Here’s a remarkable figure: $3,580. It’s striking because it’s apparently the donation amount it takes to save a life overseas. Most of us probably don’t have that amount lying around the house, but it certainly wouldn’t take many of us to scrounge up the cash to make a life-altering difference for someone.

It’s a challenge to be an expert in empathy these days; to step in others’ shoes and feel what they are going through. (Just ask my wife – she’ll confirm I’m often clueless.) We’re easily bubble-wrapped in our isolated worlds.

Luckily there’s a long-time tradition at the end of the year of donating to those in need. This helps us get our heads in the right space to go charity shopping.

Nowadays there’s a movement towards “effective altruism” – funnelling dollars towards where they will make the most difference. Where do we get the best results for our money?

The above figure on how much it takes to save a life comes from GiveWell, the charity ranking site that meticulously evaluates what outcomes we get from giving. They make it easier to charity shop this time of year and find new possibilities for the good our money can do.

Cash isn’t cold

My thing is giving cash. I’ve got nothing against the great programmes, vouchers or other forms of aid being supplied worldwide, but cash still seems king to me.

When I think of all those times in life when I hit some dire straits – when money was tight because of lack of work or an unpredictable paycheque – I just remember the relief that incoming funds brought. (I can recall one particularly grateful moment when a paycheque arrived just in time to fund a honeymoon.)

In those times, I just desperately needed cash, and when it came in, boy did those anxiety levels drop. I’m guessing you may have experienced something similar.

Last year I discovered GiveDirectly, an organisation that lets you fund a family overseas in a most efficient way. After discovering that it’s a bit of myth that doling out cash just leads to people spending it on non-necessities like alcohol or tobacco, I decided to give it a go.

This year I’m thinking of doing the same thing (and perhaps recruiting my children to join me, seeing that their online “giving jars” have built up substantially this year). But I’m still shopping around, looking for the most effective spot for my altruism.

It’s time to get swept up in the giving season – beyond the gifts at home under the Christmas tree. As the year winds down, happy charity shopping.

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