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Family finances: Measure the impact of your donations

If a mutual fund sales rep called during dinner to give you his spiel, you'd probably hang up or insist that he send a prospectus outlining the fund's management, portfolio and performance relative to its peers.

A group of former hedge fund managers, tech entrepreneurs and academics have applied the same no-nonsense approach to philanthropy. Effective altruism focuses on charities doing the most good for the least amount of money.

The movement was pioneered by GiveWell (, a nonprofit founded in 2007 to support underfunded organizations that can provide evidence that their programs produce results. One of its top charities,...