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How to maximize your impact this giving season

DTW Vihiga V1 Stephanie Skinner 20 Medium

Choosing where to make an end-of-year charitable gift isn’t always an easy decision for donors. 

There are endless problems in the world to fix, constant crises in the news, and conflicting interests between helping locally versus globally. Even if they know the cause they want to tackle, donors have to find relevant organizations, discover which ones are most trustworthy, and then decide which one to back. Some donors choose to opt out of doing that research and just go with the familiar big charity names, at the expense of lesser-known nonprofits that might be just as, or even more, deserving. 

But there’s a smarter way that donors can drive the most effective philanthropy with their gifts: giving where your money will be used most effectively, dollar by dollar. 

That’s what more and more donors are doing — considering their charitable contributions as investments, and looking to understand what their impact return might be. 

It sounds simple, but until relatively recently, it was quite challenging for donors to gain enough insight on organizations to make that call. Evaluators like GiveWell, The Life You Can Save, and Founders Pledge are now making it easier, by taking on the challenge of quantifying “good" — helping donors understand which charities are actually delivering the most impact per dollar. 

Evidence Action is uniquely positioned to do just that. As we scale low-cost health interventions that are proven to work, we maximize the value of each and every donor dollar that’s invested. And we’ve consistently delivered on that promise for ten years — that’s how we’ve achieved outsized impact and reached half a billion people with solutions that improved their lives. 

Here are three ways that we’re able to maximize donors’ return on investment, enabling them to change and save lives most effectively with a gift to Evidence Action. 

1. We largely focus on neglected health issues — those that have been ignored or underfunded for too long.

Millions of people around the world are suffering from debilitating and deadly diseases that are treatable, and even preventable, with access to the right care. But without enough attention or funding, that care isn’t available to those who need it most. 

Take maternal syphilis for example. It affects one million women and causes 200,000 stillbirths and neonatal deaths each year, as well as over 100,000 cases of disability such as blindness, neurological issues, and hearing loss. Despite being easily treatable, maternal syphilis remains a deeply neglected issue. While over $300 million is spent annually on maternal HIV, spending on syphilis is largely unknown; we estimate it’s less than just $50 million. 

That’s why we launched Syphilis-Free Start, our program that helps governments incorporate a low-cost dual HIV/syphilis test and syphilis treatment into prenatal care. The program has been running for only two and half years so far, but has already averted 1,500 adverse birth outcomes, including saving 800 lives. 

For donors, our focus on neglected issues means that your money goes toward addressing urgent needs — like saving newborn lives by tackling maternal syphilis — that would likely otherwise go unmet. That creates a more direct, measurable result from your contribution. 

2. We ensure the best value for donor money through our uniquely rigorous approach to cost-effectiveness.

Cost-effectiveness isn’t just about keeping costs low, but rather about delivering the biggest impact at the lowest cost. And it’s not just a buzzword for us — it’s our creed. 

We have a team specifically dedicated to managing our uniquely rigorous approach to cost-effectiveness, which at its core is about quantifying the benefits of an intervention and comparing that against its costs. The result is that each and every intervention that we bring to scale is designed to deliver outsized impact.

Our fight against parasitic worms is a prime example of this. Each deworming treatment that we help deliver (1.8 billion and counting) costs less than $0.50 on average. Yet robust research shows us that the effects on children’s health and school attendance — as well as their long-term productivity and income – are staggering. We estimate that in its first ten years Deworm the World will likely have increased individual livelihoods by over $23 billion by 2042. 

For donors, that translates to a tremendous return on investment — for every $1 spent on deworming, we expect an average of $169 in livelihood returns.

[Watch our video: The Economic Impacts of Deworming: A Conversation Between Michael Kremer, Edward Miguel, and Kanika Bahl]

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A group of school children in Kenya receive their deworming pills.

Another example of how we deliver outsized impact is through our Safe Water Now program. While many organizations focus on building infrastructure, like taps and wells, we choose to focus on water treatment. That’s because water treatment is proven to be one of the most cost-effective ways to improve child survival. It can save a life for just $3,000 (which is incredibly low — for comparison, GiveWell estimated the average cost to save a life within the funding they directed in 2020 – already to a very high cost-effectiveness bar – to be $4,500) or add a year of healthy life for only $40. 

[Read: Access Without Quality Doesn’t Hold Water]

Donors can help us maintain lifesaving safe water access to over 10 million people – and counting – for less than $1.50 per person per year. 

3. We leverage government partnerships to reach massive scale, beyond what we could cost-effectively reach on our own.

Our unique technical assistance model leverages existing resources and prioritizes government ownership. This is key to how we’re able to rapidly scale up our interventions, reaching as many people as possible.  

Here’s an example of how that works in India, where we operate both Deworm the World and  Equal Vitamin Access. Instead of building infrastructure for a delivery network from scratch,  which would be expensive and inefficient, we use schools to reach millions of children where they already are. Teachers are trained to provide the deworming pills and vitamins, and children who aren’t enrolled are still eligible to come in for treatment.

We prioritize government ownership early on, with the ultimate goal of responsibly handing the entire operation over. In some cases, we plan to help governments wind down programs, like when worm prevalence rates drop so dramatically that mass deworming can be scaled back. We’re happy to put ourselves out of a job once our help is no longer required — that's the ultimate sign of success.

By helping governments optimize their investments in health solutions — in development terms, their domestic resource mobilization – we can leverage co-financing to catalyze more impact. In Kenya, the government now purchases deworming medication rather than relying on pharmaceutical donations. Pakistan added school-based deworming to the government's National Economic Plan and allocated funding. And India’s financing for deworming increased from $2.6 million in 2014 to $23.5 million in 2019 — in other words, for every $1 provided by donors during this time, the government invested $4.

You can make the most out of your philanthropic investment this giving season.

Every choice we make in our program design and delivery is aimed at increasing our cost-effectiveness and generating the greatest impact possible from each dollar invested by our donors. That’s how we’ve been able to reach over half a billion people and accomplish astounding impact over the past ten years

If you’re ready to maximize your impact on global wellbeing, invest in our cost-effective health solutions that are proven to work. 

One of the best ways to do that is to contribute to one of our strategic funds, whereby donors provide flexible programmatic support — enabling us to deepen and expand our impact. Investments in the funds allow us to take advantage of emerging opportunities, fill critical programmatic funding gaps, and expand our impact.

High Impact School Health Fund: This fund enables us to expand our extremely successful school-based delivery model, bringing Deworm the World and Equal Vitamin Access into new geographies, and exploring other solutions that can be delivered cost-effectively through schools, like the HPV vaccine.

Safe Water Now Fund: As we continue to scale treatment interventions that we know work, and test new complementary ones, this fund allows us to move forward on the most urgent and compelling safe water opportunities. We’ve already brought safe water access to 10 million people, and we’ve got even bigger plans for the future. 

Radical Scale Fund: Our model of doing development differently has achieved outsized impact, saving and improving hundreds of millions of lives. We’re constantly exploring and pioneering health interventions that offer the best value for donor money. This fund enables us to be bold and nimble – to take advantage of the most urgent and promising opportunities out there.

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