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The Giving Game


This discussion packet was co-created for the Secular Student Alliance by The Life You Can Save and Intentional Insights.

Planning Time2 to 3 Weeks
Group Size10+
Staff #2+
Event DateAnytime

The Giving Game model makes it easy to learn about, or teach others about, effective charitable giving. In a Giving Game, participants grapple with a donation decision structured to raise critical issues about what it means give well, knowing their choices will have real world consequences.

Activity Overview

Do you want to help improve the world? As reason-oriented people, we don’t hold hope for an eternal afterlife, and know that we are creating the world we want to live in. So it’s up to us to make a better world in the here and now. By taking part in this activity, your group can support a real cause without actually requiring your members to donate a penny!

But have you really thought deeply about the best ways to do so? Most people do not. Americans give over $350 billion a year to charity.  But shockingly little thought goes into how and where this money is given: 2/3 of gifts are made without any research at all!  This creates a huge opportunity - by incorporating reason, science, and evidence into our charitable decision-making, donors can dramatically increase the amount of good their gifts accomplish. As reason-oriented people, we should be at the forefront of making wise decisions on how we spend our money. A Giving Game is an activity that will help you do just that.  Your group will learn about three pre-selected charities, have a reasoned discussion about their relative merits, and make a real donation to your favorite.  It won't cost you a thing - the money will be provided by a nonprofit called The Life You Can Save

During the course of the Giving Game, your group will:

  • Explore your group's values, priorities, and motivations

  • Learn about different types of evidence you can use to assess whether a charity is making a real impact

  • Discuss different ways in which charities can improve the world and ways that donors can use to choose between them

  • Learn about thinking errors that lead donors to miss opportunities to do more good with their giving


During the Giving Game your group will learn about, and choose between, three charities: Against Malaria Foundation, Give Directly, or Nurse Family Partnership (your state's affiliate). These charities have been selected to provide a challenging and thought-provoking decision.  The Life You Can Save will sponsor the donation, contributing $10 per participant in the Giving Game.

The outline provided below will give you a sense of how to structure your session.  It assumes a 75 minute Giving Game, though you're free to tailor the time to fit your needs. You can do it by yourselves or with the help of a trained facilitator from TLYCS, in-person or via videoconference.

1. Introduction (5 minutes)

2. Learn about the 3 charities (10 minutes)

3. Group discussion about where to give (45 minutes)

  • If you have more than ~15 participants, consider splitting into smaller groups of 5-10 people for the discussion period.  You can have people form new subgroups once or twice during the session to expose people to more points of view.

  • Possible discussion topics include:
    • Are we more obligated to help some people than others?  What factors (e.g. Geography, scope of need, ease of helping) play into these obligations?
    • How strong is the evidence supporting each charity? 
    • What goals could donors be trying to accomplish with their gifts?  Which of these goals seem most important?
    • What metric(s) should donors consider when choosing which charity to give to?
    • How should donors balance a desire to help in targeted ways against a desire to let beneficiaries assess their own needs?

4. Voting (5 minutes)

  • Voting is typically done via private paper ballots, with a winner-take-all structure.  However, if you'd like to make the voting proportional (so that the donation is split with the same percentages as the votes), that's fine too.

5. Recap (10 minutes)

  • Announce results of the voting

  • Brief group discussion about what people learned from the experience

  • Circulate signup sheet for The Life You Can Save and the Intentional Insights newsletters so that participants can stay informed about great giving opportunities and about using science-based strategies to achieve their goals, in effective giving and other life areas. Please take a photo of the sheet and then send it to info@intentionalinsights.org and givinggames@thelifeyoucansave.org.
  • Brief discussion about charitable pledges for those who want to do more

After the Giving Game, please fill out a post-game report card that will instruct The Life You Can Save on which donations to make.  You will receive confirmation of the donations with a week, and you're free to share the confirmations with your group.

Planning Timeframe

An activity like this can be put together fairly quickly, if needed. Though we encourage you to plan at least a few weeks in advance.

  • Begin planning your Giving Game by picking 2-3 people to serve as facilitators who will introduce the session and the charities and help guide the discussion. 

  • Then pick a time and place to hold your Giving Game and notify the members of your group, encouraging them to invite friends. Remember, the more participants the more money will be donated, as each participant adds $10! Be sure to allow enough time for the facilitators to familiarize themselves with the charities, practice their presentations, and review the resources linked to below.

  • If you're planning to use presentations, make sure to have a projector or another way to display them.  If not, you'll probably want to use handouts so that participants can easily access information to help them make their decision. 

  • It can be helpful to have a few laptops (and wifi) available so that people can investigate any questions that come up that the facilitators are unable to answer.

Resources and links

One of our best resources to find out what works and what doesn't is you - our student leaders! If you've employed a strategy that worked well, let us know about it so other groups can also use that idea. If you've learned a lesson of caution about something we suggest, point out the pitfalls. You can email us at organizer@secularstudents.org!

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