would not only keep them alive, but greatly enhance their experience of human existence.
Yes, if the charity assists people in extreme poverty, it could count. If you are working as a volunteer, you could count the number of hours you volunteer for them, and multiply that by the amount you can earn on an hourly basis. Then that sum could go toward meeting your Pledge.
If you are employed by a charity working for those in extreme poverty, but you are not paid the rate at which you would have been paid had you been working in the corporate sector, you could regard the difference as going towards your Pledge.
It depends on whether you both want to pledge, and on how you manage your finances. If you both want to pledge, then we suggest you take your combined income and enter that. Peter’s pledge calculations are based on “taxable units,” which refers to couples in the United States; in many countries, taxable units are individuals, whether married or not. If only one of you wants to pledge and you keep your finances separate, then enter your individual income.
If donations in your country are fully tax-deductible, your pledge should be based on gross income; if donations are not tax-deductible for you (e.g. in Sweden), then it should be based on after-tax income.
As part of updating the 10th Anniversary Edition of The Life You Can Save, Peter Singer and our staff updated our suggested pledge amounts. Our suggested pledges are intended to yield enough donations to eliminate extreme poverty, without inflicting financial hardship on any donors. The suggested pledges found in the 10th Anniversary Edition are lower than those found in the original edition because of several factors. First, we now estimate the cost of ending extreme poverty by calculating how much money would need to be given to the global poor to bring them above the international poverty line, using analysis conducted by Laurence Chandy, Lorenz Noe, and Christine Zhang. This provides a lower figure than the methodology used in the original edition, which used Jeffrey Sachs’ estimates of the cost of implementing the UN Millennium Development Goals as the cost of eradicating extreme poverty. Also, the estimated cost of eliminating extreme poverty has gone down over time. As Singer writes in the updated edition, “There are two reasons why it would cost less today to bring everyone’s income above the extreme poverty line. One is the dramatic decline in the number of people living below that line, from approximately 2 billion people in 1980 to 736 million in 2015. The other is that the average daily income of those who are still below the line has also risen, from $1.09 in 1980 to $1.34 in 2012 (again, expressed in constant dollars).” You can download a free copy of the book here.
If you are new to The Life You Can Save, you can get started by taking a look at our list of cost-effective charities, subscribing to our newsletter, reading our blog, and checking out our Impact Calculator. Our founder Peter Singer’s book, The Life You Can Save, as well as his TED talk, are great resources for further information.