Reading Doing Good Better by William MacAskill changed the charities she donates to, writes Sandy Stephens, a former international aid worker and volunteer from Nelson.

A Guardian newspaper review of William MacAskill's Doing Good Better begins, “If you read this book, you'll change the charities you donate to". For me, it did exactly that. I cancelled one regular donation, thought a lot about others and sought much more information on a few I've unquestioningly donated to for far too long.

Doing Good Better book coverA philosopher by training and still under 30, Oxford University's Associate Professor William MacAskill has broken open the key questions around giving well. Doing Good Better reminds us that 1.22 billion people in the world earn less than US$1.50 a day, mainly because they were born in a place where “the extremely poor are poor simply because they don’t live in an environment that enables them to be productive”.

Those if us in New Zealand who have access to health care, free primary and secondary education, adequate shelter and a job that pays enough to allow some savings, have the potential to transform the lives of the very poor by sharing a little of our wealth wisely.  Our personal altruism, MacAskill says "has the power to save dozens or hundreds of lives, or to significantly improve the welfare of thousands of people”.

The two not-for-profit ventures MacAskill co-founded are based on his personal experience in Africa and elsewhere, and his own watchword – effectiveness.  “Effective” altruism, he says, is the only kind worthy of its name.

The formula for deciding whether a charity is effective is straightforward: how much of an improvement do you make in how many people’s lives, for how much money? To find out, read this book and think about your own experience as a volunteer!