Doing Good Better Book Summary

Book summary: There is a quantifiable way to look at doing good or giving back.  If you don’t analyze and understand how much good your actions actually have, then you’re probably just “doing good” for your own reasons, not to efficiently help as many people as you can with the assets you have.


A quote from the book that really stuck out to me is that “relying on good intentions alone to inform your decisions is potentially disastrous.” Also, when discussing a particularly efficient nonprofit, he wrote “by focusing on what was effective rather than what was emotionally appealing, they produced outstanding results, significantly improving the lives of millions of people.”


Other quotes and I ideas I particularly liked from the book:

  • I would be privileging the needs of some people over others merely because I happened to know them. That would be unfair to those I could have helped more. If I’d visited some other shelter in Ethiopia, or in any other country, I would have had a different set of personal connections.
  • Your choice of career is a choice about how to spend more than eighty thousand hours over the course of your life
  • Research shows that the most consistent predictor of job satisfaction is engaging work, which can be broken down into five factors (this is known in psychology as the job characteristics theory): Independence—To what extent do you have control over how you go about your work? Sense of completion—To what extent does the job involve completing a whole piece of work so that your contribution to the end product is easily visible, rather than being merely a small part of a much larger product? Variety—To what extent does the job require you to perform a range of different activities, using different skills and talents? Feedback from the job—How easy is it to know whether you’re performing well or badly? Contribution—To what extent does your work “make a difference,” as defined by positive contributions to the well-being of other people?
  • There are 46.5 million Americans living in relative poverty, defined as living on less than $11,000 per year, but there are 1.22 billion people worldwide living in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $550 per year.


Here’s an example of how the author looks at, or measure, “doing good”:

The West spent $2.3 trillion on foreign aid over the last five decades and still had not managed to get twelve-cent medicines to children to prevent half of all malaria deaths. The West spent $2.3 trillion and still had not managed to get six-dollar bed nets to poor families. The West spent $2.3 trillion and had still not managed to get three dollars to each new mother to prevent five million child deaths.”


A QALY is a unit of measure he uses. The quality-adjusted life year or quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) is a generic measure of disease burden, including both the quality and the quantity of life lived. It is used in economic evaluation to assess the value for money of medical interventions. OneQALY equates to one year in perfect health. So if you extended two people’s lives by 10 years, the person who is bedridden and constantly exhausted would likely not be as much as of a QALY count as the person who was able to enjoy life the fullest.


His point is that you should know the following in order to be a true practicer of effective altruism and to even consider giving to a charity:


What does this charity do?
How cost-effective is each program area?
How robust is the evidence behind each program? What is the evidence behind the programs that the charity runs?
How well is each program implemented?
Does the charity need additional funds? What would additional funding be used to do?


A very specific example is that The ALS Association (of ice-bucket-challenge fame) spends 41 percent of its program expenses on public and professional education, 24 percent on patient and community services, and just 35 percent on research.


He goes in depth with analyzing 3 charities that he views as “top charities.” Each of these charities mentioned is dissected as to the their motives, success, efficiency, etc. This is a very interesting section of the book.


TOP CHARITIES GiveDirectly What do they do? Provide direct unconditional cash transfers to poor households in Kenya and Uganda.
Development Media International What do they do? Produce and run radio shows to educate people in Burkina Faso on basic health matters, with plans to cover the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Cameroon, and the Ivory Coast.
Deworm the World Initiative What do they do? Provide technical assistance to governments in Kenya and India to help those governments run school-based deworming programs.


My advice: Unless you’ve dedicated your life to the nonprofit sector or an industry that’s main purpose is doing good over profit, then read the book until you understand the author’s main point: That giving decisions are something that should take some time, thought, comparison, and measurement.  Once you understand that, you can skip to the part where he analyzes and gives specific recommendations on charities to give to. Then, decide what you can afford, and split your charitable donations amongst those charities or find others and use his step by step process to verify whether you should give to them.


Establish a habit of regular giving. Go onto the website of a highly effective charity and sign up to make a regular donation, even if it’s just ten dollars per month.
2: Write down a plan for how you’re going to incorporate effective altruism into your life.
3: Join the effective altruism community. Go onto and sign up to the effective altruism mailing list.
For your birthday, instead of presents, you could ask for donations to a highly effective charity, creating a webpage on; Charity Science, a fund-raising website set up by two people in the effective altruism community,



altruism simply means improving the lives of others.
effectiveness, by which I mean doing the most good with whatever resources you have.


The five key questions of effective altruism. 1. How many people benefit, and by how much?
2. Is this the most effective thing you can do?
3. Is this area neglected?
4. What would have happened otherwise?
5. What are the chances of success, and how good would success be?


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