How to give like an investor

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Charitable giving is no easy thing. There are over 1 million nonprofits in the United States alone, and it is difficult for philanthropists to assess which ones are most deserving of donations. While Wharton students and alumni typically spend countless hours optimizing their investment strategies, they often make decisions around charitable donations with less perfect information. With so many worthy causes, how can we optimize and simplify the process of giving?  

Five years ago, Kate Epstein and Josh McCann, two Wharton MBAs, co-founded One for the World to answer this question. Their goal was to simplify the process of giving by identifying the world’s most effective charities and making it easy to donate to them. One for the World analyzes charities with the same rigor one might apply to financial investments, using data from randomized controlled trials and third-party charity evaluators to estimate the expected return for each dollar donated. Whether it’s $6.31 to distribute an insecticide treated bed net or $1 to deworm a young child, One for the World is taking the guesswork out of combating global poverty.

With the help of professors Corinne Low and Katherine Klein, One for the World has grown dramatically in its first three years. Since launching in the spring of 2014, over 150 Wharton students have pledged to donate 1% of their income to effective charities. In addition, One for the World has grown chapters at Harvard, MIT, Columbia, and Dartmouth and is looking to expand into new universities over the coming year. By the end of 2017, One for the World will have contributed $200,000 to the world’s most effective charities.

Since its inception, One for the World has reevaluated its recommended charities annually. The charity selection process, led by economics PhD student Rossa O’Keefe-O’Donovan, has two phases. In phase one, One for the World works with The Life You Can Save, our partner organization promoting effective giving, to identify a large portfolio of charities. This year, that portfolio included 18 charities that had third-party evidence of effectiveness, as well as the ability to deploy donations at scale. In phase two, the Wharton team does a deep dive into each of these charities and highlights those with the highest ROI and the best cultural fit. For 2017, the team has selected the following five charities: GiveDirectly (cash transfers to extremely poor families in East Africa), Possible (free healthcare in Nepal), Against Malaria Foundation (Malaria bed nets in Africa), Living Goods (health training in Africa and Asia), and Population Services International (health and family planning worldwide). A donation to One for the World’s “Top Picks” will be spread evenly across these five charities, enabling Wharton students to create a charitable portfolio that rivals their investment portfolios in both depth of analysis and strength of returns.

Combating global poverty is a mission of decades, not years. But with good data and long-term commitment, One for the World is making it easier than ever to fight, and win, this battle. In the process, it has placed Wharton, a place often known for earning, at the vanguard of an even more important practice: giving. To join the 150 Wharton students and alum already making the one percent pledge to fight global poverty, visit


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