$1million to do the most good

Totally hypothetical here, and I can’t come up with a good answer myself.

Lets say you had $1million that you had to give away, but you wanted it to do the absolute most good; where would you put it.

Lets try some constraints:

  1. it has to be for one cause…it might go to several people or organizations, but one cause
  2. It should avoid ‘overhead’ costs, such that no, or very little of the funds would go to administration or payment to executors, lawyers, policy makers, etc.
  3. you can define ‘most good’ in any term you want, either good for the planet, humanity etc.
  4. Don’t get bogged down by pedantic questioning about what it actually means by ‘good’ or ‘avoiding overhead/admin’. suggestions now…arguments later.

would you just pass out money at the soup kitchen? would you purchase wetlands and donate it to the Nature Conservancy? Would you fund a medical research lab?

I’d use it to provide a reliable source of fresh clean water in areas that don’t have access to it. Unclean water causes untold death and sickness, especially to the youngest and most vulnerable. Saving some human lives may not sound like much, but I can’t see how I could use that amount of money to seriously address the larger issues like the Middle East War, Climate Change, or Denuclearization.

It certainly doesn’t count as the most good but I’ve been working on starting a non-profit research and education institute for craft beverages. Ideally it would improve our knowledge enough that the several people who die in the industry each year don’t but it would also allow for a lot of what was lost due to prohibition to be recovered and advanced.

1 mil would basically fully fund the non-profit for a couple of years so that’s where I’d stick it. Save a couple of lives and make better booze not a bad day’s work.

Walk into the slums of Mumbai or Lagos or some other third-world poor area and hand out the local equivalent of $100 or $500 until the money runs out. Zero overhead and the money is probably going to do someone good.

There are actually a number of groups that research this particular issue. Typically under terms like “Effective Altruism” or “Impactful Giving” or something like that.

Typically the most impactful giving, in terms of quality of life-years or reduction of harm or some empirical metric like that, is attacking low-cost high-impact diseases like Malaria. It almost certainly has to be outside the US, unless your moral framework places a different value on foreign lives than domestic ones.

So something like the Against Malaria foundation, or GiveDirectly (which is sort of like @Dewey_Finn 's suggestion of handing out cash in Lagos).

You can find some info at givewell.org

See also the Center for Effective Philanthropy or, if you can get past the paywall, this article from The Washington Post. One guy described in the article gives away a quarter of his and his wife’s income.

How is committing suicide good for anyone???


The OP sought to minimize overhead costs and direct transfers to the poorest people in the world is likely to do the most good. For similar reasons, remittances, or direct transfers from foreign workers to their families back home might be among the most efficient.

I have a friend that started (from nothing) a school for children of indigenous Guatemalans whose families were scattered into the hills by that country’s long civil war.

I spent a few weeks on the “campus” a couple of years ago.

Talk about doing more with less.

They not only school kids who, in some cases, literally walk for 24+ hours to get from their ultra-remote villages to the campus, but they also have an agronomist who travels far and wide to help teach regional people how to grow healthy crops in order to be self-reliant.

This place does Good Work.

The kids live there, getting three hots and a cot. IIRC, they go home every 28 days or something, in order to help their families. It’s a hardship on those families to be without those kids. That’s just one of the innumerable challenges this organization faces.

She lives incredibly simply and has as close to no overhead as can be imagined.

What my friend could do with a million bucks … is literally change countless (more) lives of some incredibly deserving people.

Why – where do I apply ? :wink:

The world is kind of topsy-turvy these days because of the pandemic. $1 million is not a lot of money for doing a lot of good considering the state of the world. That amount of money won’t feed very many people for very long. Could buy a lot of desks for poorest schools in the world but the GROI (Good Return On Investment) might not be that high. In the end I’d have to look a some existing organizations and the work they do and make the decision on their ability to get more funding than just mine in order to continue their efforts.

I’d give a C-note to every panhandler who asked me for change, every poor person I encountered sitting on the sidewalk with a cardboard sign, and every street performer I saw who was actually good at it. If they had a dog or cat, I’d give them two C-notes.

I would set up a trust for a local environmental group that is starved for funding for the last decade. They’ve been putting on free environmental programs and festivals for most of the last 40 years.

Hopefully that would reenergize the group. It has a strong track record of doing a lot with very little.

That sounds about right.

Or I would find a group that is researching scientific method to combat global warming.

Probably NEADS or Heifer International.

I had a sinilar experience in Bolovia 30 years ago. A Belgian friend set it up, and I oversaw the contruction for two months while he was away fund-raising. It now appears very successful Accueil - Educación y Futuro

I’ve been really intrigued lately by the concept of micro-loans. Supposedly they’ve given a lot of folks the leg-up they need to become self-sufficient, and they’re usually repaid in full so that money can help someone else.