It’s nearing the end of December, which for most people means gathering with loved ones to celebrate one of several different holidays, as well as a year passed and a new one coming. But it also means a rush to donate to charities before the year has ended. 

Why is this? While it is true that some people are motivated to give by nothing more than their values, for most end-of-year donors  the reasoning is this simple: the more you give to charity, the lower your tax bracket, and therefore the less money the government takes from you. Not exactly the purest act of kindness. 

Still, these people are making donations to charities which are performing important work. And so I thought I would inform my readers — some of whom might be among those financially comfortable enough to rush in year-end donations — that there is a great organization, GiveWell, which ranks charities based on how effective they are in allocating their resources to those in need, and accomplishing their respective missions (you can read more about GiveWell’s ranking process here).

GiveWell recently released its list of the charities which best met these standards in 2012. So, if you’re going to donate to a charity, you might consider these.

#1 Against Malaria Foundation (AMF)

Preventing deaths from malaria in sub-Saharan Africa

Malaria is a major problem in sub-Saharan Africa. Over 1 million people — mostly children — die each year. Insecticide-treated bed nets prevent deaths and many other non-fatal cases of malaria and are relatively inexpensive — about $5 per net. (For more details, see our full report on bed nets.) We believe that AMF effectively expands access to bed nets.

#2 GiveDirectly

Distributing cash to extremely poor individuals in Kenya

Directly transferring money to the very poor allows recipients to purchase that which they believe will help them most. Strong evidence indicates that cash transfers lead recipients to spend more on their basic needs (such as food) and may allow recipients to make investments with very high returns, with no evidence of large increases in spending on items like alcohol or tobacco. (For more, see our full report on cash transfers.) We believe that GiveDirectly effectively distributes cash to extremely low-income individuals.

#3 Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI)

Treating children for parasite infections in sub-Saharan Africa

In sub-Saharan Africa, a large proportion of people, often children, are infected with parasitic worms that cause short-term symptoms such as anemia, and may cause longer-term developmental problems. These worms are extremely inexpensive to treat — about $5 to protect a child for 10 years. (For more, see our full report on deworming.) We believe that SCI effectively expands access to deworming treatment.

As you can see, even small donations ($5!) make a big difference, so do consider opening your wallets and helping to make the world a slightly better place  2013.