"Maybe Christmas", he thought, "doesn't come from a store."

"Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more!"

-The Grinch, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (p.29)

The Donate Your Christmas fundraiser is simple–instead of Christmas gifts, ask for donations to your preferred GiveWell-recommended charity. Of course, you can take it further than that if you’d like and ask colleagues or your social network.

You should Donate Your Christmas because by using the available resources with relatively small time commitments, it’s likely you’ll raise counterfactual funds for your preferred GiveWell recommended charity. In addition, it’s worth considering because it’s an opportunity to potentially spread ideas relating to effective altruism.

It’s likely to raise counterfactual funds for your preferred GiveWell recommended charity


First, I will outline why it’s likely you’ll raise money by briefly looking at seasonal trends, donor motivations, and results from other peer-to-peer campaigns, and then briefly state why it seems likely that part of the funds raised will be counterfactual.

Much evidence suggests people are more likely to give in December. For instance, one survey reported that 40% said they’re more likely to give during the holiday season than would be for the rest of the year. Network For Good’s Digital Giving Index also reports that 31% of annual giving occurred in December.

In addition, evidence on donor motivations indicates that peer-to-peer fundraisers may be successful. For instance, academic research suggests that social ties play a strong causal role in the decision to donate and increases average gift size as well. Complementary to this influence are the many people who give to those who ask. One survey recorded 20% of respondents saying that they simply donate to the charities that ask them.

Moreover, available data indicates that peer-to-peer fundraising pages regularly raise hundreds of dollars. One peer-to-peer fundraising platform reports that the average fundraising page raises $568 and this blog post reports Charity Water’s average peer-to-peer fundraiser totals at $770. These figures match well with Charity Science’s experience from last year’s Christmas Fundraiser which raised an average of $750 CAD per peer-to-peer fundraising page and a median amount of $319 CAD.

Unless your peer group and family regularly donate to GiveWell-recommended charities, it’s reasonable to suggest that a portion of the funds raised will be counterfactual.

There are relatively small time costs

The Christmas Fundraiser is easy to set up – visit our Christmas fundraisers page for the US, the UK, Canada or Australia on the donations platform CauseVox and then click “Create a Fundraising Page.” The next steps should be self-explanatory, and we’ve provided default text which you may adjust and pictures too so that the time costs involved are minimal.

When running your fundraiser, you can check out Peter Hurford’s guide to running a fundraiser for an overview of techniques that could lead to a successful fundraiser. Also know that we’ll provide email and Facebook status templates for you to save time in promoting your campaign. Here’s an example of one of the email templates:

Hi [Person A]!

How are things? How are your kids doing? Over here, things are going really well. I just came back from a trip to Chicago, which was surprisingly beautiful and very cold. It snowed! The buildings were gorgeous and ornate though. It felt like I’d come to a steampunk city. [Note: start with something personal]

So I know we never really exchange gifts at Christmas but I’m hoping you might be up for making an exception this year. The thing is, as I generally have way too much stuff already and I’d rather gift money go towards saving lives, so I’ve decided to run a birthday/Christmas fundraiser in lieu of gifts.

All of the money I raise is going to give kids in the developing world medicine. Here’s the charity it’s for (LINK). Just $1.25 pays for the pill which treats them for an entire year. My goal is to raise $1,000, so that will treat 800 kids for a year. Would you like to help me reach this goal and donate to my campaign? Even just $10 would help eight kids. [Note: saying even just a small bit helps makes it so people can donate just a little and feel OK about it. Makes them know that what they can contribute matters] To donate you can just go to this link (LINK) If not, no worries. :)

Thanks and Happy Holidays!

[Insert name]


And here’s an example of one of the Facebook status templates:


"Fair warning. This post is totally a plug, but it’s for awesome charities so I feel pretty okay about it. Also, I’m not asking for money. Just a bit of your time and some holiday spirit.


I want to give you a chance to help raise money for the best charities in the world. And by that I mean the ones that have been heavily scrutinized and give you the biggest bang for your buck. I’ll put some more information about those charities in the comments so you can check them out.


For those of you who are fed up with the materialism of Christmas (or just think you have some mega-generous, awesome family and friends), my pitch is that you ask for donations instead of (or in addition to) gifts this Christmas. Simply put, consider setting up an online fundraiser and put that multiplier effect to use. Check it out here: http://www.charityscience.com/christmas-fundraisers.html


If that’s not your cup of eggnog, remember you can still help me with my fundraiser. :)

It’s worth sending messages and posts like these because evidence suggests compared to fundraisers who don’t ask, those who do substantially increase donations. What’s more, a DonorDrive report described that around 15% of peer-to-peer donations came through Facebook (p.4). This report also described that more than 40% of those who donate return to a peer-to-peer fundraising page multiple times before they donate (p.14). This suggests you should consider politely asking peers more than once, however use discretion.

Charity Science will also send you a series of helpful emails so that a successful fundraiser can be completed at low personal time costs. The emails will include:

  • How to ask people for donations if you’re nervous

  • How to post/email more than once without sounding repetitive

  • Ideas for Facebook comments on your Facebook posts

If at any stage you would like help, advice, or support for your Christmas Fundraiser, contact us at team@charityscience.com for one-on-one support. Our goal is to make the process as simple and easy as possible.  

By partaking in the Christmas Fundraiser, there’s potential to spread ideas relating to effective altruism


Jeff Kauffman said talking about effective altruism with coworkers can be awkward and Eric Herboso has noted it can be hard for introverts to raise effective altruism in social contexts. Often something is required to initiate conversations and the Christmas Fundraiser may provide this opportunity. This could mean it leads to conversations relating to effective altruism that wouldn’t otherwise happen and these conversations may spread ideas relating to effective altruism.

This conclusion is supported by evidence suggesting individual giving behaviours are affected by social influences or that your actions may promote a reluctant altruism that leads to charitable giving. As previously mentioned, there’s also research suggesting social ties play a strong causal role in the decision to donate and increases the average gift size as well. In further support of this, Giving What We Can states that publicly committing to our convictions can inspire others to give and can make giving normal and expected.  

It could also be argued that by partaking in this Christmas Fundraiser you may be more likely to donate in the future. This seems to be partly supported by several GiveWell staff members mentioning the importance of giving becoming a habit. In addition, it could be argued that by completing this fundraiser, you may become a better advocate for effective altruism as your actions may better align with your beliefs and your communication skills might also improve as a result of the fundraising process.       

There’s also evidence suggesting that giving makes people happier. This may particularly apply for peer-to-peer fundraising because, as this blog post notes on this research, the “overarching conclusion is that donors feel happiest if they give to a charity via a friend, relative or social connection rather than simply making an anonymous donation to a worthy cause.”

Some core ideas of effective altruism include:

  • We have an incredible opportunity to do good by giving to charities

  • A great deal of happiness can come from giving

  • Some charities are much better than others

The potential to spread these ideas is quite valuable and by partaking in the Christmas Fundraiser there’s the potential to spread these ideas and others that relate to effective altruism.

Additional things to consider

  • When doing your Christmas shopping through Amazon, be sure to use Shop for Charity so that a 5% commision goes to SCI.

  • If you feel that participating in this fundraiser isn’t a good personal fit, then you may be interested in pledging a counterfactual Christmas match. Last year we had sufficient funds to counterfactually match all funds raised during Christmas Fundraisers. This year we have not acquired those funds, and as a result, it seems likely that we will not be able to offer everyone counterfactual matches for the funds they raise.

Some other donation options that you may be interested in include:

Signing up information

You can sign up for the Christmas Fundraiser through the following links:

If you don’t reside in one of those countries, you can sign up for the country whose unit currency is closest in value to your own, or consider making a page on the AMF’s site which has tax deductibility in more countries.

Fundraising pages made on AMF’s site also have lower fees because CauseVox, the fundraising platform hosting the Charity Science Christmas Fundraiser, charges a 4.25% fee on donations. There are also possible fees common to both pages of approximately 2.1% when donating via PayPal. Due to these relatively large fees we encourage those participating in the Charity Science Christmas Fundraiser to tell parties interested in donating substantial amounts to donate directly to the relevant charity to maximize the impact of their gift.    

People may prefer using Charity Science’s pathway over AMF’s because our third-party fundraising page is more visually appealing, easier to edit, and allows fundraising for GiveWell recommended charities other than AMF.  However, we are unsure how this compares to lower fees and think reasonable people could disagree about the best platform to use.


New Comment
15 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:08 PM

Four years ago, I asked three members of my close family who were likely to give me something for Christmas to make a donation to GiveWell/AMF (GiveWell's top charity at that point) instead of getting something for me. This wasn't burdensome at all for me, because I didn't have many unmet material needs at this point.

Anyways, in my case, it turned out that my upper middle class American relatives, who were culturally "normal", rather than being culturally close to any EA/Silicon Valley/rationality circles, were quite offended by this suggestion. This may have had something to do with my presentation--I don't remember myself being particularly good at politics or speaking back then, and I tried to be nice, but perhaps I was too bold, or too culturally insensitive. Still, I was quite surprised at how poorly my request was received.

Of the three family members I talked to, two told me that I was being unrealistic, and that I needed to realize how things worked in the real world, or something like that. They got me something comparable to what they'd gotten me the previous year. The third one actually made a donation to the Carter Center, but only after bemoaning how I didn't appreciate how hard making money was in the real world--I think they had liked the Carter Center because a friend had worked there, or something.

A couple family members I hadn't talked to heard about my request, and I later heard that one had been talking with other members of my family about how she had become "very worried" that I was going to become "too altruistic". Another actually bought a chicken (or goat?) in my name through Heifer International. That was interesting, since I had thought that I been clear that I preferred GiveWell's top charities over other charities.

I guess that I completely stopped being vocal about EA after that point. Still, I've often wondered if the type of EAs who hold birthday and Christmas fundraisers are more, or less culturally normal-feeling to the average first-worlder than my family is.

(Also, since this comment is about how I'm terrible at understanding how to get the tone right on EA things, I apologize if the tone of this comment itself is somewhat off.)

Since I sort of danced my around making the point I wanted to make, here's what I'd meant to say more bluntly:

  1. Are EAs unknowingly offending large swaths of the population when they proselytize too loudly?
  2. I think that people's social circles are more homogeneous than they might predict, such that EAs tend to be friends with an incredibly large number of potential EAs, and relatively few people incompatible with EA.
  3. Statement 2) can be the case even if there are very few potential EAs in the world.

Edit to add:

  1. The fact that people on the EA forums and elsewhere keep posting about how fun and easy running a fundraiser is makes me question if I'm living on the same planet as you all.

Was your impression that your family was offended that you asked for them to make a donation instead of a gift? Or that it was relating to EA specifically?

I've heard of regular families doing donations instead of gifts. My own family already had members that asked for charity, so last year when I asked for donations to Givewell charities it went pretty fine.

(The previous year, they knew I cared about effective giving and they made a donation to some random "support a child in Africa" charity. I just said "Thank You" politely, and the next year I asked specifically for givewell charities.)

I can definitely see saying "I want everyone to donate to these charities because they're the BEST" to go over poorly with people who already care about a particular charity, and I can see people being upset with "you should give 10% of your income."

But "these particular charities are really important to me, and during the holiday season I'd really rather help people less fortunate that receive a gift myself. Would you consider giving whatever amount you'd have given me to these charities?"

One note (perhaps relevant to Soothsilver above) is that it may feel important to give tangible gifts. What my family does, when giving intangible gifts, is accompany them with a tangible simple of the gift.

1) Yours is not the first account of being offended I have heard. Unfortunately it makes sense. Everyone thinks of themselves as "being a nice person", even if the only money they give to charity is a dollar a week to the homeless.

Pursuing the much loftier goal of eg. giving 10% attacks this fundamental identity basis; and since there is no argumentative recourse, they can only react on the emotional level. Its an immune response.

Four years ago, I asked three members of my close family who were likely to give me something for Christmas to make a donation to GiveWell/AMF (GiveWell's top charity at that point) instead of getting something for me.

Do you remember what you said? Was it written (like a facebook post) or spoken?

I asked in person in two cases, and over the phone in one, I think. I don't remember the wording I used very well.

Since I now don't have any unmet material needs and what needs I do have are mostly Steam wallet funds which my family doesn't like to provide, I also suggested they donate to a charity in my name.

They refused. Their argument was along the lines of "no, I don't want to help other people, I want to give something that will make you happy". But since they don't want to give me video games, making me happy is probably not really what they want to do.

I guess I'll just make a December donation off my own funds instead.

“Hi [Person A]!

How are things? How are your kids doing? Over here, things are going really well. I just came back from a trip to Chicago, which was surprisingly beautiful and very cold. It snowed! The buildings were gorgeous and ornate though. It felt like I’d come to a steampunk city. [Note: start with something personal]

I don't like such things. I believe they are poisoning the well.

This is a commercial message (I define commercial as "about money"). The "How are your kids doing?" is a lie -- it's an attempt to make commercial personal, to use personal as a tool to extract money. I understand that this is the standard operating mode for charities. It does not make me like it any more.

I don't want to acquire an association between receiving a message that starts by asking about my family and wondering what kind of a template the writer is using and how much money does he want.

I disagree - I know Peter was genuinely interested in hearing back from people.

Funny how I never receive letters from charities which inquire after my life and family and then stop. One might think that if they were "genuinely interested" they might express it in some way which does not involve "Please give us money, the more the better".

These aren't letters from charities, asking for your money for themselves (even if they then spend some or most or all of it on others). If you get a stock letter signed by the president of Charity X, who you don't know, saying they hope your family is well, that's quite different.

[-][anonymous]7y 0

I don't like such things. I believe they are poisoning the well.

You're right, transparent feigned interest will reduce the recipient's trust in the sender and probably others as well. I agree that we should promote trustworthiness and cooperation for a variety of very important reasons.

...BUT we need to quantify because AMF saves lives.

I pose the question: how much bullshit eliminates one WALY?

[-][anonymous]7y 1

I pose the question: how much bullshit eliminates one WALY?

Maybe an example is better.

Would you send out an annoying and obvious template email to all your friends and family if your favorite charity received $10 for every email sent?


I think it's possible to send versions of these emails which aren't annoying. I've sent a bunch myself and people haven't seemed to find them annoying.

[-][anonymous]7y 0

Send emails, then apologize...